'Hamilton' expands Broadway's appeal
The world of Broadway can often seem closed-off. With much of its image dominated by legacy productions like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables”, and ticket prices routinely running into the hundreds, it can be easy to dismiss Broadway’s big-budget musical theater as inaccessible to all but the cultural elite. Still, every now and then a musical comes along that genuinely grabs the collective consciousness, and gains popularity far beyond the norm. Right now, that musical is “Hamilton”.
A hip-hop musical about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton; it’s something of a head-scratching premise. That, and the fact that the cast is
made up almost entirely of non-white actors, can make “Hamilton” come across as a gimmick. However, this is an impression rather undercut by the rave reviews it has so far received in “The New York Times”, “Variety” and “The New Yorker”—not to mention its multimillion-dollar ticket sales.
“Hamilton” follows its titular character’s life from his initial arrival in America to his death at the hands of political rival Aaron Burr, along the way spanning everything from romance to combat to political intrigue. As Ron Chernow, the author of the musical’s source material, writes, “Throughout his career, Hamilton had a knack for being present at historic moments.”
Although the show’s Broadway debut was met with popular acclaim, winning Outstanding Musical from multiple awards organizations, it’s the soundtrack that has earned it much of its fan base at OOHS.
“It has spread rapidly throughout the theater department, and throughout the music department, because the music is just so catchy, it’s just so universal, that even if you’re not in Theater, even if you’re not into musical theater, you can hear it somewhere and go ‘oh, I like that; I want to get into that,’ ” junior Olivia Johnson said. Johnson is a member of the theater program, and has acted in several productions, including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“Hamilton” is more than just a catchy musical, however; it features a hefty amount of historical fact, thanks to writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda keeping Chernow on as a consultant. It’s this attention to detail that has helped it reach beyond theater fans and attract history buffs as well.
“Overall, I think it’s as good a job as you could reasonably expect from any Hollywood or Broadway show,” AP US History teacher Jesse Tierney said. “Just a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in Hamilton or the history of that era.”
However, “Hamilton” isn’t solely concerned with history; in fact, the play subtly raises political issues of the present, connecting them to Alexander’s struggles as an illegitimate child and an immigrant. With politicians like Donald Trump currently arguing for severe restrictions on immigration, it’s easy to guess what Miranda means to convey by consistently referring to Hamilton as one. This, in turn, has attracted politically minded people who might otherwise dismiss Broadway musicals as frivolous and out-of-touch.
“By telling the story of the founding of the country through the eyes of a bastard, immigrant orphan, told entirely by people of color, [Lin-Manuel Miranda] is saying, ‘This is our country. We get to lay claim to it,’ ” artistic director Oskar Eustis said in an interview with The New Yorker.
“Hamilton” is currently a bona fide cultural phenomenon, which “The New York Times” has attributed to the way it bridges the gap between Broadway traditions of yesteryear and modern-day musical sensibilities. But senior Edem Dzodzomenyo encourages viewers not to merely take our word for it.
“I would say, go on Spotify, listen to the first two songs, ‘Alexander Hamilton’ and ‘Aaron Burr, Sir,’ and you’ll be hooked,” Dzodzomenyo said. “That’s really all it takes.”