If I were a betting woman, I would say that a Broadway musical is the farthest thing from your mind when thinking of rap. Yes, you read that correctly. I mean the give-me-a-beat, head banging, fast talking kind of rap. If that is true, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is just the musical to change your mind. Through clever lyrics, costuming, lighting design and more, Hamilton breaks all stereotypes of what a typical Broadway musical offers.
Miranda is no stranger to the limelight that accompanies highly successful Broadway musicals. Ever since his show In the Heights hit Off-Broadway in 2007, and then took the leap to Broadway in 2008, the theatrical world took note of Miranda.
In Hamilton, which opened this past August, it is easy to tell that every aspect of the musical was meticulously planned out. Miranda himself wrote the music, lyrics and book for this musical. Furthermore, he managed to find inspiration in Ron Chernow’s eight hundred and thirty two page biography of Alexander Hamilton and transformed it into a spellbinding representation of this man’s life. Not only that, but Miranda’s mind works in such a way that he can take all the information and put in into clever and compelling rap lyrics.
In the just opening number, Miranda raps the first nineteen years of Hamilton’s life in a shy four minutes.
Other actors such as Leslie Odom Junior, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Christopher Jackson rap along side Miranda in the roles as Aaron Bur, Angelica Schuyler and George Washington, respectively. While Miranda may be the golden boy of this production, the people with whom he shares the stage keep pace right along with him. Even his understudy, Javier Muñoz, seamlessly steps into the daunting roll of Hamilton each Sunday matinee when Miranda takes the day off.
This intense, contemporary music is juxtaposed to a recognizably late-eighteenth century choice of costuming. While floor length ball gowns and suits with ascots are the norm, the color choice of the costumes is the interesting aspect. The ensemble is dressed in muted tones of taupe, which allows the leads to peacock themselves by wearing colors that draw the eye. This technique allows the ensemble to become another moving part of the set, as opposed to characters that compete with the leads for the audience’s attention.
Moreover, it is not often that a person comes away from a theatrical production raving about the lighting design. Normally, this aspect of theatre is there to illuminate the actors, and maybe give some mood lighting for a particularly emotional scene. However, that is not the case here. The lighting designer (although here I think he deserves the term “wizard”) Howell Binkley is able to create hurricanes, cannon blasts and duels with his many different lamps and filters. The intensive and unique attention to detail helps elevate the production into a class of its own.
In terms of the Alexander Hamilton himself, Miranda does not eulogize him as a one dimensional, perfect man. Miranda is able to show audiences the side of Hamilton that cheated on his wife while simultaneously preserving his intelligence in the remarkable way he shaped this country’s constitution and banking system. In theory, portraying a dichotomy such as this should be difficult. But Miranda seamlessly meshing these two dueling sides of Hamilton’s personality into one, which permits the audience to fully understand his character. All of Miranda’s characters stay true to history’s representation, while bringing fresh elements to captivated the audience.
In addition to the of personality Miranda’s characters, he also paid special heed to make his cast as visually diverse as possible. In this production, he has every racial category present on stage – from African American, to Asian, to Hispanic and everything in between. While this diverges from a correct historical representation of characters (here Thomas Jefferson was African-American and we know he was not) it makes the show especially pertinent in today’s world. Through his diverse cast, Miranda shows the changing norms of visual entertainment industries and gives his production a leg up in this movement. From the sheer number of times Hamilton is referred to as an “immigrant, son of a whore,” it is clear to the audience that Miranda breaking down barriers of what a “successful” person looks like in society.
So this year, I’d place my bets on Hamilton sweeping at the Tony Awards, just wait and see.