Hamilton: New Age America

           

Kayla Eason

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is unique in the sense of community that its cast creates within itself and those that watch the musical. Throughout the course we have read a lot about how representation is vastly lacking on the Broadway stage. Miranda took a risk and put together a cast of actors more diverse than anything currently being shown on the Broadway stage. Largely comprised of African American, Hispanic, and Latino actors, Hamilton was seriously impactful in empowering minorities on the Broadway stage. I would argue that this alone is what accounts for the majority of success the musical generates. Coupled with its catchy tunes and well-choreographed routines, the actors in this musical are particularly successful in recounting a time period where people like them had no sort of place in the roles they are playing on stage. The irony of black males playing the white founding fathers who likely owned slave owners themselves attributes to the success of the music. This along with the rap tunes telling the tales of the time make for a musical with so many elements that draw musical bluffs and first time watchers together to enjoy this piece of history viewed in a new way. Hamilton was remarkable in pushing the needle even further for the representation of minorities in musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s production brought diversity in to a new realm during a present era where racial issues are continued to be heightened, successfully showing that a representation to form community matters and significantly impacts what one may take away from any given production.

            Hamilton tells a story about America then, told by America now. The show takes the reality of what was happening in the past and shapes it into what our country looks like now. The content and production of this musical make a statement in the importance of both embracing our history but also producing something more realistic to modern America. The musical debuted in 2015, but hit the screens of millions of Americans this summer during a time of extreme political uproar. The film on Disney+ could not have come at a better time to stimulate even more discussion about the racial injustices facing America. In this way, perhaps Hamilton is a musical ahead of its time. Miranda recognized that America is changing and took his chance to capitalize on these differences through the arts. He was very particular in his casting, rewriting the narrative to reflect the country we live in our country today. While it is not “historically accurate” to cast the founding fathers of our country as people of color, it is an accurate representation of a nation that was ultimately built by immigrants. This version of history is far more accurate. The result of his vision of inclusion allows viewers to see themselves fitting into the history of our country. Having someone that looks like you on screen allows you to see yourself reflected in the story that is being portrayed. Miranda’s version of history changes the narrative in allowing people of color to see their own importance in the history of their country.

            One of the relationships that I enjoy the most in the musical is the Schuyler sisters. In the Disney+ production the three are played by three very powerful and diverse woman. Their relationships with each other and with Hamilton are crucial to the plot of the musical. By making them characters of color I see them as even more empowered as women in the show. The three all have characteristics that show their strength whether it is Angelica’s wits of Eliza’s strong will and charm. Their song “The Schuyler Sisters” gives us insight to each of the characters. The sisters know their position in society, acknowledging that they are supposed to marry a rich man to uphold their place in society. I would argue that Miranda shapes them as early feminists due to their strength as woman. Upon further thought I have recognized their influence in the world around them in both their public and private lives. Even when they are not together their correspondences indicates that they have a strong bond. Angelica cares too much for her sister to reveal her true feelings for Hamilton and ruin her happiness. This loyalty sticks out as she is more willing to put her own feelings aside to care for her sister. Hamilton is obviously caught in a less than ideal love triangle between two sisters whose bond seems to great to be broken up by one man. I am able to appreciate the relationships between the sisters and Hamilton more because of their diversity and awareness of them self. This aspect creates a sense of colorblindness that allows the viewer to see the relationships in raw form and ignore looks. It is also interesting to note that Hamilton’s financial status has nothing to do with the feelings they have toward him. My preconceived thoughts about status during this time is shrinking as I see these relationships develop.

            I see both the good and the bad in Hamilton’s character. There is still some obvious privilege even though his character is played by a Latino male. Hamilton succeeds based off his natural born talent of wits and leadership. He challenges those with more power and gains respect because of it. In the musical we see Miranda as being successful and it gives us a glimpse of something that could have perhaps happened in present time which was likely Miranda’s intentions. However, if we think of the musical in the context of the time it happened it is easy to understand that his race probably had a large part to do with his early success. He is without a doubt a very hardworking man who was willing to fight for what he believed in despite the circumstance. When I watch the musical I have a slight cognitive dissonance in accepting the fact that someone who looked like Miranda would have been able to have such success even today. But this is ultimately what makes the play great. Miranda’s writing uplifts characters of color by helping us to understand them in today’s time. There is no reason that someone who looks like Miranda should not be successful today given the wits and work ethic he has today. While this is still not the case completely, he gives hope that it is entirely possible and perhaps inspires those to do just that. As I mentioned before, representation is important for people of color. I see Miranda and his cast on stage and think that if they were able to make it this far on the Broadway stage perhaps there has been progress in America.

            Something else interesting to think about is Miranda’s portrayal of Hamilton as an immigrant. America is a country built of immigrants and it is intriguing to think about both Miranda’s contribution to this through his character. Intertwining his Latino heritage with Hamilton’s historical whiteness relates the history of America then to now. My mind goes back to watching In the Heights when thinking about representation of Latinos and Hispanic in musical theatre and how immigration has impacted America. These two pieces of work seem particularly influential for the Latin and Hispanic population in seeing themselves on stage and acknowledging their importance in the history of America, the melting pot of the world. By seeing this, perhaps it encourages more people that look like them to participate in the arts.

            Hamilton was a great musical that generated a lot of conversations and undoubtedly broke a lot of barriers in the Broadway world. To push the envelope further aspects such as slavery could have been addressed to complete the conversation. We still don’t quite understand Hamilton’s stance on slavery due to his relationship with the Schuyler sisters who were a known slave owning family. The play glosses over the issue of slavery, failing to acknowledge its importance during the time. I do not know how exactly it would be possible to incorporate slaves into the film given the racial makeup of the cast, however more dialogue or opposition to the issue would have generated even more praise for the musical and its messages. Nonetheless thought, Miranda took a risk in producing this film and it was accepting well by audiences and critics a lot. As a person of color I see the film as normal or what should be expected of musical produced in the twenty first century. It is not until I take a step back that I can understand that what he did was importance for the representation of minorities in Broadway. Part of me wonders if Hamilton is so successful because its diverse cast, or if it could have accomplished nearly the same fame with a traditionally white cast. Regardless, the musical is an example of how to cast productions. For me, learning about our history may have more of an impact if representation was considered. People of color deserve to tell the stories of America as they were just as much a part of shaping the country we have today. It is uplifting to see how a musical can spur larger political conversations and challenge the traditional thinking of Americans.

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