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The Daily Tar Heel

How 'Hamilton' Is Changing Musical Theater


Since it began previews on Broadway in July 2015, the musical Hamilton has sold 489,357 seats and grossed $75,987,840. With close to 500,000 audience members in one year, Hamilton is retelling the story of a previously overlooked founding father to multiple generations of theatergoers. 

Source: Qnary

Composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda started the creative process of Hamilton in 2008. At the time, he was taking a break from his other successful musical In the Heights. While on vacation he picked up Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton's life story resonated with Miranda so much that he quickly began writing songs about the life of the founding father. He even performed what would be become the opening number at the White House Poetry Jam in 2009.

The music

The musical uses hip-hop and rap to portray the turbulent and evolving time of the American Revolution. The impressive soundtrack contains 46 songs that let listeners travel through Alexander Hamilton's life and eventual death at the hands of Aaron Burr. Manuel incorporates rap and hip hop to characterize the revolutionary American figures and uses British "Beatles-like" pop in the story of King George III. 

The talent in this show is astounding. Manuel portrays the title character while Leslie Odom Jr. stars as Hamilton's lifelong adversary Aaron Burr. Phillipa Soo takes on the role of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton's journey as Hamilton's wife is beautifully highlighted throughout the show along with that of her sister's. RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry portrays Angelica Schuyler, sister of Eliza and friend of Alexander. The musical pays tribute not only to Hamilton, but to the women in his life. 

Source: Playbill

Some show-stopping songs include:

  • Alexander Hamilton - The opening number in which members of the main cast each contribute a verse about Hamilton's life before the play starts. Aaron Burr narrates and eventually admits that he's the one that shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.
  • The Schuyler Sisters - The play's ultimate girl power anthem. The three Schuyler sisters are introduced into the story.
  • Satisfied - Angelica Schuyler's power ballad at the wedding of her sister Eliza to Hamilton. This insinuates that she had feelings for Alexander, but is torn between the love for her sister and Alexander. 
  • Wait For It - Aaron Burr's frustration is fully encapsulated in this song. A fun fact is that the idea for 'Wait For It' came to Miranda while on a train to a party in Brooklyn.
  • My Shot - The rap anthem representing Hamilton's literary and intellectual prowess as well as his infinite hunger for success.
  • Gun and Ships - Daveed Diggs channels Marquis de Lafayette in an explosive rap about acquiring French guns and ships to help the Americans in the war. 
  • Cabinet Battle #1 - Daveed Diggs' Thomas Jefferson challenges Miranda's Hamilton to a cabinet battle mirroring rap battles of today. 
  • The Room Where It Happens - Odom Jr.'s Aaron Burr expresses frustration at not being at the secret and mysterious "dinner party bargain" between Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison. 
  • Burn - After it is revealed that Alexander Hamilton had an affair, his wife Eliza sings a beautiful ballad veiled with sadness, regret and anger. 
  • It's Quiet Uptown - When the Hamiltons' son Philip is killed in a duel, the somber song is sung to explain the family's move uptown and Eliza's eventual forgiveness.
  • Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story - The final song in the show explains what happened to Eliza in her fifty years of life after her husband's death. It highlights her contributions to society and history that the audience may not have known about before. 

The story

As a lover of history and theater, this musical is a whirlwind experience of emotion for me. I believe the reason why it's become massively successful is because it has many themes that surround this country today. Alexander Hamilton was an orphaned immigrant who traveled to the colonies from the Caribbean. His work ethic and passion can relate to the hard worker in anyone. In a country built on the stories of immigrants, the idea of an immigrant founding father really does bring perspective. A lot of people only know about Hamilton being the first Secretary of the Treasury, but not that he was the youngest - at age 32. The hard work and perseverance of a wickedly talented writer is honored in this show. Another aspect of the show's importance is diversity. The musical takes pride in having a representative cast telling the story of America in the past with the people of today's America.

Source: Vogue

While Hamilton's duel with Aaron Burr is taught in many American history classes, some high school students can see it portrayed in person. The show has partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation to provide 20,000 New York City public high school students a chance to integrate the show with their studies. The students attend select Wednesday matinees and get to interact with the cast for $10. This one program shows that this musical is bringing a new generation to musical theater and retelling history to new audiences. 

What's next?

The Tony Awards will take place on June 12th, 2016. Hamilton broke the record for number of nominations by receiving 16. With Hamilton leading the pack of nominations, it will be interesting to see what shows and actors take home the awards. 

As for Miranda, his schedule is looking pretty busy. He is currently writing the music for the upcoming Disney film Moana. He has also been confirmed to star in the newly announced sequel to Mary Poppins. His Tony-winning musical In The Heights will be made into a movie produced by The Weinstein Co.

Hamilton's Impact

It was recently announced that Harriet Tubman will eventually replace President Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill. For a while, it was supposed to be Hamilton who would be replaced on the ten dollar bill. I dare to say that without Hamilton, it is possible that the first Secretary of the Treasury could have been the one removed from our currency. However, the decision has been made and for now, the man who had such an impact on our financial system will remain on the ten dollar bill. 

The scope of Hamilton's success has impacted theater culture. It has sparked debate and promoted interest in American political history. The show's journey goes to show the power of music and storytelling. With the right lyrics, beat and message, someone's story can live on and resonate with people of any time period. 

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