The Hype Over Hamilton: The Musical and the fickleness of public opinion

The Hype Over Hamilton: The Musical and the fickleness of public opinion

Unless you've been living under a particularly resilient rock over the past months, you know that the hottest ticket in New York, as well as every city on the future tour, is Hamilton: The Musical. Like Cats and Wicked before it, the 2015 Tony-guzzling musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) about Politician Alexander Hamilton has enraptured the hearts of millions.

But, why has it turned into such a sensation? What does it contain that causes the rapture of the general population?

It all boils down to one word: Controversy.

Controversy can turn even the most tepid drama into a national sensation, regardless of success or profundity. Hamilton's controversy stems from its unique use of Rap in its musical settings and the color-blind casting of Hamilton as a Hispanic man, Manuel himself.

Color-blind casting works in every aspect of drama except in Historical Non-Fiction, in my opinion. When you have people portraying human beings that existed in one state at one time or another, changing their race means depriving them of their identity. The same can be said of any race-based casting: If someone wrote a musical based on Barack Obama and cast him as a white man, communities would be in an uproar. Shock for the sake of shock can either foster love, as in Hamilton, or hatred. But is that enough to make this piece a work of a purported "genius?" Dramas such as The Color Purple and Raisin in the Sun show far better the capabilities of the subject of Race in the Theater. Look at Pearl Bailey in the revival of Hello Dolly - the essence of the fictional character perfectly fits a race-blind casting, because Dolly Levi is a fictional entity, not a historical figure. I firmly believe that every person on earth has the right to perform on stage, but in material that fits casting in terms of reason, not of shock value.

Racial aspects aside, the piece is very tepid in its composition. The use of Rap has been done for years in Musical Theatre (and better done, I might add.) My Fair Lady and The Music Man are musicals where Rap-like patter is used as a major backbone of several characters and Sondheim's Into the Woods gives The Witch a major song in the form of a Rap, among many others. The fact that Rap is built into the musical language makes the very essence of the songs choppy, bumpy, and harmonically-stagnant.

While the story of Hamilton himself is interesting enough, this setting adds no nuance or innovation to the well-known historical narrative.

Public interest in this musical has spread to Chicago itself, a flurry of people flocking and fighting to obtain tickets for this overblown potboiler. The first day of sales for the show showed how inept the inner-workings of our Theatre community are, greedy barons buying up sheathes of tickets to sell at inflated prices to a public that will buy anything if they can say they own it and are able to lord it over their friends and relations. The tickets have become the very thing a work of Art should dread to become: a status symbol.

This Mega-hit will sap away attention from other shows in the city which may not be as glamorous as this glitzy piece of work, but carry more profundity in one song than all of Hamilton. I have never been a supporter of the smash hit musicals, for the simple reason that they tend to pander to the lowest common denominator and have less substance than an issue of TV Guide. Wicked was a watery, overblown spectacle that placed technical effects over a coherent plot.

The Musical Theatre machine is becoming reminiscent of the Movie Industry. Character-based dramas are becoming extinct in favor of multi-million dollar blockbusters that place plot to the background and only serve to showcase the newest flash-in-the-pan actor or technical advancement. Musicals have also become less about the people and more about the fluff. Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King; all examples of flash over substance.

When a drama comes along that is profound, I will give it all the credit it deserves. My analysis of War Paint at The Goodman Theatre is a prime example of giving praise where praise is due. The show has, at its heart, strong Feminist lessons that never cloy and showcases two performers, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, that chew the scenery in the most glorious way. War Paint isn't doing badly in terms of ticket sales, but it isn't getting nearly the amount of raptured fawning that Hamilton is, and that's a shame.

I don't mean to criticise to chastise anyone's opinion, especially seeing how popular the show is. I hold a particular bias and, since this is my blog, my opinion is the only one I care to share. There have been countless articles written about the positive aspects of Hamilton, and for good reason. Aesthetics are our personal signature, and I hold some very staunch ideals.

As Mavis Staples once said, "You may not like it, but don't knock other people's enthusiasm."

If the focus on Musical Theatre is as positive as it is for Hamilton, I'm excited for a new renaissance on Broadway.


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    I can only speculate that you have not seen the show. It is far beyond cats and wicked as a Mega hit. I hope you will see it and rewrite your review. The Tony voters may have seen the diversity casting a little differently. Hope you enjoy the Chicago run.

  • Let me ask, have you actually seen the show? I could be wrong but I sense the answer is no.

    "While the story of Hamilton himself is interesting enough, this setting adds no nuance or innovation to the well-known historical narrative."

    I have to respectfully disagree with your assertion here. First, the story of Hamilton isn't that well-known. All he gets is a few mentions in high school American history class, specifically the Federalist Papers, maybe, and the duel with Aaron Burr. He is not covered nearly to the extent as other founding fathers like Washington or Jefferson.

    Second, the most complete work on Hamilton is Ron Chernow's book, the book on which the musical is based. Now, I have read Chernow and I am guessing you have too. If so, you know Chernow isn't the easiest read out there. It took me nearly a year to get through "The House of Morgan" and it was a great way to brush up on vocabulary I haven't seen since my SAT days. Something tells me you had no problem getting through it but believe me, you are in the minority.

    Now, I don't know what compelled Lin to use hip-hop/rap as his story-telling mechanism - was it an epiphany or vision - I don't know. I wanted to ask when I met him last month after seeing the show in New York about a month ago but he was so exhausted from doing 2 shows that day, almost 6 hours on stage that I didn't feel it was an appropriate time to get into an intellectual conversation.

    But I really do want to know because he has made Chernow's story on our financial founding father accessible to all of us. It is a wonderful addition to American culture and an achievement worth celebrating in an age when Broadway is faltering but also an age when financial figures as well as the industry itself is under attack.

    Speaking of making Hamilton accessible to all, that includes casting minorities in key roles at a time when the lack thereof is being criticized, especially around Oscar time. The talent in the show (and I've met them too) is so strong they bring these traditionally white characters back to life. But you would have to actually see the show to realize that.

    As for being part of the lowest common denominator because I went to see a hit show, I guess I am, but that places me in great company including Barack Obama himself. There is a wall backstage that celebrities, leaders, etc. who have seen the show sign after the show. Broadway and Hollywood royalty are well-represented on that wall. My jaw dropped reading it. And what about the 11 Tonys it just won? Yes, it is possible that tickets are so hard to get because Hamilton really is that good.

    I do hope you get the opportunity to see the show in Chicago because it really is pretty remarkable.

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    Have you seen the show? Do you enjoy "fun" and "entertainment?" If yes to all three, then I am confused.

  • I agree with the idea expressed above. Before you review a show, at least see it.

  • Wow, this is a Bad Article. Points for having no idea what you're talking about at any point, and yet continuing to blither with the self-assuredness of a moron.

    You say that Hamilton is only popular because of its "controversy," and yet no one except maybe closeted white supremacists are crying over the casting. You know why? Because they understand the message the casting is trying to send.

    "When you have people portraying human beings that existed in one state at one time or another, changing their race means depriving them of their identity."

    And here we go, missing the point of the musical right off the bat. Miranda knew what he was doing when he race-switched the Fathers. It's making a statement: a contemporary group of revolutionaries fighting for freedom would NOT look like they did in the 1700's. If you want racial "accuracy," watch 1776. This isn't "color-blind" casting. It's intentionally casting people of color in the main roles. LMM knows what he's doing.

    "The same can be said of any race-based casting"

    No, it can't, because the implications of casting a white person as a person of color are completely different. Also, Hollywood whitewashes people all the time. Hollywood has always whitewashed people. It's not the same.

    Then you go on to say that the use of rap wasn't revolutionary because the Witch rapped in Into the Woods? WTF, bro? How is this even a point that crossed your mind, that you entertained, thought about it, wrote down, re-read, and decided "yes, this is a good point, I am correct, I will publish this."

    The musical isn't a hit because of the use of a gimmick. The musical is a hit because the music is *good.* It is innovative--a whole musical written in hip hop has not been done often, if ever, true; but because the music is also *good.* "Well, the Witch rapped about cabbage, hurrdurr, no rap should ever be on stage because Sondheim already did it, hurrrrrrrr." You may not like the music to Hamilton, but it's more than "wow! rap in a musical! that's the only thing this musical as going for it!"

    And considering you don't cite anything specific to the musical, just whatever word of mouth blather you overheard and pre-judged, I can only assume you haven't listened to it.

    " I have never been a supporter of the smash hit musicals, for the simple reason that they tend to pander to the lowest common denominator and have less substance than an issue of TV Guide. "

    Ooooh, I see what this is now: you're a contrarian little hipster who wants to seem superior to The Masses, so you can jerk yourself off to your good taste. Very well, then.

    tl;dr: you're wrong and you should feel bad. Clean up your dribble.

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