He got a lot farther by workin’ a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter by 14 … Well, the word got around — they said, ‘This kid is insane, man! … Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came, and the world’s gonna know your name!'”
What’s your name, man?
Lin-Manuel Miran — Er, I mean, Alexander Hamilton.
So, did you catch the Grammys this week? Or even glance at a magazine, any magazine at all, in the last six months? What I’m getting at is: have you heard about “Hamilton?” The Broadway sensation that will inevitably eat the Tony Awards for breakfast come June?
If, for some reason, you haven’t heard about “Hamilton,” you need to lift up your head, you ostrich.
I have yet to read a bad review, or even hear a single negative word, about this show. As for me, my standards are relatively high when it comes to new “hit” musicals. So when word reached my ears of a historical hip-hop gig at the Richard Rodgers Theatre written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (who, granted, was a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2015), I was skeptical to say the least.
But I, like the critics in New York, cannot find a single negative thing to say about Miranda’s brainchild.
Miranda wrote and starred in “In The Heights” in the early 2000s, and the show ran on Broadway from 2008-2011. Based on reviews from the likes of Playbill, the New York Sun and others, I should have anticipated a follow-up production in the same postmodern style that Miranda is apparently spearheading as his life’s work. David Rooney from Variety said that “In The Heights” blends “hip-hop, rap, jazz, salsa and merengue … (and) also nods reverently to the traditions of the show tune.”
It seems this was but a taste of what Miranda had to offer.
“Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton. There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait. Just you wait.”
I can’t help seeing Miranda himself as the protagonist in this show — Alexander Hamilton, the “10-dollar Founding Father without a father.” A young man who, like his country — “young, scrappy and hungry” — is not throwing away his shot. The musical has been described by the American Historical Association as a “desperate high school teacher’s last-ditch effort to engage apathetic teens,” albeit a “way to engage with history thoughtfully and creatively.” The relationship between Hamilton and his rival Aaron Burr, as well as the marital infidelity that could have rocked the core of the Revolution, comes to life in a way that is not only memorable, but racially poignant. Miranda’s storyline wholly disregards the fact that Hamilton, Burr and company were not, in fact, people of color. Rather, he chooses to tell a broader story, that is, the ongoing fight to end racism, by emphasizing the Union of all races in the battle for America’s freedom.
Needless to say, Miranda took a chance on this one. People of color are cast in all the major roles, except ironically for the role of King George III, played by Jonathan Groff (who voices Kristoff in “Frozen”).
It was an idea packaged with the explosive dynamite of controversy, but it never actually exploded, except in the box office (tickets are sold out through summer 2016). Miranda put his neck, and his life’s work, on the line. He took a shot to tell a story I think we all need to hear, and I don’t just mean the story of Alexander Hamilton.
Oh Lin-Manuel … “When America sings for you, will they know what you overcame? Will they know that you rewrote the game? The world will never be the same.”
Just you wait. Just you wait.