Hamilton, a play that shouldn’t work

I’m going out on a limb here with his entry. This is a big departure from my usual writings. It’s my blog though, and as they say “I’m not throwing away my shot.” My wife and I sat down last night and watched Hamilton, the Musical on Disney+. And to be honest I can’t keep my mind from going over it. I know I’m like four years late to the party. However in my defense I live in Canada, the cost to travel and stay in New York City for broadway shows is prohibitively high, and there is a pandemic on cancelling all live shows for the foreseeable future. Regardless, I am lucky to live in an age where art in every conceivable manner can be transmitted into one’s living room for a price. Which brings me to finally being able to watch Hamilton.

I should start by stating that I don’t think this play should exist. Everything I have been taught about entertainment is thrown out the door with this play. Using rap, hip hop and R&B stylings to tell the story about the founding father who created America’s banking system is not something you’d think should work. On top of that, the cast is a diverse one, where every role that traditionally would be cast by old white men and women, is cast with a black or Hispanic actor in place. And it works. It works so incredibly well, I doubt that you could find Caucasian actors to fill Leslie Odom Jr.’s Aaron Burr, or Daveed Diggs portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. All of it comes together to create a work of art that is absolutely right for our time.

Hamilton is a play of art imitating life. Using contemporary music and a cast of such diversity is no doubt a politically conscious decision. In a play about the politics of one of America’s founding fathers it is expected. However, I think there is an unintentional consequence to this. Especially in today’s age. As an outsider looking into America, I am often confused and aghast at the chasm between it’s myth and it’s reality. The Black Lives Matter movements, and the crisis of COVID-19 is challenging America in ways that I don’t think it has ever had to grapple with in it’s history. Hamilton’s power, comes in the way that it reminds the audience of it’s past, to show them what their future could be.

The image of a black George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, alongside an Hispanic Alexander Hamilton gives us a glimpse of what America could be. That the promise of America when the founding fathers wrote the constitution wasn’t set in stone. It was meant to be renewed and fulfilled with each passing generation. The musical stylings chosen are decidedly American. Born and created out of it’s tumultuous history of slavery and emancipation. Using them to reflect on where the country has been, reminds us of where it is today and the choice of where it can go tomorrow.

I doubt the founding fathers of America would recognize it today. And some might be aghast at what it has become. However, I believe some would be amazed at how so many men and women have fought to expand the ideals of the revolution to everyone. Regardless of their sex, race or religion. It may not have been Lin-Manuel Miranda’s goal when creating Hamilton, but that is the lesson I took away from watching it for the first time. America is not static. It can’t be held still. It will always need to reinvent and be reborn in each generation. That’s the test we are watching south of the border these days. If America is able to come through these trials, it will become closer to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. If they fail, America will cease to be. There is no middle ground.

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