Hamilton revolutionized modern-day theater.
The life story of Alexander Hamilton comes to life in the rhymes and lines of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music. The musical Hamilton will forever be known for changing Broadway history and sparking discussion on American history itself.
The release of Hamilton on Disney+ over the Fourth of July weekend not only re-triggered the public’s love (or hate) for the musical, but it also helped Disney form a more general audience for its platform. Adding Hamilton drove Disney's app downloads up 74%.
Hamilton premiered on Broadway in 2015 and has since become a Broadway hit. In 2016, Hamilton won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and it also won 16 nominations and 11 awards at the Tony Awards. While Hamilton broke records on stage, it also caused a global phenomenon of people previously uninvolved with theater becoming obsessed with the show.
Miranda, the writer, composer and lead actor, tells the story of Alexander Hamilton through his carefully crafted lyrics. Hamilton is no average musical. Featuring a hip-hop and rap soundtrack, Hamilton incorporates unconventional melodies to express the story.
Louise Harris, a 20-year-old UF acting junior, said she was speechless the first time she saw the musical.
“The first time I saw Hamilton was when I was 16,” Harris said. “Anytime you see a live performance, at least for me, I just kind of have like a fire in my belly that I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do this.’”
Hamilton’s lasting impact on the theater industry has changed the way people view music, casting and history, she said.
“Their ability as an artist has nothing to do with the color of their skin, but also who they are has everything to do with the color of their skin,” Harris said. “Honoring that casting I think is really important, and I think that Hamilton just did a good job of that and kind of led by example.”
Hamilton is known for its diverse cast, where Black and Latinx actors play lead roles. While this can be seen as historically inaccurate, the purpose of it is to show America then alongside America now, according to Miranda.
“There's a lot of freedom and a lot of music discovery happening with how stories are told in the way that representation is used to further storytelling,” said Bree Turner, a 21-year-old UF senior studying political science and theatre. “I think that's one thing that Hamilton has done really successfully.”
Steven Noll, a 68-year-old UF master lecturer in history, said Hamilton has helped people become interested in history.
“Every 20 years or so, kind of, Broadway reinvents itself, you know,” said Noll. “You know [Hamilton], it speaks to a new generation of people.”
Historically, Broadway has starred predominantly white actors, so Hamilton’s Black and Latinx cast exemplifies America’s diversity. One strong critic, historian Lyra Monterio, argues that the musical isn’t as revolutionary as people make it out to be.
“It’s still white history,” Monterio said.“And no amount of casting people of color disguises the fact that they’re erasing people of color from the actual narrative. Is this the history that we most want black and brown youth to connect with—one in which black lives so clearly do not matter?”
Critics of the play argue that it has many inaccuracies, such as incorrect representation of the founding fathers and diminishing people of color’s history, among other flaws.
“I think the important thing is to understand that these people — Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr, Adams — are all complex figures who have positive sides, but also they have that huge issue with owning other people,” Noll said. “They are represented as important flawed figures, who see themselves as individuals developing a new world, based not on modernity but based on representative government.”
“There's some controversy surrounding the way that the story is told and things that are either emphasized or left out, but, you know, above all, it inserted a lot of conversation surrounding some really important societal things, just even within the U.S.,” Turner said.
With the Black Lives Matter movement and discussions of systemic racism in America, UF students want to be educated on their country’s history.
However, people’s interest in the musical also sparks discussions on American history.
“I think that hopefully that will translate into people taking history courses and trying to understand, again, at a level, what this means and also try to understand at a deeper level, how ingrained the issues of slavery are in America's founding,” Noll said.
Due to the pandemic, Broadway has been shut down until at least January 2021. Many artists and people are out of work, which has led to the rise of movements and petitions to support them. While the shows are halted, the public can still enjoy a taste of the theater while staying at home.
As they say, the show must go on.
Hamilton, which premiered on Broadway in 2015, joined Disney+ July 4.
Michelle Holder is a second-year journalism student at UF minoring in entrepreneurship and a Metro reporter at The Alligator. She is from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. In her free time she enjoys going to coffee shops and reading.