I’m sure almost all of you have either heard the soundtrack to the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” or at least heard about the musical itself. The musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, opened in August 2015 on Broadway. Since then Hamilton has grown to become one of the most successful musicals of all time. The popularity of the musical has only slightly decreased since its opening, and most people still can’t get tickets. This begs the question, what makes this musical so popular? Everyone had heard of Alexander Hamilton, but until the musical came out, most people did not give him a second thought, except when they took out a ten-dollar bill to pay for lunch. Now, it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t say that Hamilton is their favorite Founding Father.
The best way that I explain both the immense popularity of the musical and the subsequent rise in popularity of Alexander Hamilton is the fact that “Hamilton” goes to great pains to reach out to the broadest and most diverse audience. The musical has been able to affect a much broader audience than perhaps any musical in history.
“Hamilton” paints Alexander Hamilton as an immigrant coming to America to seek greater opportunity, someone who is willing to work hard to achieve his goals and the American dream. This is an idea that is relatable to many people in this country. Hamilton says in the musical, “Yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot!” He wants to come to America to work hard and improve his station in life, an idea that most modern-day Americans take to heart.
In addition to having a relatable lead character, the musical style of “Hamilton” has done a great deal to boost the play’s popularity. While some of the music and lyrics fit in well with the traditional musical theatre genre, the vast majority of the music in “Hamilton” is hip-hop and R&B. These are very popular genres in today’s culture, and yet they have been underrepresented in musicals. The music of “Hamilton” brought Broadway musicals to a new fan base that has never been included in musicals and with the support of this whole new fan base, positive response to the play has been overwhelming.
Finally, “Hamilton” took one drastic step to reach out to a very diverse group of people. Despite the fact that the musical is predominantly about people of Western European descent the vast majority of the cast is of African American and Hispanic descent. This is very strong statement for a few reasons. First it makes it clear that the play is for everyone and that no matter your background the story of Americas founding is a story about all Americans. Second, “Hamilton” strongly implies that America is a place where anyone can be anything, no matter one’s race or ethnicity. This is another reason that the play has become so popular. Its messages of acceptance and inclusion are very popular ones, especially in times where tensions in the country are growing.
Finally, the popularity of Hamilton is also related to the national climate into which it was released. Racial tensions in the country are running high, perhaps even more so due to the decisive election process currently taking place. Hamilton reminds us that despite these differences we can all still find common ground and work towards similar goals. Regardless of race or ethnic background people respond well to messages of inclusion and hard work as the key to success in America. “Hamilton” plays powerfully to these messages, and it is essentially a reminder of all that can be good about America and how, even in the face of ignorance and resistance, there is still hope for deliverance.