Hamilton is a maddeningly good piece of work. For the three months since I first heard the musical, its melodies have been on rotation in my head, the term “the orphanage” has developed a Pavlovian capacity to make me tear up, and when I think of Thomas Jefferson now I can only see a towering mixed-race man with a scraggly afro dancing around in matching purple waistcoat and breeches. I’m not the only one who has been taken with the play though; Hamilton is sold out for the foreseeable future and its official cast recording is smashing all kinds of sales records. Having reached perhaps the apex of popularity for a musical, its cast was recently invited to perform at the White House, whose current occupant family can be counted among the musical’s fans.
It is absolutely no stretch to say that Hamilton has captured the country’s collective imagination, and that is no surprise, on account of how singularly American the story of its protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, is (to say nothing of the infectiousness of its musical numbers).The man was born a poor orphan in the Caribbean, and after immigrating to the Thirteen Colonies, rose to the upper echelons of a nascent US government with only tenacity and intellect as his tools. The narrative resonates with Americans, but in addition to that, the delivery is supremely illuminating as far as history and shared culture go. The fresh twist that Hamilton brings to the nation’s life story is that all of the songs the Americans in the play perform are hip-hop, and every major figure is portrayed as a person of color. What many theater-goers may not have expected of the play is that these aesthetic touches fit the narrative like a glove.
Hip-hop is a music of the downtrodden, and that culture’s more energetic elements serve as perfect suppliers of anthems that testify to the angst, revelry, and rebellion inherent in the story of the American Revolution. It is a culture native and unique to the American experience. More importantly, though, is that how natural it is to see the period’s figures as black, Latino, and Asian-American, and to watch them partake so easily in such culture, serves to underscore the real profundity of Hamilton: the American experience as cultural mythology truly does belong to the whole of our society.
The bootstraps narrative of a poor immigrant’s rise through skill and spirit- and all the friendships, rivalries, and heartbreak he accrues in the process- resonate with a much wider array of American identities than the ones that were present at the Continental Congress, the ease with which Hamilton came together proves as much. While the actual politics of the era may have been lily-white, the stories and ideals they have produced are not. In the age of Obama, it is refreshing to see the culture at large acknowledge the level of universality in our history, and for a certain anthropology student of mixed race, it is both fascinating and heartening to watch America come to terms with the fact that every swath of the nation’s heritage does, in fact, deserve recognition.
(If you haven’t yet, you should acquaint yourself with this masterwork of a play.)