Prior to 2015, not many people knew the story of Alexander Hamilton, despite his face donning every 10 dollar bill. Yet, thanks to the genius that is Lin Manuel Miranda, his story is accessible to all through the hit Broadway show, “Hamilton: An American Musical.”
Recently, “Hamilton” was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and this award is well deserved for many reasons. Miranda has not only created a new form of storytelling on Broadway; he’s shaping a generation. “I’ve learned more about the history of the Founding Fathers by listening to ‘Hamilton’ than I ever have in history class!” is not an uncommon statement to hear among avid “Hamilton” fans. There are Buzzfeed lists and “Hamilton” memes circulating the Internet. One artistic fan even created concept art for “Hamilton” as if it were an animated film.
Here’s the basic synopsis: Miranda takes the story of Treasury Secretary Hamilton and applies it to a hip-hop and R&B musical, setting it in the time of our Founding Fathers, complete with time period dress and makeup. Plus, each of the Founding Fathers is played by someone of color; Miranda, who is Puerto Rican, plays Hamilton himself.
Sounds kind of insane, huh? Trust me. It’s genius.
Miranda began his journey to write the musical in the middle of “In the Heights,” his first creation about Hispanics living in Washington Heights in New York. Similar to “Hamilton,” this first show was also an R&B/hip-hop musical, and earned him a name and Tony in the Broadway community. When he picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton in the airport one day, Miranda realized within the first pages that Hamilton’s story needed to be told. And what better way than through the rhythmic R&B beats and hip-hop sounds Miranda was so familiar with?
Listening to the entire musical is an experience. During a recent road trip with some friends, I started the musical at the very first song and listened to the entire soundtrack all the way through, without stopping. Now, I had listened to all of the songs up to that point, but taking the time to listen to them without any breaks changes the experience. And “Hamilton” is just that. An experience.
For example, the musical starts with characters rapping the introduction of Hamilton as others snap and a piano and strings accompany. But the music shifts as the musical continues. Not only are there intense rap battles between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, there are “British-esque” love songs from King George III to the colonies and heartfelt ballads from Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler. Hip-hop aficionados find a new love for musical storytelling through the references to the greats in the genre, and show-tune lovers have come to appreciate the art form in R&B and hip-hop thanks to Miranda. His musical is inspiring, and has brought together two groups otherwise thought to be polar opposites.
But what truly makes “Hamilton” inspiring is its ability to capture the diversity of America and the values it holds true. “This is a story about America then, told by America now,” Miranda said in an interview with The Atlantic. Hamilton’s is an underdog story about picking yourself up and fighting for what you believe in, for pursing your passions. For chasing your dreams. And it’s still the story of America today.
In one of the songs, audiences hear characters sing out, “In New York, you can be a new man.” And today, New York, though a large city, is still a small part in our great nation. Thanks to Lin Manuel Miranda, we are able to recapture the vision that in America, you can be a new man.