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Hamilton: More Than Just Hip-Hop

February 19, 2019

 

Winner of 12 Tony Awards, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s critically acclaimed musical, Hamilton: An American Musical, has been taking Broadway, and the world by storm. Since the show’s Broadway debut in 2015, the show has opened in Chicago, the West End in London, and is starting its first tour across the United States. Tickets for the show are sold at an astronomically high price and are in incredibly high demand, no matter which city or production you’re looking to go see. Upper balcony tickets to see a performance in Chicago can cost up to $100, while tickets in the middle orchestra section can be sold at prices as high as $600.

 

When the show debuted in 2015, it seemed to be all anyone could talk about. It was the first Broadway musical to be comprised of rap and hip-hop music and it only cast people of color to play white historical figures, with King George III being the only character to be played by a white actor (this role was originated by Jonathan Groff).


If you are unfamiliar with the plot line of Hamilton, it tells the story of how a young Alexander Hamilton became a prominent figure in the history of the US, and it sheds a lot of light on his upbringing and his personal life.

 

In addition to composing the music and writing the lyrics, Miranda originated the role of Alexander Hamilton and was nominated for four Tony Awards. Leslie Odom Jr. played Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival, who ultimately ended up murdering Hamilton in a gun standoff.

 

Hamilton begins with the ensemble telling the story of Hamilton’s orphaned upbringing (“Alexander Hamilton”) and by the end of the song the audience sees a 19-year-old Hamilton arrive in New York City. The show follows Hamilton’s quick rise to prominence and gives a peak into his relationship with wife Eliza Schuyler (originated by Phillipa Soo) and his infidelity.

 

 

 

HOW HAS THIS CHANGED THE ARTS?

The use of hip-hop and rap music in Hamilton has changed the notion of “typical” Broadway music and has introduced a new audience to the world of the arts. The performers in the show rap and sing at a million miles a minute and if you happen to zone out at any given point in the show, which I highly doubt is possible, you might miss a key bit of information. While there are a few songs that follow the traditional musical theatre ballad format (i.e. “Burn” and “It’s Quiet Uptown”), the majority of the music is a blend of rap, hip-hop, and musical theatre styles that has created a whole new genre of its own.

 

 

WHY IS HAMILTON SO REVOLUTIONARY?

Aside from the use of hip-hop and rap music, the principle cast of Hamilton is made-up completely of actors and actresses of color. When Miranda was asked about the choice to cast no white actors to play historically white people he said, “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that's certainly intentional… It's a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door We're telling the story of old, dead white men but we're using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience” (Weller).

 

Our country is made-up of immigrants and we are a mix of different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. The show puts emphasis on the fact that Hamilton himself was an immigrant, and it is a reoccurring theme throughout the entire show. Miranda chose to use actors and actresses of color because he wanted to paint immigrants in a positive light.

 

Hamilton’s use of a primarily colored cast and the use of hip-hop music gives audiences the chance to experience and be exposed to different cultures that previously might not have been accessible through the arts. In comparison to other shows, Rent tackled the discussion surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 90s, while Hamilton is able to remove racial biases and connotations in the arts.

 

Hamilton has opened a whole new dialogue about how our country was founded by immigrants and what it means to be American. The inclusive of the theater has opened up a whole new experience for viewers, who can expect to see people like them represented on stage: immigrants, someone struggling with their sexuality, a fan of rap who also loves Broadway, and an abundance of different races with all kinds of backgrounds, all joined together in their shared love for music.

 

Sources

Weller, Chris. “'Hamilton' Is the Most Important Musical of Our Time.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 19 Mar. 2016, www.businessinsider.com/hamilton-is-the-most-important-musical-of-all-time-2016-3.

 

“The Success of Color-Conscious Casting in Broadway's ‘Hamilton.’” Study Breaks, 9 July 2017, www.studybreaks.com/culture/hamilton-2/.

 

Karlie Allen is a junior at Miami University and is studying Strategic Communications with a co-major in Arts Management and Entrepreneurship. Karlie is passionate about the arts and hopes she can become not only a powerful leader in the arts, but also a strong arts manager and arts entrepreneur.

 

 

 

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