I finally saw #Hamilton. Here’s what I thought.
Hamilton Orpheum Theatre Cast Michael Luwoye, Joshua Henry, and Rory O’Malley, Rubén J. Carbajal as John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton; Jordan Donica as Marquis De Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Amber Iman as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Isaiah Johnson as George Washington; Solea Pfeiffer as Eliza Hamilton; Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica Schuyler; and Mathenee Treco as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Ryan Alvarado, Raymond Baynard, Amanda Braun, Daniel Ching, Karli Dinardo, Jeffery Duffy, Jennifer Geller, Jacob Guzman, Julia Harriman, Afra Hines, Sabrina Imamura, Lauren Kias, Yvette Lu, Desmond Newson, Desmond Nunn, Josh Andrés Rivera, Raven Thomas, Ryan Vasquez, Keenan D. Washington, and Andrew Wojtal.

I finally saw #Hamilton. Here’s what I thought.

I remember a few years ago, one of my good actor friends in NYC called me raving about a new musical he saw called Hamilton at The Public Theater. He poured over it using words like “amazing,” “genius” and “Broadway bound.” Sure enough, he called it and less than a year later it was the hottest ticket on the Great White Way. So, after months of trying to get tickets and bubbling anticipation, I finally got to the room where it happens. Here’s what I thought:

  1. What makes Hamilton so unique is that in its conception, instead of trying to make a traditional, Sondheim-like musical about the founding of America, Lin Manuel Miranda made the genre fit him. The score is a hip hop mix tape, cabinet meetings are rap battles and the love songs ring of En Vogue. I’ve heard the men in my family say numerous times that the American government is the biggest gang there is, and the founding of this country involved some real street ish. Turf wars, rape, murder, dumping tea into harbors. Lin Manuel Miranda took the music of the streets and applied it to the Constitution. Genius.
  2. Furthermore, by casting black and brown actors as founding fathers, the musical challenges the audience to ask themselves what really makes them proud to be an American? Is our nationalism attached to white supremacy? Or, is it in the attitude of being “young, scrappy and hungry?” I am happy that Latinx youth, whose physical bodies are literally under siege right now, have this musical as an example that they can do anything. I had that same feeling when I saw Latin History for Morons, that they were being given permission to have pride in themselves, which is so important when coming of age.
  3. As a theatre critic who is not used to seeing people who look like me onstage, I found myself having to suspend my disbelief a bit and get my eyes used to seeing these black and brown bodies imagined in such an important way. The only plays I have ever seen that spoke to my personal experiences as a black woman who grew up in a middle class suburb of Atlanta are A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and Smart People by Lydia Diamond. By seeing cast diversity in Hamilton, I felt invited to join in the American dream.
  4. With all of the political nonsense happening in this country, I think a sense of pride in the promise of America is diminishing by the minute. We have become so binary that we have forgotten to be human. As trifling and problematic as Alexander Hamilton was as a human being, Hamilton makes you proud to be an American again. This is the country that that was never meant to be a world super power. “Look around, look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now!”
  5. However, it also becomes painfully clear that greed, cheap labor and racism have been the demise of this nation from the start, and like the great empires before, this one will fall if we don’t course correct fast. From the displacement of First Nations people to make room for colonists to the abuse of indentured servants and slaves, our obsession with excess has been our Achilles heel. This is after all the same country where people coupon and hoard 50 bottles of Tide on the same block where someone doesn’t have enough to eat. What on earth are we doing? In 1776, Alexander Hamilton compromised with Thomas Jefferson to allow black people to be considered 3/5 of a person in order to solidify the Constitution of this country and we have been treated like 3/5 of a person ever since. That’s not heroic, it’s shameful and the human cost of the American dream has not been worth it for black people. Until we conceive of all people as whole people, we will all suffer.
  6. It’s a lot. It’s lyrically dense and this is a musical that I am glad I listened to before seeing it because it would be difficult to keep up with the story otherwise– especially if you don’t listen to rap music. People who listen to rap, specifically northern rap, have an advantage in being able to grasp the lyrics.
  7. I can’t imagine what the audition process is like for this show. You have to be able to sing about eight different genres of music– rap, reggaeton, rockabilly, R&B, jazz, and pop at the very least. It also made me appreciate the Hamilton Mixtape even more. I don’t know whose idea it was to have Ashanti and Ja Rule do “Helpless,” but bless that good soul.
  8. Women have always been expected to adapt, change and evolve, but men have not. #MeToo is a movement that is asking men to change for the first time since Adam and it’s got them shook, because women have always been the safe keepers of evolution. Eliza Hamilton and Hilary Clinton had to tolerate the same b.s. and I’m triggered by that reality. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was a woman of power, position and poise, but because of gender she wasn’t able to come full bloom without a husband. After he got himself killed on some street ish, her life became about solidifying his legacy and advocating for the abolition of slavery. Where’s her musical?
  9. I heard a lot of people say that once they say Hamilton, In the Heights no longer impressed them. I disagree. Hamilton is certainly a more ambitious undertaking from a writing perspective, but the story of In the Heights and the outstanding choreography were not diminished for me by seeing Hamilton. If anything, both shows cement Miranda as an innovator in musical theatre.
  10. Now that Miranda has successfully gotten two hip hop musicals to Broadway, I’d like for a black librettist and composer to be able to do the same. Yes, hip hop started in the Bronx with black Latinos at the core, but the culture has been dominated by non-hispanic blacks for the past 25 years. It’s important for blackness, without exoticism attributable to language or “foreignness,” to be seen as amazing, so this needs to be allowed to happen. Now pardon me while I try to get “The Room Where It Happens” out of my head.

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