The Importance of "Hamilton: An American Musical"
Dear Asian Youth,
On July, 3rd, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pro-shot recording of Hamilton: An American Musical was released on Disney Plus. The live recording of the dearly-beloved Broadway show is acclaimed by many, ranging from theatre kids to technologically-illiterate elders.
The release of Hamilton as a musical was revolutionary; it strayed from the norm with its eclectic instrumentation, vivid, rap-style lyrics, biographical storyline, and, an aspect of this show that I’ll highlight later, the diverse casting. Rather than having a traditionally modern-contemporary sound, Hamilton draws from a variety of genres: hip-hop, rap, R&B, swing, jazz, and more.
Hamilton retells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s most significant founding fathers for being one of the most intense supporters of the U.S. Constitution and establishing the nation’s financial beginnings as the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury. It starts off with his contribution to the American Revolution and then bleeds into the origin of what is now the United States of America.
But Hamilton is much more than a story about American history.
It mirrors the reality of the past, present, and future.
In “Alexander Hamilton”, the musical’s opening number, the company of the show joins together to briefly inform listeners about Hamilton’s origins: He comes from a life in poverty before a hurricane strikes his homeland, devastating him and his entire vicinity. When he was ten, “his father split.” Two years later, Hamilton and his mother came down with an illness: “Alex got better, but his mother went quick.”
After his cousin, with whom Hamilton began living, died, Hamilton decided to devote his time to finding a new life; he spent his time studying and gathering money to move away to New York City.
This song highlights how Hamilton is an outlier; this introduction seems to be reminiscent of Shakespearean prologues, yet the rap-style wording throughout the number helps bring theatre to a modern audience, blending the traditional with the new and creating something revolutionary.
Although it’s a very specific experience, many minorities, especially immigrants and people of color, can relate to fighting for change and a better life. In general, the story of Alexander Hamilton is a recitation of a man who pursues the American Dream, something that many immigrants and people of the lower class have sought out to do. However, Hamilton’s story is portrayed as if he were a man who rose from the ashes with ease rather than years of struggle, turmoil, and near-death experiences, which are briefly addressed in the opening number, but the show is entertaining and inspiring, nonetheless.
Now let’s talk about a big issue in the entertainment industry that Hamilton addresses.
Many Broadway musicals have been very Eurocentric, with roles like Jenna in Waitress or almost every character in The Phantom of the Opera being played by white people. At times, the only Asian representation available is in shows that are inadvertently racist or portray Asians under racial stereotypes. There have even been times in which Asian characters are played by white people; think Jonathan Pryce and Keith Burns in the roles of the Engineer and Thuy in Miss Saigon.
I would love to see more people of color on Broadway. A woman of color could easily play Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in Wicked, a well-known, Tony Award-winning retelling of The Wizard of Oz. In relation to the story, it would make a lot of sense, for she faces adversity due to the color of her skin, yet the majority of women who have played that role on Broadway are white.
But then, you have Hamilton.
Almost the entire original main cast of Hamilton comprises people of color. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of Hamilton who you may know from other hits like In The Heights and Moana, prioritized casting people of color in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. In a New York Times interview, Miranda said, “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional.” It’s a story to which many immigrants and people of color can relate, and by casting minorities in such large roles and highlighting diversity, the story becomes that much more inspiring, life-like, and relatable.
In an industry plagued by Eurocentrism and a lack of diversity, Hamilton is an outlier, and because of that, it’s a beloved musical that means a lot more to many than what meets the eye.
On the other hand, the show does have some flaws in terms of certain historical aspects that it lacks. Hamilton portrays the Founding Fathers, white slave owners, as the underdogs who learn to “rise up.” It fails to highlight the racism at the time, retelling the stories of Alexander Hamilton and the other characters in the show as though they were one of us.
Personally, I believe that although Hamilton briefly mentions slavery throughout its runtime, the failure to address slavery is one of the poorest aspects of the entire show.
However, I believe that the story of Hamilton has the power to make people take a stand.
Our generation is fierce; we know what’s wrong in the world and use our voices to tackle those problems head-on. With the show’s effect on society in terms of the entertainment industry, it has bled into activism, with many quoting lyrics from Hamilton and even putting lyrics on signs at protests.
Even with its flaws, the widely-loved show is inspiring, and I feel that even though watchers may not see the full picture, it has the power to unite people through one common interest: rising up and fighting for what you believe.
As written by Miranda, “Immigrants: we get the job done.”
- Sebastian Paragas