Civic Imagination

Hamilton's Rise to Success

Alexander Hamilton's rise to power, as told by the hit musical “Hamilton”, is one of a scrappy immigrant who - before arriving in America - evaded death several times, supported himself with several jobs, saved his money, and finally arrived in the USA with a dream of success. And though he wasn’t perfect, he eventually rose to power in the nascent US government and provided the country with many institutions that still survive today. People often forget that the US was actually built by immigrants, and the musical “Hamilton” helps to remind people of that. Through self motivation and his hunger for a legacy, Alexander Hamilton succeeded in many ways - helping win America’s independence from England, building a sound financial system for the US government, helping write the US Constitution, and more all while fighting those who told him he would not succeed. This inspiring immigrant’s story is part of what makes the musical “Hamilton” so magical, the story told through the eyes and music of writer Lin Manuel Miranda, an American Latino with a success story of his own.

Attending Emerson College, I am surrounded by students who love and appreciate art of all forms. I first encountered the Hamil-craze last summer when the musical first began to become enormously popular among more than just Broadway fanatics. However, Emerson is a community of early adopters and people all around me began to insist that I join in on the craze, as everyone could tell it was going to be something big. When the soundtrack was released on Spotify, I listened to the whole thing all the way through - twice. I was mesmerized by the incredible storytelling of Lin and the entire cast. Alexander Hamilton’s story - of an individualistic go-getter with a dream - is something that Emerson students and college students alike can immediately identify with.

The actual history of Alexander Hamilton is something that was brushed over in my US History classes - he existed, he helped write the constitution, he was the first US Treasury Secretary, and died tragically in a duel over something petty. Hearing the musical “Hamilton” for the first time, I felt like I was awakened to a story that had previously been kept hidden from the textbooks. I felt a little bit of myself in each of the characters: Hamilton - the go-getter, Washington - the powerful yet analytical leader, Angelica Schuyler - a woman who knew her own potential and yet could not live it due to her gender, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton - a woman who loves unconditionally and puts others first, and finally, Aaron Burr - perhaps described as a tragic hero, with a formidable ego and drive to achieve greatness, who falls victim to failure time and time again, and lets this destroy him.
After coming into contact with “Hamilton”, I have to admit I was obsessed, like every other Emerson kid. I told my parents, my friends, my boyfriend, anyone who would listen to me, to listen to it. It’s a story with something for everyone, a true testament to the American spirit.

An important element of “Hamilton” is the way in which the musical was cast - with people of color in the heroic roles, and white actors as the sour, petty Englishmen who sought to control the US. Casting the story in this way makes “Hamilton” a modern success story, and makes the story more accessible to diverse groups of people, and acts as a call to action for media makers to diversify their work. In addition, the fact that this musical tells an old story with new music techniques and hip-hop elements combined with classic Broadway elements brings the story out of the Broadway repertoire and into popular culture. And though it is still largely the history of white characters, having people of color play those roles tells the story of America’s yesteryear using the America of today. Along with that, Lin Manuel Miranda’s roots in Washington Heights, New York, a historically Latino neighborhood, shows that you don’t need to come from success in order to be successful, a true inspiration for artists and creators of all backgrounds.

Video of Hamilton performance at the 2016 TONY Awards:

Hamilton, Musicals, Broadway, US History, Founding Fathers, USA, Lin Manuel Miranda, New York, Boston, Immigrant, People of Color, Diversity, Hip Hop


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