How A Broadway Musical Made U.S. History Cool Again

We’ve all had the misfortune of sitting through a boring history class at some point in our college careers. Whether you took it to meet a general education requirement or because you consider yourself to be a history buff, there’s no denying the fact that history classes have a tendency to run a little dry. They’re even worse when they start at 8am on Monday mornings.

Maybe that’s why it’s so surprising that Hamilton: An American Musical is currently taking the world by storm. After all, it’s not the first musical to be written about events from United States history. 1776 or Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, anyone?

Hamilton0044r

Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, from his role as George Washington’s right-hand man in the American Revolution to his work founding the National Bank and the United States Mint.

It doesn’t really sound like anything all-too special, does it?

Well, try telling that to the 700 people who lined up for lottery tickets on the first night of previews back in July 2015. The show has been sold out for months and the tickets that are available cost hundreds of dollars. Its biggest and most notable fans range from Beyoncé and Kanye West to Barack Obama and Jimmy Fallon.

So, what is it that makes Hamilton so freaking special?

In telling Hamilton’s often-forgotten story, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the musical who pulls double-duty starring as the show’s titular character, has revolutionized the concept of the Broadway musical. The music is blended with hip-hop, rap, and pop-inspired tones, providing a stark contrast to the narrative being told. After all, you would never in a million years have imagined that Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson might engage in rap battles during cabinet meetings, would you? You might even recognize a line from “Cabinet Battle #1” that Hillary Clinton tweeted after a GOP debate last fall: They don’t have a plan/they just hate mine.”

But if rap and hip-hop aren’t exactly your cup of tea, the musical also features sweeter, more traditional Broadway tunes, too. “Dear Theodosia” shows us a softer side of Hamilton and his long-time, love-to-hate him frenemy, Aaron Burr. “Burn,” sung by Hamilton’s loyal and scorned wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, is a classic Broadway ballad that will probably leave you hating Hamilton, but don’t worry, you won’t hate him for too long.

HamiltonRichard Rodgers Theatre

While the score is incredible and more than deserving of this year’s Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, Hamilton is even more unique in that it recounts the founding of America in a way our history books and professors have never tried to before: by making it relatable to today’s audiences. Its cast is almost entirely made up of actors of mixed races, serving to break up the whitewashed mold of U.S. history as it is so often told to us by our history books. Said Miranda in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “In Hamilton, we’re telling the stories of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”

In telling Hamilton’s story, the show also embraces modern issues. In “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette sing, “Immigrants/We get the job done,” a line that has since been used to champion present-day immigration reform. And, if you can believe it, feminism really wasn’t much of a concept in the eighteenth century, but in “The Schuyler Sisters,” Angelica Schuyler sings, “You want a revolution/I want a revelation/So listen to my declaration/”We hold these truths to be self-evident/That all men are created equal”/And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel.” Pretty progressive, don’t you think?

Do yourself a favor and give the album a listen. If by the end you’re not crying into your pillow as Angelica sings “Every other founding father’s story gets told/Every other founding father gets to grow old” in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” saving every last penny you dig up in your couch cushions or find wedged beneath the seats in your car so maybe one day you, too, can be in “The Room Where It Happens,” I’d love to talk. I guarantee Hamilton is the coolest history lesson you’ll ever receive.

 

 

Kelly Moseman

Editorial Contributor, American University Major: Public Communication Her heart belongs to: Sunday mornings, One Direction, hazelnut lattes, warm weather, and her white Converse high-tops You can find her: creating new playlists on Spotify, watching videos of puppies on YouTube, and trying to find the right Instagram filter

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