Musical Review - Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton is one of those historical figures who most people have heard of because of the hit musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. A founding father of the United States, an immigrant and a radical fighter for independence, Hamilton’s story is one which was often in the shadows of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
When I last looked at Miranda’s record breaking show I was critical of the way he had re-written history and aspects of historical characters, in order to exaggerate a narrative or push a personal story. After re-watching the show since it’s release as a film on Disney Plus, I realise I wasn’t critical enough. It is like a disappointing firework which falls quicker than it went up with no explosion.
From the very start of the show there is a tremendous energy. It is full of life and humour whilst encouraging a revolutionary zeal from the naïve younger versions of Hamilton, John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan and Marquis de Lafayette.
There was a buzz in the air that you can sense from the live audience, similar in feeling to the release of the movie 'Black Panther'. The feeling that regardless of the historical misinterpretations - it embodies a sense of racial justice and black pride, mainly by casting black people in the main roles. It is a modern reimagining of the American dream with black people front and center. Along with the brilliant stage direction and choreography it is easy to get wrapped up into the story. You end up cheering for Hamilton as he finds his confidence and fights for his place in history. However, that feeling doesn’t last very long.
The first hour of this highly individualistic struggle covers the period of battles with the British. The rest of the show is swamped by tedious political machinations, hints of a historically inaccurate affair with his wife’s sister, and the occasional acknowledgement that slavery still existed.
Although this is understandable from a narrative perspective it means there is a major loss of energy and becomes quite difficult to stay engaged. The traditional archetypes are all at play with a fictional love triangle and the very real rivalry between Hamilton and Burr. Hamilton is depicted as this glorious, charismatic hero who can do no wrong. In fact, the whole show builds on this foundation. It reinforces an old capitalist ideology that there are superhuman individuals with wildly higher capabilities than most who create change. Without them apparently, we lack the intellect to bring about lasting change ourselves.
This imagining of Hamilton as a hero of anyone but the newly independent ruling class is completely wrong and perhaps why I feel the musical jarred so much. Hamilton was a pioneering capitalist whose opposition to slavery was only because it didn’t serve his economic model. He was an immigrant. However, he made it more difficult for immigrants to enter the US, referring to them as “aliens”. He also fought against the bill of rights referring to democracy as “the real disease”.
Even with all the problems of Hamilton put to the side there is a grotesque glorification of the other founding fathers. It is widely known that the majority of them, owned slaves including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Yet they were greeted with tremendous applause on stage. Hamilton even uses slave-owning against Jefferson at one point during the musical, intended to undermine Jefferson’s statement. However, all it did was highlight the hypocrisy of Hamilton who only used slavery as a political football to attempt to win the argument. These men who wrote “all men are created equal”, did not believe this. They should not be celebrated or re-written to be played by a black cast in order to sanitise their racist history.
We need to celebrate people who fight for real justice, we should be celebrating revolutionary figures on the stage. Not those who used their power to maintain the systems of exploitation and oppression.
On a final note, Miranda’s gimmick of rapping is something I have written about before, he claims to be reminded of Tupac when he sees Hamilton. But the flows and lyrics are on the nose and mimic a stereotype that feels lame, stretching for rhymes at times when the lines are too tame.
Antony Hamilton is an active member of the Berlin LINKE Internationals. This review will appear in the next issue of Socialist Worker newspaper.