Hamilton Revitalizes History with Pop
by Eliza Scharfstein on Friday, November 20th, 2015
On a Saturday night at the end of September, I headed down to New York’s ever-famous, always exciting, and infallibly busy Broadway. Somehow, my grandmother had managed to get my parents and me tickets to the incredibly popular musical, Hamilton, starring, written, and composed by Emmy Award Winner Lin Manuel Miranda. I was excited to watch the performance and grateful for a much-desired break from Senior Fall, but I definitely didn’t understand just how popular the play was, and more importantly, just how much I would love it. Needless to say, I walked out of the theatre in awe, and as time went on, my appreciation grew.
The plot, based on a biography by Ron Chernow, recounts the journey of founding father Alexander Hamilton. The play begins with Hamilton’s immigration from the Caribbean after becoming an orphan, then detailing his close partnership with George Washington, his appointment as the first Secretary of the Treasury, his avid affinity for writing, his relationship with his wife, Eliza (what a great name!), and eventually, his death by longstanding nemesis and former vice-president, Aaron Burr. Through incredibly powerful hip-hop and succulently melodious, catchy ballads, the musical brings the story of an ardent federalist alive on stage. Needless to say, the movement and the sound captivate.
The titular protagonist of the musical is not the only one who shines. The nuances of each character, from the widely studied Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to the lesser known Angelica Schuyler and Philip Hamilton make for an exciting, detailed, and important recount of a highly debated, highly analyzed, and arguably, sometimes simplified, part of American history.
The cast, comprised mostly of African American and Latino actors and actresses, provides a stunning and nuanced portrayal of the creation of the United States. Furthermore, the very premise of revolution as highlighted by the exquisitely written songs holds clear parallels to modern day, with the desire for solidarity, a spirit of debate, and the need for social change present both then and now.
Most people who have spoken to me in the past few weeks know that I am hooked. The only music I listen to on a regular basis is from Hamilton. I pretty much know the entire soundtrack (which is available on Spotify and YouTube), and, much to the enjoyment of my friends and family, I frequently use my breathtaking voice and exquisite sense of rhythm (if only this was true) to project the lyrics loudly throughout my house. Unfortunately, my voice cannot do justice to the genius Hamilton’s diverse set of songs. The musical contains pieces as soft as “It’s Quiet Uptown”—dedicated to the Hamilton couple’s life after the death of their son—and as lively as “My Shot”—recounting Hamilton’s inspirational motivation to succeed for himself and the new nation.
It just so happened that about a week or two after I saw the musical, my U.S. history teacher, Mr. Hilgendorf, announced that we would be having the classic Jefferson-Hamilton debate. What I had learned through the riveting prose on that livened stage found a home just as impassioned—albeit not as harmonious—around the Harkness table. My initial exposure to Hamilton furthered my excitement each time I entered the classroom. Thus, this musical, I think, should not only hold a place in our history classrooms, but also in a broader, nuanced discussion about the American Revolution. This initiation of passion and interest, paired with the social relevance of the musical and its incredible score, make Hamilton an extraordinary piece of art. Check it out. It seriously rocks.
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