Dating back to the caveman time period, the theatre has always been a way to express a plotline using song, dance, and acting. It is a form of entertainment that has transformed into a pop culture phenomenon that allows an audience to connect and become attached to 90 minutes of perfectly crafted lyrics and sounds, extravagant scenery, thought-provoking lines, and entrancing dance routines. In every time period, the world had one person that was the ideal playwright and actor. In the Golden Age of Greece, Thespis was the first person to step out of the chorus and become the first actor.
In Medieval times, a time when the world ceased to do theatre for its entertainment purposes but only for religion, Hrosvitha wrote hundreds of plays depicting Jesus and his life before, during, and after the cross. Then, theatre witnessed the biggest change it had ever had; a man named William Shakespeare took it out of the renaissance period and began including musical elements. He was known as the single greatest writer of the Elizabethan era. It is now 2017, and I believe we have discovered the Shakespeare of our time, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Although he has written and starred in numerous musicals and plays, his masterpiece ‘Hamilton’ has given him a legacy of theatrical brilliancy.
As a performer and music-enthusiast, I have always loved theatre and music. It is a way to express a story through lyrics, lines, dances, and scenery. It is the easiest way to connect to an audience and evoke emotion all in less than 90 minutes. When I came across all 24 songs from an album called ‘Hamilton’, I was intrigued, to say the least. I was no newbie to Miranda’s work, as I had fangirled over his previous soundtrack In the Heights years prior. But, I never fathomed that Miranda would create another musical with an even better soundtrack! As I listened to the songs nonstop and delved deeper into the background, I realized that Miranda had expertly crafted a musical centered on the least known founding father: Alexander Hamilton. The goal of the musical was to bring the story of an unforsaken orphan from the Caribbean who possessed incomparable determination and work ethic to become George Washington’s right-hand man and the very first treasurer of the United States government.
The playlist of 46 songs clearly explains the train of events and can get music lovers hooked with just one listen! The musical starts off explaining young Alexander’s life as an intelligent, destitute orphan in the Caribbean. He receives a full scholarship to King’s college (Columbia) in New York, and meets his role model Aaron Burr. Hamilton joins the independence effort and leaves a mark of success and confidence which catches the eye of the leader of the cause, General George Washington. Alexander goes through life successful and envied by many including his so called best companion, Aaron Burr. As the story rolls on, Hamilton marries the wealthy Elizabeth Schuyler and has extramarital relationships with a woman named Maria Reynolds and Elizabeth’s sister, Angelica Schuyler.
The affairs run in secrecy until Mrs. Reynolds husband comes to know, and blackmails Alexander into paying him large sums of money to keep the affair quite. Not knowing what else to do, Alexander agrees and continues the affair for years until his political rivals find out about the money laundering, and assume Hamilton has been funding the British army and is such, a traitor. Although Hamilton sets things straight and explains the true reason for the deposits of money to save his name, news spreads about his affair with Maria and his dreams of becoming president one day are crushed. Miranda paints Hamilton’s political downfall as tragic and unexpected, but the real tragedy of the play lies in the betrayal of Hamilton by his best friend, Burr. Hamilton meets burr as a young, eager man who idolized Burr. But, Hamilton proves to achieve much more than Burr at a much younger age and burr becomes blind with envy. Then, to pour salt in the wound, Burr had been campaigning for the presidency for years but that year, there was no Federalist Party, so there two candidates from the same political party vying for the presidency: Burr and Jefferson. The nation still revered Hamilton as an eco-political genius. They turned to Hamilton and begged him to release his vote. At the time, Hamilton was depressed and isolated because of his son’s death, but he finally told the public his decision on the presidency. Although Hamilton hated Thomas Jefferson as well, he felt that “Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none.”
After this, Burr felt like Hamilton had set him up his entire life, that Hamilton was the sole reason for his own failure in life. Burr and Hamilton had a teacher-student relationship, which transformed into a best man relationship. (In satisfied, we learn that Burr was Hamilton’s best man in his wedding) and ended as a murder-murdered relationship. The most tragic part of it all was that Hamilton and Burr both thought the other had betrayed them. It shows that revenge and anger can take over a mind, a heart and lead to disillusionment and devastating loss. We see this when Burr sings “When Alexander aimed at the sky, he may have been the first to die, but I’m the one who paid for it.” Burr realizes the true extent of his action of killing Hamilton. He wishes he would have seen Hamilton as a friend not a competitor, he wishes he could have done better in his own life, made his family proud of him, been there more for his daughter. Above all, he wishes he had taken a step back to think about everything he would be losing by pulling that trigger. If he had realized “the world was wide enough” for both of them, he could’ve been a hero not the villain.
Lin-Manuel Miranda displayed history in lyrics, with each line telling the story of a founding father Americans always put aside. It’s quite unbelievable when you think about Lin walking into a shop, picking up a biography about Alexander Hamilton, and just deciding that he was going to make a musical about this man. Lin goes beyond painting a vivid image but takes us back in time with the sole power of his lyricism. It is quite remarkable that a 22-year-old college student could read about one of the most influential men in American history, and immediately envision making a musical to give this man the legacy he always wanted. Miranda knew that he needed to find a way to take Hamilton off of his pedestal, out of the historical view to be able to show him as a man with qualities both good and bad. This way, Hamilton would become more than a paragraph in a textbook, more than a forgotten name, more than a man who died with unfinished business. He could hold a legacy of the destitute immigrant who became one of the most quintessential men in American history. Miranda displayed all of this in hip-hop and rap, entwining modernity with a two-hundred-year-old plotline.