It’s an unlikely premise for a musical: the life of America’s original treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, set to hip hop music.
“Hamilton,” however, is perhaps the hottest ticket on Broadway. It’s had an extremely successful run at New York’s Public Theater and recently opened on Broadway, where it’s already sold out through the end of the year.
“[It’s] about the life of someone I think embodies hip hop, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton,” says creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, adding, “You laugh, but it’s true! How does a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor grow up to be [the first Treasury Secretary of the United States]?”
Miranda has been working on the musical for years, and even performed a bit of his work in progress for the Obamas at the White House.
David Cote, the theater editor for Time Out New York, has a theory for why the musical is so good.
“It creates some really unusual cognitive dissonance ... in the viewer in a good way. You're watching the events of the 18th century of the-the Founding Fathers, the Constitutional Congress, the Revolution, you're watching it through the lens of 21st century hip hop and attitudes acted by a cast of people of color, not just standard white people portraying these, these historic figures,” Cote says.
The show now has fans from across the political spectrum, from Barack Obama, to Rupert Murdoch, David Brooks and Dick Cheney.
“What are the politics of ‘Hamilton?’ I mean, it's something you can project upon I think. A very conservative commentator can come in and say, ‘They’re refreshing the iconography of the colonial era for a new generation. They're making maybe young kids of color maybe care about Jefferson and Washington and all that.’ Or you can say that they are creating an open source metaphor about how people of color and people whose voices have been marginalized over the years have to take back American history, perhaps,” Cote says.
Cote, who gave the show a five-star review, thinks the musical’s popularity is also due to its depth and unusual combination of elements.
“It's so exceptionally witty and dense. You know, usually you go to see a new Broadway musical and you know, the lyrics are really spoon fed to the audience and they're very rhymy and easy to digest and the music is often derivative pop or show tunes. Here you have a really fresh sound,' Cote says, adding, 'I mean only in like a Shakespearean history play would you find that level of information density.”