By Tabitha R Harris, Assistant Opinion Editor
Rapping Founding Fathers probably never crossed society’s mind as something which would take the nation by storm. Undoubtedly, some historians cringe at such an adulterous rendition of America’s past, but fans continue to cheer and catapult the musical Hamilton into stardom. I believe Lin-Manuel Miranda’s foot-tapping creation emerged at a rather auspicious time, as American society is ripe for Hamilton: for its music and for its thrilling storyline.
Admittedly, portions of Hamilton’s plot do not match up with historical events. When it comes to ethnicity, for example, Miranda takes many creative liberties; casting certain characters as African-American when they were in fact Caucasian. While such artistic license may detract certain historical elements from the narrative, it makes up for it in other ways. By rounding out the ensemble in this way, Miranda ensures Hamilton’s appeal to individuals of all nationalities.
Personally, I don’t believe such a move was necessary. History is history and factual accuracy, while perhaps reducing the musical’s success, would not been deemed foolish. However, I do believe the Broadway sensation’s rapid ascent to fame stems from its rather modern feel and approach. Hamilton is rife with individuality and tenacity; sentiments which fuel American society to one degree or another.
A young man with coiled energy flowing through his veins steps in front of the audience and firmly declares that he won’t be throwing away his shot any time soon. Alexander Hamilton’s entrance bespeaks the fiery determination in his heart. He has a chance to make it, to “get a scholarship to King’s College”, and even though he’s young, all he desires is the freedom to pursue his goals and make his dreams reality. Sound familiar?
Haven’t we all either thought this or voiced our ambitions aloud? Hamilton’s battle cry rings out in “My Shot”, and as he fiercely announces his independence, we find ourselves echoing his resolve: that we too are “not throwing away our shot”.
Along with Hamilton, our “plan is to fan this spark into a flame”, to tap into our untapped potential and release that which is bubbling just beneath the surface.
As Miranda, playing Hamilton, raps about his frustration with King George and his unfair taxation, one suddenly begins to call to mind the irritations which inevitably crop up in government. The beat drops, the voices swell, and your pulse quickens as you think yes, maybe you too can do something to make a difference, something what will have lasting impact. Caught up in the emotion, your heart pounds but whether or not you will remember your resolutions or even act on them once the adrenaline wears off is another matter. It is enough that you were moved deeply for those few minutes.
“My Shot” illustrates part of Hamilton’s appeal and the reason behind its overwhelming success. Miranda speaks to the dissatisfaction within many a heart. His lyrics seem to understand the smoldering fire of impetuosity mixed with ambition and independence. As young people in a world of boundless opportunity and unfortunate injustice, our emotions chime with those of Hamilton. We recognize his dilemma, and we “get it”.
“My Shot” captures the modern emotions of our society while the song “Wait For It” serves as the epitome of modern culture, the crescendo. Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival, expresses his bitterness mixed with optimism. Despite Hamilton’s reputation as a man who “exhibits no restraint” and his ability to “change the game and keep winning anyway”, Burr sees his own opportunity.
All he need do is “wait for it”. It’s coming and however long it takes, he’s willing to wait for it. As he bitterly observes, “life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes”. Those who merit punishment and perhaps reprisal don’t always get it and those who deserve reward and recognition don’t always get that either, but life itself keeps rolling on.
One finds such a sentiment readily agreeable. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and anger, however, Burr rises to the challenge and remains stubbornly persistent, declaring “we keep living anyway, we rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes and if there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died, then I’m willing to wait for it”. As the music swells and other characters join him in singing this magnificent declaration, I must admit I find chills slithering up and down my spine every time.
Hamilton is the sort of play that makes you feel like you can conquer the world. Viewers are provided a courageous and resilient strain of hope, not foolish naiveté which closes its eyes to reality. Hope that says life is difficult, yes, unfair at times, bewildering, and even frightening, but you have to keep fighting for what’s right and keep taking this journey one adventurous step at a time.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 10th print edition.
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