'Hamilton': What America could be

Wednesday, July 8, 2020 - 7:33pm

NOSELL

Walt Disney Studios

Ever since my sister came home for her freshman year Winter Break with a song called “Satisfied,” “Hamilton” has been a part of my life. I met one of my closest friends because of it, I passed AP US History because of it and (sort of) passed AP Government because of it. I even got a chance to see the Chicago cast a few summers ago because of how much I loved it. As much as I loved that show, I knew it was nowhere near as incredible as the original cast’s show was. That same friend I mentioned before got to see the original cast’s show in New York and told me how amazing it was, and how much it meant to her to see the show with its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in the starring role. So when I heard that Disney+ was going to be releasing the original Broadway cast’s show, I was elated, positive that it would be one of the most incredible things I would ever see. I was right.

Getting to see the show from a couple hundred rows away from the stage does not compare to seeing the movie that Disney+ released. I got to see the heartbreak on Angelica’s (Renée Elise Goldsberry, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”) face during “Satisfied,” the good-natured teasing between Laurens (Anthony Ramos, “A Star is Born”), Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan, “The Super”), Lafayette (Daveed Diggs, “Wonder”) and Burr (Leslie Odom Jr., “Murder on the Orient Express”) in “Story of Tonight (Reprise),” the genuine tears rolling down Eliza’s (Phillipa Soo, “Here and Now”) face during “It’s Quiet Uptown …” The Disney+ film combines the best parts of a Broadway show with the intimacy of an at-home film. Seeing every carefully choreographed moment up close, while still having the audience reactions of laughter and applause, makes the show a truly unique experience. If Broadway had a flaw, it would be that very few audience members get the “perfect” view to see every detail that occurs onstage. The film removes that concern, allowing any and every viewer to experience the show in the best way possible.

One might think that you can just listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack and that would be enough, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The soundtrack doesn’t have Hercules Mulligan as Eliza’s and Alexander’s (Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Mary Poppins Returns”) flower girl, it doesn’t have Eliza’s heart-wrenching scream in “Stay Alive (Reprise)” and it doesn’t have the magic of a true Broadway show. Broadway is all about exaggeration; neither the soundtrack by itself nor a movie version of the show could capture what the actual Broadway performance does. However, you get live, in-time reactions from both the cast and the audience when you see the recorded performance of “Hamilton.”

But the real genius of “Hamilton” is that you learn something beyond the history of Alexander Hamilton’s life when you watch it. Onstage, you see a version of America that we don’t have in real life. A version that we can work toward. There are women who vow to make “women a part of the (Declaration of Independence’s) sequel” in “The Schuyler Sisters,” there are people of color in positions of power — such as Christopher Jackson’s (“Bull”) George Washington — which is a step towards change (even if it isn’t enough) and there is a president who knows when it’s time to step down. It’s not a perfect America by any means; there is infidelity, murder and mourning. But it truly is a story of America’s history told by Americans today, as Lin-Manuel Miranda intended. The show has historical inaccuracies, to be sure, but those almost don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. You could read about the founding of America any time to get historical facts, but a textbook doesn’t provide hope for change the way that “Hamilton” does. The fact that “Hamilton” was created in modern time gives it a unique chance to portray history in a new way and tell a story that impacts viewers today. In other words, the goal of the show isn’t necessarily to learn all the details of Hamilton’s life or the founding of America. The goal is to learn something about America today and America tomorrow. 

To see a Puerto Rican create this show and embody the role of an immigrant founding father shows what people of color can accomplish, that they, like immigrants, can get the job done. To see three women all of different backgrounds and races be sisters on stage shows how people of different colors can be equals, be family. To see a Black man transform into our nation’s first president, a slave owner, shows how even the most revered people can be undeserving of our praise. To watch Hamilton, a show where every single word, every single moment, says more than just its face value, is to experience a world where America is changing. The show may be set in the 1700s, but it is meant for 21st century viewers. It exists for its viewers to think about what they want their country to look like. 

Many of the people who “Hamilton” highlights weren’t perfect, especially considering the fact that most of the founding fathers were slaveholders. The show rarely recognized the problems with its characters, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. Knowing just how bad the founding fathers were in real life made me wonder what they themselves would think of the film, if they would be happy with how they were being portrayed. But in the end, I don’t think it matters. Even if George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would hate how Christopher Jackson and Daveed Diggs represented them, even if Alexander Hamilton himself would find the show offensive, it doesn’t matter. The show isn’t for the founding fathers. It’s for us: the people who make up America now, people of all colors, religions and genders. We deserve to be represented because we make up America just as much as the founding fathers did.