Hamilton: The Reinvention of The American Story
By Kat Franklin
We’ve all heard of Hamilton, right? Even if you haven’t listened to it, you’ve heard someone singing the songs or complaining about the price of tickets. When Hamilton hit Broadway in 2015 it exploded into the thespian world, bringing history to life with a hip-hop soundtrack and diverse casting. The Great American Story was pretty much dead with the younger generation, nothing more than a unit in their U.S. History class and a test they had to pass. Yet, for the first year after Hamilton’s debut, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing a phrase or two from the soundtrack, many of them featuring lines from the Declaration Of Independence or accounts of historical events.
Hamilton tells the story of young revolutionary Alexander Hamilton. The musical covers his life in its entirety, but it focuses mainly on his adult years in America. The musical consists of two acts: act one taking place before the revolutionary war and act two taking place after the war. The first displays a brief account of his childhood and his coming to America, followed by his part in the events leading up to the war and the war itself. This includes meeting his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, and learning he was going to be a father. The second act describes the making of our nation and his role in the politics of it, including his affair and the death of Hamilton and of his son. The story of Alexander Hamilton is a fascinating one, although it was relatively unknown to most Americans before the musical.
When Hamilton first came out it was met with shock from many lifelong theater goers. Hamilton was the first hip-hop driven soundtrack to grace the stages of Broadway and that upset some people. They were used to more traditional numbers, songs with a Phantom Of The Opera-esque feel, not the fast-paced rap music that’s quickly leading the music industry. Nevertheless, Broadway knew that if it couldn’t keep up with culture, it would be left behind.
Some others were offended by the casting of the musical. Hamilton features hispanic and african-american actors as well as caucasian ones. The actors who play George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, Thomas Jefferson, John Laurens, and Aaron Burr are all african-american or hispanic. While not historically accurate, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator, said he wanted the casting of the musical to reflect the America of today: a nation of many ethnicities and ways of life. No matter how many complaints he gets, Miranda resolved to keep the cast of Hamilton diverse.
The story of our nation is an important one. Often ignored or altogether discredited, we treat our history as useless or irrelevant. We forget the monarchies and dictatorships that necessitated our country’s birth. We disregard the tumultuous fight that led to our current rights and freedom. We fail to consider how far we’ve come and our reigning title as the world’s first modern democracy. Every great nation has an end and a beginning, and our beginning will always be important. Hamilton reminds us that history isn’t dead.
Our nation struggles with a major issue of Alexander Hamilton’s time: immigration. An immigrant himself, Hamilton fought his way into the history books. Politically, he was an influential man and an incredible writer and speaker. He would have been an obvious candidate for president if not for the natural-born citizen clause, a clause stating that anyone running for president must meet the requirements for citizenship at birth. He or she must have been born on U.S. soil or have had a parent with U.S. citizenship. Since Hamilton had neither, he was never eligible to be more than the Secretary of the Treasury.
In the musical, when he first arrives in America, he likens himself to the country as being “young, scrappy, and hungry.” Then, the nation was full of immigrants who had moved there for a better life. Now, people move here not just for a better life, but to escape the wars, terrorism, and corruption that plague them in their countries of origin. Many of our natural-born citizens would rather have them stay in their own countries, not realizing that immigrants are what make our country so great. They bring new ideas, fresh perspectives, and innovations that have our shaped history. Some American immigrants you might recognize from the label on your jeans (Levi Strauss) or a famous name in music (Bob Marley). If you’ve ever spent hours on Youtube, you have two more immigrants to thank: Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, the co-founders of Youtube. Of course, we never could have ended World War II as quickly without the help of German immigrant, Albert Einstein.
RHS History teacher, Mr. Martinez, stated, “It takes a musical like Hamilton to remind us of our nation’s character.” Hamilton tells you just that- immigrants are not to be underestimated. George Washington once described our nation as: “Citizens by birth or choice of a common country.” So, while it’s understandable to frown on illegal immigration, it’s uneducated to believe that we can’t be benefited by the flow of new voices and faces. Our country often provides a better life for people, one where they can flourish. Thomas Jefferson said our immigrants were “born in other countries, yet believing [they] could be happy in this.”
Hamilton reinvents history, making it once again relevant for the youth. It shows the resilience and strength of American immigrants, and it brings Broadway into the future with hip-hop and diversity. If you asked a kid their favorite subject pre-2015, history would be a rare answer. Now, more teens are excited to learn about their nation’s founders. Hamilton made a bunch of old dead white guys into singing, rapping icons that a kid from any background can relate with. Finally, we’ve had someone step up to make history cool again.