Broadway's "Hamilton" is setting records, breaking down barriers in theater

It’s rare that a Broadway musical makes a splash in the pop culture world outside the theatre community. But this week, a Broadway musical’s cast recording did something no other has ever done: it reached number 1 on the rap charts.

The musical, “Hamilton,” opened on Broadway in July. It spans the life of the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and elaborates on what he and the other founding fathers did to help make our country what it is today.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Tony Award winner for 2008’s “In the Heights,” weaves hip-hop, rap, jazz, R&B, a bit of classical, some British Invasion pop and good old-fashioned musical theatre music into a masterpiece that is being hailed as a work of genius by critics and fans alike. Since the show is completely sung-through (there’s no dialogue), the cast recording is a stand-alone work of art—you get every word of the action.

Kristin McSweeney, an EMU senior Communications major, said, “I love everything about Hamilton. I love the history lesson that you get while listening to the ‘Cabinet Battles,’and the relationships you learn about in songs like ‘One Last Timeand Satisfied.’ Besides the education you get, the messages that it sends out are absolutely beautiful.”

“Having seen it on Broadway this summer, I can tell you that nothing has ever been so worth my money, and I would go back in a heartbeat if I could,” said Kelsey DeGuise, an EMU senior majoring in Theatre Arts.

There are not many people who can say they’ve scored a ticket for the show—it’s sold out past the end of this year. Many celebrities have managed to get in to see the show though, including Beyoncé, several rap stars and even President Obama and First Lady, Michelle, who’ve both seen it twice. This is pretty unusual for Broadway and shows the mainstream hype “Hamilton” is getting.

One of the greatest things about this hype is that it’s not the result of a major star being attached to the project. Miranda plays Hamilton, but even he is not a household name, though “Hamilton” seems to be changing that.

The biggest star in the cast, other than Miranda, is Jonathan Groff as King George. Groff had a recurring role on “Glee,” but mostly has theatre credits to his name. Several of the other leading actors and actresses made their Broadway debuts in Hamilton.

Another unusual aspect of Hamilton’s cast is that all of the leading actors, aside from Groff, and most of the ensemble, are African American, Latino or Asian. Miranda has said that this was a deliberate decision to tell the story of America then, with the people of America now.

This lends a new kind of relevance to the telling of our history, and presents that history in a modern and fresh way, while still being accurate. Miranda drew inspiration from Ron Chernow’s 700-page biography, Alexander Hamilton, and Chernow became the historical consultant for the show.

“Hamilton is breaking down all sorts of barriers, from the color-blind casting, to bringing a new and revolutionary sound to Broadway, to telling the story of one of our most forgotten founding fathers,” said Nick Casella, a senior Theatre Arts Major at EMU.

In Wait For It, arguably one of the best songs in the musical jam-packed with showstoppers, Vice President Aaron Burr, who was Hamilton’s friend, colleague and ultimately killed him in their famous duel, sings, “He changes the game… and he raises the stakes.” The same is true of Miranda—he’s transforming the way musicals will be written, performed and thought about.

His works are well on the way to becoming to our generation what Stephen Sondheim’s were to his, and what Rodgers and Hammerstein’s were to Sondheim’s generation – the pinnacle of achievement in the field. Another song in “Hamilton” says, “History has its eyes on you,” and history most certainly has its eyes on Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of “Hamilton.”

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