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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Hamilton is exactly what minorities in musical theater need

For decades, musical theater has favored affluent white people as its performers and its audience. Most cities don’t have a prominent theater company, but if one does, it is typically located in a historically affluent white area. Tickets to big-name shows often start at $40 and can go up to over $1,000.

Ultimately, this isolates numerous potential audiences from seeing shows and keeps young minorities from becoming performers. Additionally, most shows that include minority actors and actresses, like “Book of Mormon” or “Miss Saigon,” put these actors in a box by using stereotypes that often create more harm than good.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the team behind “Hamilton,” however, are trying to put these traditions in the past.

“Hamilton,” a musical detailing the life of one of the Founding Fathers and America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, made history during the 58th annual Grammy Awards by becoming the ninth musical ever, and first via satellite, to perform during the live-broadcast show. Unsurprisingly, moments after its groundbreaking performance, “Hamilton” won the award for Best Musical Theater album.

This is nowhere near the performance’s first achievement, however. “Hamilton’s” cast album, with dozens of tracks of rich dialogue, amazing prose and elevated composition, debuted at 12th on the Billboard 20, marking the highest debut for a cast recording since 1963.

Furthermore, the show captivated audiences of stars such as Beyoncé, to political giants like Hillary Clinton and even President Barack Obama.

After hearing of its long list of accomplishments, anyone unaware of “Hamilton” may be confused as to how the story of this group of dead white guys could be captivating to so many. It’s because “Hamilton” is so much more than that. As writer and star Miranda said, it is “a story about America then, told by America now.”

“Hamilton” employs a diverse cast of characters, from Puerto Rican-American Miranda, who plays Hamilton, to black actor, Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr.

Miranda is regarded as a genius in the musical theater world. His use of hip-hop and rap has altered what many people think of as musical theater. He has a more important goal in his use of these genres, though. As he said during his first performance of the opening song at the 2008 White House Poetry Jam, “Hamilton” is “about the life of someone who I think embodies hip-hop.”

“[Hamilton] was born a penniless orphan … became George Washington’s right-hand man, became treasury secretary, caught beef with every other founding father, and all in the strength of his writing,” Miranda said. “I think he embodies the word’s ability to make a difference.”

The narrative of an immigrant orphan coming to the country, starting from nothing and creating a name and place for himself is a narrative that rings true to this day. Since, at its core, the life of Hamilton tells that story, Miranda chose to cast a group that embodies this idea in the context of our modern era.

Recognition and adoration of “Hamilton” have brought a necessary narrative to the forefront of the minds of many. Nevertheless, this cannot be a show that has fulfilled the quota of diversity for Broadway.

Messages that empower and inspire young generations of minorities are important for the future of this country. Thus, “Hamilton” should pave the way for more playwrights, composers and directors to look for, highlight and work on such important shows. We cannot throw away our shot.


Follow Sabrina Etcheverry on Twitter.


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