Your theater friend is flipping her shit about Alexander Hamilton. This is why you should care:
Over 75% of the roles on Broadway are filled by white actors. Talented people of color are auditioning, but they’re not getting cast. Too many Broadway shows are written by white people and performed by white actors for white audiences. This has ostracized minorities from what should be a community space.
Hamilton is the story of the “orphan, bastard, son of a whore, and a Scotsman,” Alexander Hamilton. You know him as that dude on the ten-dollar bill. His entire life is intertwined with the making of America. You may be thinking, “Oh great, some nerd combined history and musical theater, and a ticket only costs $327.” But what does that have to do with minority representation on Broadway? This is where things get interesting:
Hamilton is a hip-hop musical. Nine out of the ten lead roles are played by people of color. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer, director, and star of Hamilton, is the son of Puerto Rican immigrants. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are played by Christopher Jackson and Daveed Digs, both of whom are Black. Eliza, Hamilton’s wife, is played by Chinese-American actress, Phillipa Soo. Who is the one white lead? Jonathon Groff- He plays King George.
Most minority actors are limited to shows with racial themes such as The Color Purple or Hairspray. Every now and then, you might see one person of color cast in a traditionally white show. Though minorities remain severely underrepresented on Broadway, casting non-white actors in traditionally white roles has been an effective means of increasing the diversity of both Broadway actors and Broadway audiences. Hamilton is taking an ever bolder step forward.
By casting actors of color as the Founding Fathers, Miranda draws a parallel between the beloved revolutionaries of 1776 and the American minorities of 2016.
The American Revolution is not the story of the global superpower that we know today; it is the story of people coming together in the face of oppression. When PBS asked Miranda to comment on “the casting of the Founding Fathers as Latino- as Black,” he responded with the same quick-wit that was once characteristic of Alexander Hamilton: “Let’s not pretend this is a textbook. Let’s make the founders of our country look like what our country looks like now. It looks like America now.”
“We take it as a given that hip-hop music is the music of the Revolution,” says Miranda. “We need a revolutionary language to describe a revolution.” Throughout the musical, Miranda captures Hamilton’s youthful enthusiasm and remarkable drive with rap:
America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me
You let me make a difference
A place where even orphan immigrants
Can leave their fingerprints and rise up
Hamilton is revolutionary. It is proof that musicals starring people of color can still blow the roof off the box office. Are you protesting the Oscars due to lack of diversity in the nominations? Watch next year’s Tonys. You will see Miranda’s face. He won’t look like the guy on the 10-dollar bill, but you’ll know that Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton have other, more important similarities.
Look around, look around- how lucky we are to be alive right now.