What's it about?
You know that guy on the 10 dollar bill? That's Alexander Hamilton. And there's an entire play dedicated to him.
What'd I experience?
He's probably (or was) the least talked about of the founding fathers, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical puts Alex in the spotlight. I remember learning about Alex in my AP U.S. History class-- from what I remember, he pretty much ran the country as Washington’s right-hand man and he was one of my favorite historical figures. But I never realized how much was left out of Alex’s story until I saw Hamilton.
He's an orphan? An illegitimate child? Born in the West Indies? It sounds like the origin story of a character in a historical fiction novel, one all kinds of obstacles are thrown in for added drama in the hopes of the novel being adapted into a blockbuster hit.
I've wanted to see Hamilton since I saw it on the Off Broadway listings on TDF’s TKTS app. But then it went big, Broadway big, and I gave up the hopes of ever being able to see it (I'm a college student, I can barely afford my textbooks -- I rent them, by the way). I wanted to see it because from that paragraph or so in my U.S. history textbook, I thought Alexander Hamilton was fascinating and to have nearly the entire play cast with people of color was just the icing on the cake.
I (luckily!) got tickets for Hamilton through my college, Fashion Institute of Technology, as an extracurricular activity to do with fellow presidential scholars. The night before the play, we had a discussion with a professor from NYU, who was an expert on Alexander Hamilton. The question of casting was brought up and it was suggested that the casting was perhaps an homage to Alex’s views against slavery. Personally, I don’t think Alex’s views have anything to do with the casting -- yes, it’s great that he was a decent human being “ahead of his time” -- but I think the reaction to the diversity of the cast says more about people realizing how uncommon it is for such a casting to occur. And it may have to do with the fact that the play isn’t directly correlated to race or ethnicity.
I notice that in the media, roles for people of color usually play up their cultural background or racial tropes. I think Hamilton’s casting is an effort to step away from stereotypes of what people of color are “supposed” to portray in, not only theatre, but in all forms of entertainment. I truly appreciate the casting because it gives me hope for the approach in the representation of minorities for future plays.
There are so many stories, and by casting people of color, the stories can become even more relatable to a huge part of the world.
There is something about being represented that is inexplicable. Maybe it could tell a young South Asian girl that she can be an actress too (I don’t think there were any South Asians in Hamilton, but I’m South Asian so I’m going to represent myself here). Maybe it can tell a Latino boy that he could become an important political leader. The possibilities are endless, but we can’t just talk about needing more diversity and more representation. There are people of color anxiously waiting to fill roles like these -- in theatre, in Hollywood -- but the only way they can get them is if they are given the chance.
To me, Hamilton wasn’t just about the life of the guy on the 10 dollar bill, it was about giving people of color a chance. And I think there is so much that we can accomplish by heading in that direction, we just have to support it in order for it to catch on.
A few people I saw the show with were already familiar with the soundtrack from Hamilton, but for me, it was a totally new experience. I didn't know what was in store for me. I think my favorite part of Hamilton was the cabinet meetings between Alex and Thomas Jefferson. They were debating, but instead of the formal format of a political debate, they had a rap battle to argue over the issues at hand. I feel like this had to be seen, not just listened to. The body gestures and facial expressions really made the rap battle and it was easier for me to follow, even though I'm not a history buff.
There were also some songs that stood out to me because they were unexpected. I didn't know that he had a romantic relationship with his wife's sister. So when Angelica (Eliza's sister) toasted to the marriage between Alex and Eliza, at first I thought, "Aw, what a sweet scene." But then the music changed and rewinded back to the beginning of the musical number that had just ended -- the musical number that told us the story of Alex and Eliza getting together and finally getting married. Suddenly, we're given Angelica's perspective, she wanted to be with Alex, but as the oldest daughter she had to marry someone who was wealthy and she had already seen that Eliza was infatuated with Alex, so she held back.
I wonder if I would have to make such a decision as the eldest sister in my family (I really hope I don't end up in a situation like that...) but the times are completely different. I'm pretty sure that if Angelica wasn't bound by social codes, she would have grabbed Alex ASAP, before Eliza had the chance to meet him. The forbidden love really stood out to me because I never considered it to be a possibility -- and during the intermission I heard someone talking about the relationship being forbidden because Alex and Angelica were basically like brother and sister once he married Eliza. It was such a weird concept for me because they technically weren't related so they could have been together if they really wanted to, but they both loved Eliza too much to hurt her like that.
Alex makes some decisions and statements that end up hurting the people he loves. His son dies in a duel because he was defending his father from someone who was badmouthing him-- and I thought it was interesting how his son's death foreshadowed his own death. Alex dies in the same manner, through a duel with Aaron Burr, once a friend but gradually becomes an enemy. Both Hamiltons had shot their guns in the sky rather than aiming at their opponent. Like son, like father?
I didn't know much about the story of Hamilton before seeing the play, I just knew who Alexander Hamilton was. Or at least, who I thought he was. I ended up learning much about him, things that the history books don't cover. I wonder what Hamilton would have accomplished if he hadn't died so early in his life. What would he have done if he hadn't agreed to the duel? Would he have run for president? Would America be the country it is today? Hamilton answers so much about Alex's life, but it also left me wishing that he had been able to live more of it.