Its streaming premiere was fast-tracked by a year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning that a filmed version of the original Broadway musical, which until now was pretty much only accessible to those with hundreds of dollars to spare, access to theaters and patience for the often monthslong waitlist, will soon be available to anyone who can afford the $7 monthly Disney + subscription.
This news shouldn't just spark joy for Broadway buffs. Alexander Hamilton's story -- as interpreted and told by "Hamilton" writer and original theatrical lead Lin-Manuel Miranda -- of immigration, the War of Independence, love triangles and (sexier than it sounds) the founding of America's financial system, will intrigue anyone who'd normally consider the story of America's founding fathers a dry footnote to Independence Day celebrations.
It's a testament to the fact that no matter whether a country was born out of conflict or compromise, there is always the potential for greatness - and that greatness is often owed to its least-appreciated people. The ambition and tenacity of Miranda's Hamilton, both the man and the show, can offer inspiration to anyone finding the conflicts and injustices of the current social and political landscape exhausting.
From the first song, Miranda beckons the audience to underappreciated parts of the American story, in particular the role played by immigrants. When imagining the founding fathers of America, the facsimile which probably comes to mind is that of bewigged white men standing indoors, jostling to sign the Declaration of Independence -- a not dissimilar sight to the government of today, minus the wigs (probably).
But Hamilton's immigrant roots are emphasized from the outset, and within the first 45 minutes we meet his comrades in the American War of Independence, including the Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman, and Hercules Mulligan, an Irish-American spy.
The show's obvious plea for tolerance and call to remember America's diverse roots should feel especially pertinent to audiences during an administration and President characterized by their hostility to immigration -- especially since the advent of the novel coronavirus.
From the constant references to Hamilton's heritage, to Hamilton and Lafayette's triumphant line "immigrants, we get the job done," following the American victory at the battle of Yorktown, the show stresses that the strength of the American experiment lies in the fact that dedication wins out, and ought to bear fruit irrespective of a person's origin.
In a 2015 interview with Stephen Colbert, Lin-Manuel Miranda pointed out that when he's introduced in act one, Lafayette's English is pretty slow -- but by the time he's leading the army to victory against the British, he has the fastest rap in the show -- "I'm taking this horse by the reins, making the redcoats redder with bloodstains!"
Miranda compares Lafayette's rapid adaptation to little old ladies in the "Police Academy" movies from the 1980s -- at the beginning, always timid, by the end proving her chops with a "freeze sucker!" The obvious implication in both cases is that people should never be underestimated upon first impressions -- an always-applicable life lesson.
Miranda was meticulous in his research for Hamilton, which stemmed from a biography by historian Ron Chernow. His reverence for original source material is evident throughout -- both Aaron Burr's cuss of Hamilton as a "bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman" and his final line: "The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me," are derived from original letters.
Every extraordinary historical event in the musical happened in real life. But where it served the production, Miranda was imprecise.
While Alexander Hamilton was personally opposed to slavery, he was a less ardent abolitionist than his on-stage incarnation would lead you to believe. His personal abhorrence of the slave trade never trumped political expediency during his long career, and his wife Eliza's family, the Schuylers, were slave owners.
It's a point which would sit awkwardly in production with such strong anti-slavery themes, whose original casting saw Eliza's sister Angelica played by a black actress: Renée Elise Goldsberry. A full debrief of Hamilton's in-laws would also make it impossible to center his wife Eliza and her sister Angelica as heroines, as Miranda did -- thus including a female perspective usually erased from history.
The merits of omitting the Schuylers' full story remain up for debate, but Miranda's editing -- and prioritization of colorblind casting in the show -- serves a critical purpose in terms of the musical's impact.
Telling Hamilton's story and the birth of the republic with a multiracial cast compels its audience (a global one, it's worth pointing out) to imagine an American origin which isn't owned by white people, and draws uncomfortable parallels between racial inequality at the turn of the 19th century, and the 21st.
The heavy emphasis on slavery throughout the show forces the uncomfortable juxtaposition between the black soldiers fighting for America's freedom, and those in bondage. The still-novelty of seeing not only a multiracial state cabinet, but a multiracial musical cast that has captured international fame and recognition (even from home!)- both of which remain woefully unfamiliar sights -- signals the progress yet to be made today.
No viewer who has paid the slightest attention to the news the last few months could fail to be reminded that inequality continues to pervade every aspect of American life, from medical outcomes during the pandemic, to the failures of the justice system in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Perhaps the other most poignant theme of Hamilton is the humanity with which everyone is treated in the telling. The would-be megalomaniac Aaron Burr's electoral loss in 1800 is directly attributed to his empty words and moral fluidity, while Hamilton overcomes obstacles -- even those of his own making -- by explaining his position honestly, in public.
Yet despite their differences the show asks its audience to examine both its hero's and villain's motives compassionately, with a humanity many viewers probably feel is lacking in too many aspects of real life today. Hamilton's heroes are valued by the fruits of their labor, and -- especially in Eliza's case -- the sacrifices made along the way.
As we are now daily reminded, it is such work and sacrifice that deserve championing, rather than the privilege of birth. In becoming accessible to more people than ever before, in an age similarly defined by upheaval, we can hope Hamilton will again show the value of celebrating outsiders.