Hamilton took over the world last year, from a mixtape to the Tony Awards. With all the hype, I have been waiting anxiously to see Hamilton and was finally surprised for my birthday to see the show in Chicago. Part of me wondered if the anticipation would live up to viewing it, but Hamilton not only met my expectations but exceeded them. There are few modern musicals that have won a pedestal in American pop culture, like The Lion King and Wicked, and I believe Hamilton has earned that spot.
Many musicals present a complex score, but the score for Hamilton truly succeeds in exploring several musical genres. Yes, the score is mostly based in hip-hop culture, but we also get plenty of jazz and traditional Broadway ballads. But the hip-hop melodies are far from predictable, combining rap beats with classic lyrical writing for the stage, creating complex dialogue that elevates the story. It’s the perfect love child of Biggie and Sondheim that Broadway never knew it needed.
Not only is the score diverse, but so is the cast. Lin-Manuel Miranda took a historically white story and made it accessible for actors and audiences of all backgrounds. From Broadway to Chicago to the National Tour, I have seen actors and actresses of White, Asian, African-American, and Hispanic decent, in the ensemble as well as in supporting and lead roles. It’s a well-crafted mix of talent that represents a modern American people for a Colonial story. Lin reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton and hearing a hip hop story is progressive idea within itself.
The musical is as funny as it is heart wrenching and thought provoking. Plus, every character in the show gets their moment, even with double casting. You follow every step of Alexander’s journey, cackle every time King George comes back on stage, and applaud the Schuyler Sisters for every snap. But what really makes this musical stand out is how the themes connect so well to our modern political climate.
We see issues of race that differ from our own in practice, but are very similar in ideology. John Laurens wants to end slavery, which reflects a problem in our current society of a lack of respect for people of color. We see Angelica reference Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in wanting to add women to the narrative, as we today are pushing towards equal pay and health services for women. King George even represents a farcical leadership over a country fighting for change, which some have connected to the current U.S. Administration. The rap battles in Congress reflect two political parties that can’t come together on most issues, much like today.
Hamilton may not be the typical “tourist commercial blockbuster” like Wicked and The Lion King. There are no flying witches or dancing lions, but despite a minimal set and simple plot, Hamilton’s narrative at its core speak volumes. Hamilton has become a tool to teach tolerance, freedom, true patriotism, and most of all, our American history. This musical stands up for a generation that felt they weren’t being heard, and gave them a shot to tell their stories, through the sick beats and rhythms of a revolutionary thinker like Alexander Hamilton.
Like In the Heights, Hamilton has solidified hip-hop culture on the Broadway stage, and redefined contemporary theatre for musicals that come after. I’m hoping the next generation of playwright’s work reflect the inclusiveness, energy, and determination that made Alexander Hamilton into a pop culture icon. I hope I get to see Hamilton again in the near future, but nevertheless, history will have eyes on Hamilton for many years to come.
Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg originally from the Midwest, with Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8