Why Hamilton Matters
If you know me in person, or you follow me on Twitter, or you live near Manhattan, or you saw the Grammys, or if you maybe have an internet connection or a pulse, you’ve probably heard of “Hamilton.”
The thing you may not have heard is: why does it matter?
It’s a musical. It’s won a ton of awards. It’s insanely hard to get tickets. If you care about that sort of thing, it’s incredibly good.
I do care about that sort of thing. And I am head over heels in love with “Hamilton.” Not having a spare $500 for a ticket, I haven’t seen it live – but I’ve listened to the soundtrack uncountable times and scrounge up all the news I can on it. And I enter the ticket lottery every day. Hope springs eternal.
But – what if you don’t care? If you’re not a theatre nerd… so what? Why should anyone care? Why were the cast just invited to perform at the White House, for goodness’ sake?
Why does “Hamilton” matter? Sit yourself down and I’ll give you five reasons.
Songs are easier to remember and can affect us more powerfully than text. When educators eliminate arts in favor of “teaching to tests,” they ignore that drawing, singing, dancing – the arts – are basic to humanity. Seriously. It’s even in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
If you’re an American schoolkid, chances are 50/50 you’re not male and 50/50 you’re not white. And the simplest way I can put it is, it feels different to look up to someone you feel akin to, than to someone you don’t. The latter is nice – but the former is better. It unlocks doors for your dreams.
Emotional stories resonate in ways that facts can’t. A story about a bunch of young brown guys bragging, fighting, flirting – that hits you differently than the “founding fathers” Social Studies chapter did. It resonates.
At 36, Lin-Manuel Miranda has a Grammy, a Tony, and a Genius Award. It’s not hard to understand why he identifies with a guy who “wrote like he was running out of time.” His lyrics quote pop and hip-hop as often and as seamlessly as musical theatre or obscure American history. His music is brilliant and his words are better.
If you’re an American and if it’s important to feel connected to our history, all of this matters.You have to feel a connection to care. And this election year especially, it seems more important than ever to care about our country.
“Hamilton” helps us care about our history. With it we don’t gaze at paintings of stately white-haired men in tailcoats. We feel what it was like to be a rambunctious, obnoxious orphan, coming from nothing, making friends, and risking everything for the chance to be important and do important things.
Yes, there were tailcoats and quill pens. But the humanity is what normally gets left out. The story. The resonance. The connection. And this year, in this country, we can use all the connection and all the humanity we can get. We’re getting enough of separation and distance.
If I’ve made you curious – you can hear “Hamilton” on Spotify. And you can join me in daydreaming about what it would be like to see live.
(Also, you can follow me on Spotify. As you’ll discover, half of what I listen to is “Hamilton.” But I make non-Hamilton playlists too.)
Sidebar on #Ham4Ham: A couple of times a week, the production gives a short, free performance for people waiting for the results of the ticket lottery. Maybe cast members, maybe other stars; maybe singing or talking, maybe dancing or lip-synching. Maybe online, maybe on 46th Street in front of the theatre. They’re hamming it up before “Hamilton.” Ergo: Ham 4 Ham.
I am telling you about #Ham4Ham because they’re worth seeing. Here are stories on them from Slate and Vulture, and their Youtube channel. Google my favorite #Ham4Hams: The Schuyler Georges; Kelli O’Hara; Leslie Odom Jr. singing “Forever Young”; “Love for the Techies Day”; and Jimmy Fallon.