“Hamilton” Takes Its Shot (Respectfully)
An Obama-era musical now playing in Trumpworld
We’re getting a taste of how an acclaimed musical that celebrates the contribution of immigrants to our culture will play in the era of President Trump.
Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda is at once fresh, relevant, and timeless — a combination of traditional Broadway storytelling, rap and hip hop, and a truly American story set during the founding of the United States.
Seeing the show on Broadway Wednesday night, a little over a week after our latest presidential election, there is a palpable air of anticipation and excitement. Yes, Hamilton is a “hard-to-get” ticket, but there is also the hope that this musical is the balm that will help soothe the racism and intolerance that has overwhelmed our country over the last 18 months. Mr. Miranda is of Puerto Rican descent and the show features actors of color, mainly African-Americans and Latinos, playing the predominantly white, male founding fathers and the women in their lives. Alexander Hamilton is portrayed as an immigrant orphan whose drive to prove himself, to not throw away his shot, stands as a testament to one of the many strengths of our culture: our willingness to assimilate the contributions of the best and brightest — regardless of race, creed, and color — in order to form a more perfect union.
Against the backdrop of our current politics, Hamilton is an illustration of the value of diversity in our culture. While much has been made of the rap and hip hop elements, the score incorporates Broadway show tunes, British dance hall, and jazz to great effect, illustrating the backgrounds and motivations of its characters: Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Eliza Hamilton, the French General Lafayette, and King George, among others. And while seeing men and women of color portraying white historical figures is initially jarring, it validates a precept that I have been taught over the years but have recently doubted: that we share the same hopes, dreams, and fears, regardless of our outward appearance, and that we as a people have far more in common than our politics may suggest.
The latter is an underlying precept of the Obama era. This is fitting given that Hamilton was written and conceived during the last eight years and owes at least part of its success to the election of our country’s first African-American president. But the same diversity that Hamilton thrives on is under attack in the “real world,” outside of a Broadway theatre in the bluest city in one of the bluest states, where a man who has fanned the flames of racism and misogyny has just been elected president.
Watching this show on Wednesday night, I wondered how Hamilton would be viewed during a Trump presidency. The Broadway audience cheered at the line “Immigrants, we get the job done,” but will that play as powerfully in Peoria after the national tour of Hamilton gets underway? Will King George, as brought to life by the most prominent white actor in the cast, become a surrogate for Trump when he declares, “Do you know how hard it is to lead?”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton on Friday night. At the end of the show, the actor who played Aaron Burr, Brandon Victor Dixon, thanked Mr. Pence for attending and read the following:
“We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us.”
All great works of art transcend their time and place. The great plays of Shakespeare. The compositions of Mozart. The art of Pablo Picasso. The creation lives on after the creator, finding new context and meaning among audiences of different geographies and eras. Hamilton: An American Musical will likely continue and thrive well beyond a Trump presidency and perhaps beyond most of our lifetimes. Let’s hope that its impact resonates away from Broadway, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and into the hearts and minds of those Trump supporters who may not be so willing to accept a black president, an immigrant secretary of the treasury, or a woman who speaks her mind.