There was once a time when teenagers couldn’t care less about revolution-era United States and the building up of the American government. That time is not today.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, Hamilton, has become the most talked about theatre production in recent years. Hundreds of people flock to the Richard Rodger’s theatre in New York every week, including big-name celebrities and politicians. So how has a musical about 18 century politics become the hottest show of the year?
The answer lies in how the musical is presented. The majority of songs in Hamilton are rapped, accompanied by electronic beats, and feature modern slang. In the Schuyler Sisters, the singers repeatedly break to shout “WORK!”, a homage to pop-culture icons Beyoncé and Rihanna. Debates between title character Alexander Hamilton and the main foil, Thomas Jefferson, are conducted as “rap battles”, where two opponents rhyme angrily at each other to a beat. The songs are beyond catchy – they’re interesting, especially to young people. With quick beats and sarcastic quips, teenagers find relatability in political figures, who hardly anyone really cared about before the musical premiered in 2015. The musical’s soundtrack is the highest-charting cast album since 1963, further cementing its place in history, and it’s all because of the internet. There are hundreds of fan accounts, featuring artwork of the characters and heavily-fictionalized accounts of historic events. Hamilton has managed to give new emotional depth to virtually unknown historical figures, giving abolitionist John Laurens descriptors such as “cute,” “cinnamon roll,” and “totally gay for Alexander Hamilton,” and making Jefferson the picture of antagonism.
However, Miranda’s musical has done much more than inspire teenagers to gush over “certified sweetheart with a mean streak,” Eliza Hamilton – it has given rise to a whole new generation of politically aware youth. Hamilton discusses the morality behind various political strategies (Aaron Burr is portrayed as a politician with no firm opinions, while Hamilton is an out-spoken, easily angered man with major political intentions and no verbal filter), and furthers the discussion on race. The entire original cast of Hamilton, (except for King George III, portrayed by Jonathan Groff), are people of colour.
Most recently, the cast of Hamilton singled out vice president-elect Mike Pence when he attended the musical. Actor Brandon Dixon delivered a short speech to Pence on behalf of the cast and crew, pleading with him to “uphold American values” and protect the diverse American population, that many believe the Trump administration might harm. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump took to Twitter demanding an apology from the cast; however, Pence said he wasn’t offended.
Broadway plays and musicals rarely ever break political ground, yet Hamilton has managed to defy this standard, among others. Teenagers never cared about America’s founding fathers until Alexander Hamilton cussed out John Adams, but times are changing. Interest in American history has skyrocketed, and who knows? Maybe someone will write an award-winning musical about trigonometry and math grades will go up worldwide.
Photo courtesy of Quartz