Hamilton in the hallways: New revolutionary musical makes it’s mark on students

Published on: April 20, 2016

Filled Under: Features, Fine Arts, Showcase

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Hamilton plays at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City, New York. 1,319 people are seated to see the show that plays eight times a week. Photo by Emily Ownby

From the Broadway stage to the Ann Richards School halls, “Hamilton the Musical” has brought a new positive light to American history, feminism, and visibility for people of color.

Hamilton has been deemed “The New Hip-Hop American Musical” by the shows publicity team, and has been accepted by the public with interested ears. The musical turns from traditional musical theater style songs, and instead features rap songs, old hip hop references, and chilling ballads. It tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the politics behind founding a new nation.

The songs are catchy, forty six in total, creating a show that runs two hours and forty-five minutes. It even takes home the prize for fastest rap in Broadway history: 6.2 words per second, in Guns and Ships performed by Daveed Diggs playing Marquis Lafayette. The entire musical revolves around a concept of the revolution– not only the American revolution, but a people of color visibility revolution, and the hip-hop revolution.

Any student who passes history teacher, Pamela Mathai’s classroom may have noticed the new addition to the front of her door: a yellow Hamilton poster featuring the words of the song My Shot reading “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.”

Mathai became a Hamilton fan after discovering it last summer from an NPR article. Her immediate thought was “Oh my gosh, I teach about Alexander Hamilton in my class! He’s usually a pretty boring topic and it’s not very interesting.” But after searching for the song list on the internet, she noticed the song titled Cabinet Battle 1, a rap between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson about creating the first political parties, and her first thought was “This is incredible. I have to find a way to use this.” Mathai plans to incorporate the musical into her end of the year review, as well as offer extra credit to students listening to the album.

After the musical began gaining popularity on social media, many middle schoolers have found themselves attached to Hamilton. Eighth graders Emily Cochran and Amelia Bagnaschi could be overheard in the halls singing or humming the songs to each other.

“Emily Cochran sent me this adorable email saying ‘OMG Ms. Mathai, I just spent all night listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, you would love it’,” Mathai laughed.

Since the musical’s opening, in August 2015,  it has received a wide range of it’s acceptance from the public. Some showed concern, saying it wasn’t right to cast people of color into roles that are historically white men. Alternatively, the New Yorker reported “Miranda [writer, composer, and lead actor] is reclaiming the American story that got told—and still gets told, on currency, in statues, and in textbooks—for the people whom history habitually forgets.”

Mathai expanded on her opinions of the casting, and specifically the character of Thomas Jefferson ( played by Daveed Diggs).

“It is interesting to see a black man playing Thomas Jefferson, when, historically we know that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. There seems to be some cognitive dissidence seeing that, and that’s something the musical doesn’t really address.”

Diggs was recently interviewed on the Charlie Rose program, and replied to a similar thought, saying his goal with the character was to make him charming and slightly evil, and to have the audience leave the theater laughing, only to later realize the irony.  

In addition, strong themes of feminism resonate through the show. Two women play the leading female characters, Angelica, and Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. The characters are sisters, but the actresses could not look more different. Phillipa Soo, playing Eliza, is of Asian descent, and has become an addition to the very small list of Asian women in leading roles on a Broadway stage.

On the other hand, Renee Goldsberry, playing Anglica, is African American. The audience is presented with challenged idea of what a family should look like, something that can be very inspirational to siblings or parents who may be combating stereotypes that all families look similar.

The female leads are introduced to the audience, the fifth song in. The lyrics of the song, Schuyler Sisters, touch on many issues facing women at the time, and continue to resent day. The ladies quote the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” the song continues with the character’s commentary, “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m gonna compel him to include women in the sequel.”

Mathai thought another powerful moment of feminism in the show is during Eliza Hamilton’s song, That Would Be Enough. She sings, “Let me be a part of the narrative.” This line is reprised in the song Burn, where Eliza sings, “I’m erasing myself from the narrative,” and again finally in the shows finale, Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story, where the lyrics read “I put myself back in the narrative.”

Mathai commented, “This is huge.We construct this idea of women in history as responding to the needs of men, when in reality, women have agency just like men do. I appreciate that the musical is very explicit in Eliza and Angelica’s characters being very assertive and talking directly about their agency in this story.” She reiterates that women are often pushed to the sides in history, so this show is a step in the direction to prevent that.
This exaggerates the power and beauty that can be heard through the soundtrack.  “Hamilton” is truly an inspirational, empowering, and revolutionary show about revolution.

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