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3 Ways The Hamilton Musical Aged Well (And 3 Ways Critics Say It Didn't)

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3 Ways The Hamilton Musical Aged Well (And 3 Ways Critics Say It Didn't)

The Hamilton musical skyrocketed the careers of Lin Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr, David Diggs, and many others from the original cast to stardom.

Back when it was first released in 2015, the musical was lauded for, obviously, its music, its precision storytelling, and more importantly, its casting. The cast is entirely made up of people of color and especially given how white Broadway was (and still is), the musical seemed like a flawless subversion of white spaces: both on Broadway, and American history. 

Hamilton came out just as I was taking AP U.S. History, and as many can relate, the course is not, what one might say, uplifting material. For many minorities, the supposedly “triumphant” parts of American history feel really distant, if not downright insulting, because of how it is framed. 

So in comparison, in a way, the Hamilton Musical felt hopeful, an act of reclamation. Daveed Diggs got catapulted to stardom for playing a caricature of Thomas Jefferson. Miranda got to take Hamilton, a known elitist, and xenophobe, and use his narrative to empower the immigrant story. Former President Barack Obama loved the musical! So did Dick Cheney!

But, come July 4, 2020, about five years after the musical premiered on Broadway, the DisneyPlus+ release has garnered a much more mixed reaction.

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A play about working hard with what little you have was bought out by Disney for 75 million dollars. While many still see the merits of the musical, “Hamilton” is now buried under a lot of hype, discourse, and more importantly, time.

“Hamilton” on Broadway was simply released during a different time than the recording now. Trump’s election, along with the many atrocities committed since made many people rethink how they see progress and re-examine the role institutions play in oppression. 

Many critics comment on how Hamilton reaffirms many of these institutions, and question whether putting actors of color in an inherently racist narrative is enough to challenge history.

Here are 3 ways in which “Hamilton” the musical aged well.

Now that Hamilton is on DisneyPlus+, more people will have the chance to see the good in the musical (and there is still a lot of that!).

1. The performances are still, admittedly, very good. 

The show is electric, there is no denying that — there is an obvious reason why the show took off so well. 

Leslie Odom Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry especially are bonafide talents, and this is only reaffirmed upon the high-def release of the original cast performances. 

Goldsberry’s performance of “Satisified” still holds up both in terms of technical prowess (that rap is still insane!) and as an anthem for women repeatedly wronged, and the compromises they make to survive. “Non-Stop” as the closer for Act 1 still is an amazing combination of both Odom Jr. talent, Miranda’s musical score, as well as show-stopping choreography.

 It is hard not to shout along to the interlude in the middle about the Federalist Papers — an amazing song to inspire performers and artists alike. 

2. Jonathan Groff’s King George III is really funny. 

The high definition recording also allows you to see the angry spittle Groff does when he sings crystal clear. Groff’s caricature of King George III as the really upset, overdramatic mom of the British Empire allows for a moment of reprieve, not only in the story but in your overall day. 

Having a moment to just laugh at a comically evil cartoon of the British Empire is really fun, and Groff’s comedic expressions and singing cinch the performance. 

3. Despite its flaws in doing so, Hamilton does re-shift a lot of the conversations we have about The Founding Fathers 

There are pretty big flaws in how it executes this, but the show does help bridge the righteous, mythologized story of the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War, versus the way revolution and protests today are portrayed. 

Back in 2015, Hamilton helped connect the glorified revolutionary spirit with the one that took the streets during Ferguson and the Murder of Michael Brown. 

It showed that protest against oppression is righteous, no matter who the people are — it doesn’t get to be “violent” and “disorderly” just because those in power don’t like the people that are protesting. The musical took the language of white revolution and reclaimed it for many minorities. 

RELATED: 4 Lessons On Why 'Hamilton' Is The Ultimate Story Of Forgiveness

On the other hand…

Under the microscope again, Hamilton has received some criticism for its storyline.

1. The historical revisionism is questionable

The Smithsonian Magazine asks: “Is ‘Hamilton’ Good for History?” In Miranda’s Hamilton, Hamilton is reframed as a down-on-his-luck Caribbean immigrant, and racism is mentioned in passing or in nudge-wink one-liners about Sally Hemings. 

Historians question how the musical, with its bombastic musical numbers and show-stopping performances, further solidify the myth of the Founding Father’s into public consciousness, but now using many modern values of inclusion to gloss over many of the Founding Father’s atrocities.

The way the musical potentially lionizes the Founding Father’s mythos draws much more criticism than it did five years ago — the DisneyPlus+ recording comes at a time when people are looking to topple statues of white supremacy such as Christopher Columbus, not further cement them in U.S. history.

The revisionism, according to historians, is most egregious when slavery itself is pushed to the background. By making slavery a footnote, it frees up a lot more space to instead focus on the Founding Fathers as sympathetic characters and not people with deeply impactful legacies in jingoism and patriotism. 

CUNY’s David Waldstreicher and University of Missouri’s Jeffrey Pasley say Hamilton is a part of a growing trend since the 1990s called “Founder’s Chic,” with biographers taking a lot of nationalistic sentiment around the fathers and making them seem character-driven and relatable. 

2. Does the “color-blind casting” really “reclaim” white history? 

Color-blind casting is not quite the right word for it either: Miranda and the directorial team have chosen to call it color “conscious.” The casting was not race-blind, the casting was specifically used to make a point about the racial tensions that exist in U.S. History. 

“What I knew is that I wanted this show to live in the tension of emotions that felt very contemporary. I wanted to eliminate any distance between then and now,” director Thomas Kail said. “And I just knew the best way to serve this story was exactly how Lin wanted to serve this story, which is that this show should have a cast which reflects the world we live in.”

But, historian Lyra Monteiro has her criticisms on this approach. 

“Basically what the supposedly color-blind casting does, is it gives Hamilton, the show, the ability to say, 'Oh, we’re not just telling old, white history,'” Monteiro said in a 2016 Slate interview. "'This isn’t your stuffy old-school history that’s just praising white people. Look, we’ve got people of color in the cast. This is everybody’s story.' Which, it isn’t. It’s still white history. And no amount of casting people of color disguises the fact that they’re erasing people of color from the actual narrative."

3. Reclaiming the mainstream may not have been the way to go.

Ismael Reed, poet, and writer of the counter-Hamilton play “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda” said: “It is a bad jingoistic history salvaged by the brilliant performance of a multicultural cast — there was more diversity on stage than in the audience.” 

“The Haunting of Lin Manuel-Miranda” is a play about a satirized version of Miranda, dreaming about the historical figures he has written about. Through his dreams, he is confronted by the history of the play: slaves, Native Americans, and slave owners interrogate him on the legacy of his musical. 

It can be argued that Hamilton got popular because it reinvented a story every American student, no matter their race, had to learn. Because while Miranda’s musical In the Heights, which looks at the effects of gentrification on Latino communities, has also reached critical acclaim, the initial response he got dwarfs in comparison to Hamiltons’. 

So, Reed uses his counter-Hamilton play to instead to push black, indigenous, and Latinx creators to tell their own stories, rather than superficially use people of color to further white narratives. 

While there have been critics about Reed’s approach to how he approaches the musical, he does raise an interesting question: is it really reclaiming history if all that happens is minorities get to be included in a mainstream that actively persecuted and oppressed them? Why are we using minority voices to further venerate the Founding Fathers?

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Jessica Xing is a writer who covers entertainment, culture, and media.