Alexander Hamilton: How He Made History
“I may not live to see our glory. But I will gladly join the fight. And when our children tell our stories, they’ll tell the story of tonight. Raise a glass to freedom. Something they can never take away. No matter what they tell you. Raise a glass to the four of us. Tomorrow they’ll be more of us telling the story of tonight”. This is from the song “The Story of Tonight” from the hit musical Hamilton. Its message perfectly captures the emotions of the revolutionaries and what they were fighting for. This is what Hamilton is all about. It makes history come alive by showing its audience what it was like for America’s founding fathers to fight for freedom. The Broadway musical Hamilton has become a musical phenomenon since its debut. In “telling the story of tonight”, Hamilton has revolutionized not only Broadway, but history.
The hit musical had its first off-Broadway run at the Public Theater in February 2015. Hamilton then opened on Broadway in August 2015 at the Richard Rogers Theater. It immediately became the most popular show to see in New York, selling over 200,000 tickets in advance. Today it serves as one of the biggest hits in Broadway history. Hamilton is a sung-and-rapped through musical about the life of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The music and lyrics are done entirely by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a show-tune loving genius who grew up listening to Broadway music. The musical achieved both critical and box office success by incorporating genres of music such as, hip-hop, R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes. It is one of the most influential shows today and covers many overlooked topics about American history (“Hamilton Earns” 1).
Hamilton is geared specifically towards making history as relatable as possible. At the start of the show, the audience first meets Alexander Hamilton has a young orphan trying to finish college early so he can join the revolution. He seeks out Aaron Burr for advice, since Burr has accomplished everything Hamilton has dreamed of doing. Hamilton is undeniably skilled with a quill, so instead of joining the war, George Washington drafts Hamilton as his assistant. Later in the show, Hamilton meets his future wife Eliza Schuyler. Hamilton eventually earns his place in the revolution and leads his men in the Battle of Yorktown. The show follows Hamilton’s trials throughout his life, one being the loss of his oldest son Philip in a duel. Hamilton also has an affair with a woman named Maria Reynolds. Hamilton’s poor decisions and loud mouth make him many enemies, mostly among the founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and most importantly, Aaron Burr. Burr is livid when Hamilton endorses his own enemy, Thomas Jefferson, for President to keep Burr from winning the election. Jefferson chooses Hamilton instead of Burr as his Vice President. This is the first year that the runner up in the election did not become Vice President. Unfortunately, before Hamilton is able to fill his position, Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel. Burr knows he is a terrible shot, unlike Hamilton. However, after ten paces Hamilton shoots his gun to the sky. Before he can even realize what has happened, Burr shoots Hamilton, ending his life and his legacy.
The man behind the entire show is Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is the writer, composer, and original title character of Hamilton. Miranda became interested in the life of Alexander Hamilton in high school when he was assigned to write a paper about the infamous duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Years later, he and his girlfriend, Vanessa Nadal, were on vacation in Mexico. Miranda began to read a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow. It was an eight-hundred-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda was captured by Hamilton’s story and recognized his brilliance. Miranda revealed that Hamilton reminded him of his father. He was convinced that someone must have already turned this book into a musical. He researched “Alexander Hamilton hip-hop musical” and was shocked to not find any results. He then took it upon himself to begin writing. The developing process for the musical was an eight-day working period for the three partners–Thomas Kail, the show’s director; Alex Lacamoire, the musical director; and Miranda–at the New York Stage and Film Powerhouse Theater (“Hamilton Earns” 1-2).
The color-conscious casting of Hamilton is one of the major reasons for its success. The cast of the show is comprised of all non-white founding fathers, mostly black and Latino actors. The only Caucasian role in the whole show is King George III, which is not a coincidence. According to Miranda, “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional. It’s a way of allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door” (“Hamilton Earns” 1). The casting of the show reminds its audience that not every hero they read about is white. The show also has many references to slavery, which constantly reminds the audience that just as the revolutionaries were fighting for their freedom, slaves were doing the same.
As the man behind the musical, Miranda was very much interested in being a part of the cast. He had the opportunity to cast himself as either Hamilton or Aaron Burr. He was indecisive, going back and forth between the two roles. Miranda eventually decided to play the role of Hamilton full time, his reasoning being that he was drawn to the title role. Thus, Hamilton’s original lead role was played by known other than Lin-Manuel Miranda (“42 Rhapsodic Facts”).
In May 2009, Miranda was invited to perform at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word. Although he was originally expected to perform material from his previous musical, In the Heights, he performed his first version of “Alexander Hamilton”, which would later become the show’s opening number. During his visit at the White House, Miranda sang the part of Aaron Burr, not Hamilton. Miranda’s performance of the song received a standing ovation from the audience, including President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (“42 Rhapsodic Facts”). Since Hamilton’s debut, it seemed only fitting that Miranda should return to the White House with his new material. Nearly seven years later, Miranda was invited back to the White House, accompanied by the original cast of the musical, singing multiple numbers from the show such as, “Alexander Hamilton”, “My Shot”, and “The Schuyler Sisters” (“‘Hamilton’ at the White House”).
The success of Hamilton is nothing short of amazing. The musical increased ratings for the 70th annual Tony Awards to its highest level in the last fifteen years. In 2016, the show set the record for most Tony nominations for a musical with sixteen nominations. It won eleven of them, including Best Musical, making the show just one win short of breaking the record for most wins. The original Broadway cast album of Hamilton was released in the fall of 2015. The album would go on be the first cast album to top Billboard’s Top Rap Albums Chart. It would also become 2016’s fifth highest selling album and in 2017 it became triple platinum (“42 Rhapsodic Facts”).
Hamilton has the potential to influence the way Americans think about their republic. Miranda quotes, “This is a story about America then, told by America now…” (“How Lin-Manuel”). The show presents a country in which women and people of color share the spotlight with the founding fathers. It also sheds light on the fact that some of the men Americans call their “heroes” were deeply flawed individuals. One of the most significant topics of the show, which has major relevance today, is the significant role immigrants played in American history. Alexander Hamilton himself was an immigrant and the musical often features the Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman who played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War. Hamilton seeks to inspire and teach Americans about their history today (“How Lin-Manuel”).
Hamilton is an inspiration. It tells the life of Alexander Hamilton, which most people would probably never care to learn about. It allows its audience to reimagine history and question what they already know. The show is blind to race and culture. It’s a way of discussing history without having to cover the risky topics of politics or religion. It is simply genius, just as the man who wrote it. Lin-Manuel Miranda will long be remembered for his inspiring work and phenomenal music. Most importantly, the show proves that anyone can change the world, even an orphaned immigrant such as Hamilton. Just as the opening number to the show says, “Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton. And there’s a million thing I haven’t done. But just you wait, just you wait”.