History is usually learned through textbooks and classrooms; Broadway is for entertainment and enjoyment. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the genius who decided to mix the two in the greatest history lesson to be sung on stage.
Miranda took an interest in the Ron Chernow biography on Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. He then began writing music using hip-hop, the music of revolution.
“My way into the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life was the way he wrote himself into every circumstance,” Miranda said in an interview with Jake Hamilton.
Before Hamilton was on Broadway, Miranda performed the first song at the White House in 2009 for the White House Poetry Jam. Obama stood up clapping for the performance before the rest of the room joined in.
Then the musical became a simple mixtape in 2013. It made its off-Broadway debut in February 2015, and by August it was already on Broadway. It kept rising, by 2016 becoming number one on Broadway and making more than $1 billion in sales. Tickets are still selling out.
Wait for it
My alarm went off at five in the morning but I was already up from excitement. I couldn’t help it; it was my first Broadway show – Hamilton, no less. I got dolled up and rode with my friends to Arizona State University in Tempe, where the performance was to take place in Gammage Auditorium. Hundreds of people were lining up to get inside, and we followed suit.
The venue was beautiful, and everyone was dressed up in formal attire or costumes representing characters from the show. Lines for the gift shop were already too long for us to even try. They were also selling snacks and alcohol (far too overpriced).
Thirty minutes before the show, we were finally able to take our seats in row 12. I didn't realize we were going to be so close to the action. I looked around the theater watching every seat fill, even the ones from the balcony. The lights dimmed, and the crowd went silent.
Watching the Revolution
The first song started, and I was instantly hooked. The basic facts about Hamilton’s life all come out in the first four minutes. The rest is all about how it all came to pass, beginning with Hamilton coming to New York where he meets Aaron Burr (sir).
I knew this was a musical, but I was stunned to realize the whole story was in song, no spoken dialogue – meaning that the soundtrack includes the whole show. Of course, all the dancing and the elaborate set, including a moving floor, is what draws the audience into the story.
Seeing these historical characters played by non-white actors, with minorities singing and dancing in major roles offers great hope – like, this is America, after all. In our history books, the Revolution is mainly depicted as white people fighting and making decisions; but, in reality, it was every kind of American fighting that we see today. The only major white casting was for King George, the villain.
Take your shot
Strangely, watching the characters’ struggles as they play out on stage makes you take sides. You wonder who is in the right. Then you remember: this all happened. (Well, okay, it is a particular interpretation.)
You see these major characters in our history human. You see their mistakes. None of them was perfect, but they made America what it is today. At one point I hated Hamilton! Why? Because he cheated on his wife. I was so upset at our founding father, our first Treasury Secretary, a brilliant man who fought in our revolutionary war, for cheating on his wife Eliza Schuyler. He was weak, just like any of us could be.
By the end, we were all on our feet with tears in our eyes, clapping. I loved every second of it, and I’m still listening to the soundtrack. It was a wonderful way to learn history. If you get the chance to see the brilliance that is Hamilton, on or off Broadway, do not throw away your shot.
Graphic by Pam Black