I actually don’t know why I’m even attempting this post right now.
I mean, people have been praising the Broadway production of Hamilton since 2015. Being here five years later trying to say something new about it seems kind of silly. The only thing that I really need to say about the newest title on Disney+ is, it’s awesome. Watch it. The end.
But alas, I’ll give it a shot. (See what I did there?)
I was already slightly familiar with the music (to put it lightly), so I went into this knowing it’d be pretty amazing. However, I was admittedly unprepared for the power of seeing the action behind the words. While I imagine seeing it in-person and on stage is a sight to behold, being able to see the nuances of the actors as they brought the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton to life was moving. It was about more than the music for me – it was about how we tell hard stories in compelling ways.
Obviously, our history is both incredible and messy, and Hamilton’s version of past events acknowledges the good, the bad, and the ugly. While brilliant and persuasive, Alexander Hamilton was just as flawed as any other human being. He made major mistakes (a highly-scandalous affair for which he was extorted, for one), and played the political game at the expense of others. The characterization portrayed by Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of internal conflict, obsession with “rising above his station,” and an unwavering sense of self-preservation.
Yet the acknowledgements of the messy aspects of Hamilton’s character doesn’t mean his goodness is any less notable. Willing to die for the idea of a free America, holding onto deep and abiding friendships, and witnessing to his own imperfections are all traits worth recognizing. And this is what is so compelling about the play itself. Hamilton doesn’t shy away from the complexity of early American history and the ones that paved away.
The fact that the primary narration comes from Hamilton’s political frenemy Aaron Burr is an example of how history isn’t one-sided or only valuable when it comes from the victors or first-person perspective. History has multiple angles, and multiple story tellers. By going even deeper and highlighting the stories of those hovering in the background of the play, like Thomas Jefferson, Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler, and John Laurens, Hamilton creates a 360 degree view of one man’s story, and the ripples of impact he made not only on American history, but in his relationships as well.
Now, I know this is ultimately a work of fiction, albeit heavily researched and based on both fact and historical interpretation. This is why I want to note that to get a more comprehensive view of human experience, we need multiple forms of storytelling. Plays and movies often engage a totally different audience as opposed to books and lectures, but clearly they can’t be the only source. Critical thinking, research, and participation are all key elements in our education. It’s ok to question the stories we’ve heard and learned. It’s ok to dig a little deeper.
And it’s ok to change how we view those stories once we get a bigger picture.
More often than not I’ve noticed people assuming that if I criticize something, I’m either attacking or wanting to erase the entire existing narrative. Like Eliza tried burning herself out of Hamilton’s story, I’m not able (or even desiring) to sweep the past under the rug. The intent is to bring to light that there are layers to all stories – even our own nation’s. And sometimes peeling back those layers hurt and make us uncomfortable. But even as I sat in the discomfort of Hamilton’s selfishness, I could look forward to the brighter future that would result from living into the whole story, because I didn’t shut my eyes… or ears… through the parts that hurt.
Hamilton: The Musical is available now on Disney+