This article was written by our Everly Mag Intern, Connor
Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR HAMILTON AHEAD!
When Lin Manuel Miranda first saw the musical Rent, “a light bulb went off [in his head] and it was like ‘oh, you can write a musical that’s about you, about your life.’” That’s exactly what he set out to do with his first show, In the Heights. The musical explores the life of a first-generation Puerto Rican New Yorker, just like Lin Manuel Miranda. The cast is dominated by people of color, especially from the Latinx community. In the Heights ended up being nominated for 13 Tonys, and even won best musical.
“A light bulb went off and it was like ‘oh, you can write a musical that’s about you, about your life.’”
7 years later I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack for the very first time and was instantly obsessed.
I can talk for hours on end about how incredible the musical is (and will be the first to proclaim that Lin Manuel Miranda is an unparalleled genius). The more I listened to the soundtrack, the more I was struck by how powerful one of the show’s messages is, and why our generation must listen to it.
For anyone unfamiliar, Hamilton: An American Musical is a show written by Lin Manuel-Miranda about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton. Even though the show takes place around the time of the American Revolution, the music of the show contains rap, pop, hip hop, soul, and others. Auditions for the show are colorblind, leading to a cast that reflects the diversity of today’s America. Hamilton is a profoundly revolutionary (no pun intended) piece of theatre.
Alexander Hamilton was an orphan who hailed from the Caribbean. He envisioned and founded the US’s financial system, and wrote 51 of the 83 Federalist Papers (documents which support the constitution and are still used today). His infamous death was the result of a duel with fellow politician Aaron Burr.
The musical explores many themes, from the fleeting nature of time to the idea of satisfaction, but the most prominent one is legacy. Hamilton refuses to “throw away [his] shot” and wants to make his mark on history. He attempts to use writing as his legacy. He wrote his way out of the Caribbean when he was young, to defend the US constitution, and to win over his wife. He isn’t content with hoping he’s remembered well, he wishes to ensure it; and believes his writing is the way he will be remembered.
“I’m just like my country: I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot”
The show sees Hamilton wrestling with the fact that he won’t be the one to tell his story. Early on George Washington tells him that he has no control over how he will be seen, that “history has its eyes on” him and will judge him. Despite this, Hamilton is determined to write his legacy. It’s constantly remarked that he writes as if “he’s running out of time”.
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”
It’s only when he reaches the point of the fatal duel that he understands how he’ll be remembered. Legacy is “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see”, and writing some “notes at the beginning of a song someone” else will sing for you. Hamilton realizes that he’s done all he can to ensure his legacy, it’s time to say goodbye and trust his peers will tell his story.
“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me.”
The person who ends up carrying on his memory is his wife, Eliza Schuyler. While Hamilton was killed in 1804, Eliza lives another 50 years. In that time she tells the stories of those who are important in her life by ensuring their legacy. She interviews Revolutionary War Veterans, raises money for the Washington Monument, and establishes “the first private orphanage in New York City” (being directly influenced by Hamilton, who was orphaned at a young age).
Yet, the sad truth Hamilton addresses in its opening song is that most of “America forgot him”. Before the runaway success of the musical, there was talk of taking Hamilton off of the ten dollar bill. The musical even states that, unlike Alexander, “every other founding father’s story is told.”
But all of that changed due to one person, Lin Manuel Miranda. Miranda ended up being the one to tell Hamilton’s story. He did this in a way (as seen through the choice of music and casting) that reflects the idea that America is a melting pot. He also did this with his own life as seen from In the Heights.
“Miranda ended up being the one to tell Hamilton’s story.”
Growing up largely surrounded by movies dominated by non-diverse casts, it can be easy to feel discouraged from being storytellers. But, we are living in an era where stories told by diverse groups of people end up gaining critical and commercial acclaim. Black Panther became the highest grossing solo superhero movie of all time, Blackish is killing it with an average of 5,400,000 viewers per episode, and Hamilton got the most Tony Award nominations of all time.
If Hamilton and its success tells us anything, it’s the necessity of telling stories. Whether these stories deal with marginalization, mental health, or long forgotten pieces of history, they will ultimately create more understanding and diversity throughout our culture.
“Whether these stories deal with marginalization, mental health, or long forgotten pieces of history, they will ultimately create more understanding and diversity throughout our culture.”
That’s something we need now more than ever.
Liked this article? Then you also might enjoy reading:
- The “Hamilton” Generation is the Future of Politics, and We’re Here For It
- How the Musical “Anastasia” Changed My Life
- How Governor’s School Changed My Life
- What Makes You Beautiful?