By Cris Franco
This is not a traditional review of the new musical Hamilton which before opening on Broadway had already sold $27.6 million in pre-sale tickets alone. For the last few months it been playing to sold-out houses on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater. The New York critics have rightfully regaled the production with well-deserved laurels and accolades, describing it as “exhilarating,” “sublime,” “astonishing” and “an achievement of historical and cultural reimagining.”
What this article is, is an impassioned shout-out to all Latinos announcing that this vibrant rap-bio, sung-through, historical-drama addresses the contemporary immigrant psyche in such a fresh, relevant and powerful manner, that I consider it required viewing for all la raza.
Written (and starring) the lithe and lyrical Puerto-Rican, Lin-Manuel Miranda, (the same artist who brought us the Broadway hit, In the Heights), this latest opus chronicles the life-journey of immigrant turned Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. You know, the guy on the ten-dollar bill? A colonial American whose narrative might be the ultimate immigrant’s tale: rags to riches, shaping the American Revolution, lightning fast ascension into seats of power, one of the nation’s earliest human rights activist, along with sex scandals and a messy death-by-duel.
The two-act, almost three-hour-long, musical answers the question its ethnically diverse cast poses in the show’s opening lyrics, ““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 a hero and a scholar?” What ensues is a thrilling, live music-video telling of the title character’s journey. A trek from his 1755 birthplace on the remote island of St. Croix, to his arrival in pre-Revolutionary War America, upwards to his unprecedented climb to the heights of military, financial, legislative and political power, to just before his 1804 death, in that infamous duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr: come on, how macho is that?!
Most immigrants will relate to the harsh realities that force young Alexander to travel to America in search of opportunities denied him by his foreign birth and impoverished beginnings. Just as they will relate to his near single-minded determination to not squander the freedom and opportunities his new homeland offers. In the character defining song, “My Shot,” our newly arrived protagonist states his life’s manifesto, rapping, “Hey yo, I’m just like my country I’m young, scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwing away my shot!”
In fact, in Hamilton, American itself becomes a metaphor for all immigrants, a nascent hybrid of the new and the old worlds, yearning to break-free of the limitations posted by their parent country, wanting to be independent, prosperous and able to fulfill its full potential.
Alexander Hamilton’s moral evolution also traces that of many immigrants whose hearts are opened and minds are broadened by first-hand witnessing of the inequities of the world. As a boy in the West Indies, young Hamilton saw the horrors of the slave trade so when his position finally allowed him the power to do so, he promoted equality and human rights at every turn. Hamilton refused to own slaves and created numerous organizations and political initiatives to close the gap between the light-skinned haves and the dark-skinned have-nots. Anyone who’s family arrived in American from a tattered third world nation will understand his inability to avert his eyes from the suffering of others; recognizing that “there but for the grace of God go I.”
More production shots of Hamilton by Joan Marcus HERE.
Hamilton reflects this profound aspect of Alexander’s consciousness in an inspired and riveting fashion by casting a multi-ethnic company of singing, dancing actors to portray historical characters who were in reality almost to the man and woman, all white Anglo Saxons. What this creates on-stage is a revelatory fusion where the progeny of Hamilton’s promise presents his futuristic vision of America’s multi-raced face before our eyes. It’s a dynamic artistic choice that never stops informing the viewer of the long-lasting effects of Hamilton’s humanitarian quest.
The explosively innovative score relays the story as an homage to existing rap and hip-hop greats sprinkled with some of the theater’s freshest ballads to date. Here the play’s style and content meld to create a musical which is satisfying to the discriminating purist, yet simultaneously appealing to younger audiences not yet indoctrinated into the art form. This, as it turns out, is important as we’re facing a time when the median age of theater-goers is rising and young audience are increasingly loath to venture into our play palaces. Hamilton offers a musical score one might hear on the radio or latest chart-topping release.
The average age of a U.S. Latino/a in is 27 – nearly 10 years younger than the general public. This means that by appealing to a more youthful audience, Hamilton is creating future theater goers by presenting a relevant story told in a hip-hop language they consider their own. Complimenting the music is contemporary choreography bursting with youthful ebullience and fresh moves one would find on display in the latest clubs and televised dance-competition programs.
The merits of Hamilton as a goodwill ambassador for new Americans cannot be overstated. For, in a time when the very intent and value of immigrants is being questioned at the highest levels of government, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heroic homage to Hamilton sheds a desperately needed shaft-light upon the true nature of those who come to these shores seeking a better life. So profound is Hamilton in style and content that it sends the viewers’ minds reeling. I recommend this new theater piece to anyone of any color — for Hamilton is more than a musical — it’s a dazzling celebration of all that makes America and its greatest dreamers so impactful: foresight, determination and innovation. Just like the man himself, Hamilton, the musical, is shaping history. Don’t miss out on “your shot” and see it soon.
Tickets are available. For all show info: HamiltonBroadway.com