Alexander Hamilton would have remained a name easily forgotten in history but for one man, the Puerto Rican-American composer Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote and starred in the award-winning Broadway musical, ‘Hamilton’ which is now available to watch online as of July 3.
With his ingeniously-crafted (and brilliantly choreographed) hip hop musical, Miranda has immortalised the one American founding father whose face appears on a US bank note, but was never a US president. However, Hamilton was the country’s first Treasury Secretary as well as the man who actually established America’s first national bank back at the end of the 18th century, soon after his country won its revolutionary war and declared its Independence from British colonial rule.
Thanks to Miranda’s foresight and desire to democratise Broadway musicals, he also chose to independently fund the filming of Hamilton back in 2016 when its first cast included Miranda himself playing the title role. His aim had been to make his musical more accessible to people unacquainted with the joy and genius of the musical art form. It was also to reach out to especially Latino youth who could ill-afford the price of a Broadway ticket which is at minimum $100 (Sh10,300) a shot.
It’s the product of that three-day semi-professional filming that resulted in the video that is now streaming online. And in spite of the viewer not having been at the live performance in New York where the film was shot, the video captures the dazzling dynamism of Hamilton’s amazing life story: his rise from rags to riches, from obscurity to world renown, and finally from his super-status as George Washington’s ‘right hand man’ to his sudden and tragic demise in a dual with his former law partner, Aaron Burr.
One might ask, who would care to see the story of a dead American who lived almost 300 years ago? It’s a fair question, especially when most musicals are about white people whose lives are rarely relevant to our everyday experience. But as a Latino (not considered ‘white’ in America) who fell in love with musical theatre in an early age, Miranda realised he’d rarely get great roles to play unless he created them himself. So he started by writing In the Heights, a musical based on life in his Puerto Rican neighborhood, Washington Heights.
Then he read Ron Chernow’s definitive biography on Alexander Hamilton who was the only immigrant (said to also have a drop or two of African blood) among all the founding fathers. He got to work on his own musical interpretation of Hamilton after that.
What makes this show especially significant is that Miranda consciously cast the whole production with brilliant actors, singers and dancers of color. Additionally, Hamilton’s story is all told in rap and hip-hop, making it particularly appealing to youth.
But personally, I am still humming many Hamilton songs since the story, lyrics, music and choreography combine to make it one of the most memorable musical productions that I have ever seen.