Rebecca Morrison

Illustration: Victoria Sandøy
Illustration: Victoria Sandøy

Hamilton The Musical; if you know anyone interested in musical theatre, the Tony’s or if you’re just a regular internet user there is a pretty good chance you are aware of it. Hamilton, a hip-hop/rap musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, has become the American musical phenomena and winner of eleven Tony Awards. In theatre circles this is the theatre production of the moment, with the Broadway show sold out and the masterpiece opening in London’s Westend in 2017. The focus of this article, however, is not the musical itself, but the reason why it has taken off to such an extent in the UK.

One of the reasons for it’s astounding popularity stateside, aside from its brilliance, is its relevance to the current infighting and political situation there, the principle characters can indeed easily be seen to echo the participants of this year’s presidential election: Washington = Obama, Hamilton=Clinton and Burr=Trump. A coincidence which even the genius that is Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton’s creator and lead actor, could not have predicted. This is all well and good however for the American contingent of Hamilton’s fan base, but why is it so popular here to the point that the show is opening this side of the Atlantic?  Is it because, although we don’t quite face the Hilary-Trump debacle, we are currently facing our own political crisis? I personally do think we are finding solace in Hamilton, when first introduced to the soundtrack by an over enthusiastic housemate I must admit as a history student, I was more than a little sceptical about how good a hip-hop rap musical about the Revolution and formation of an independent America could really be. It just sounded like a hipster version of Les Misèrables and yet, three songs in I was registering for priority booking for when it reaches London. What interests me from an analytical stand point though, is how we related to a musical about kicking the British out and where we are represented by the mentally unhinged George III- it’s a mystery! Is it purely appreciation of clever music and good story telling? Or as highlighted in Emma Watson’s interview with Miranda because Hamilton deals with issues of immigration, education and gender equality? All of the above may be true, but I feel they are underlined by something much deeper.

In the last two years we as a nation have faced: the threatened break-up of the UK; a complicated general election; the near collapse of the Labour party; the near disappearance of the Liberal party post-coalition; the controversial and by no means landslide decision to leave the EU; back stabbing within the Conservatives; the resignation of David Cameron and the appointment of the first female Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher – and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head! We may not as Alexander Hamilton was, be trying to form an entirely new nation, but as a country we are having to re-evaluate our position in the world, identity as Europeans and indeed I would argue the very basis of what it means to be British. In the opening sequence of Hamilton, one particular lyric that standouts out is ‘the world will never be the same’ and after 2016 quite frankly it won’t, we’re living through a 21st century turning point. So we are going to ‘talk less, smile more’ and are ‘not throwing away our shot’, because underlying Hamilton’s story of revolution and war, is one of hope and proof that hard work can get you everywhere- arguably the basis why many of us are at university.

So at ‘only nineteen, but my mind is older’, I conclude that the reason for Hamilton’s international success is its appeal to the ordinary person and their ability to make a change in the world, whatever their background. It also shows that in times of political anarchy you take a political stance, without losing your principles, whilst also championing the importance of the written word. Hamilton’s strap line maybe ‘An American Musical’, and indeed in its content it is, but in the emotions and struggles it portrays Hamilton is a musical with much wider appeal. It will be interesting to see if this issue is addressed in the critical reviews when it opens here next year, but till then although set some 200+ years ago, this is the musical of modern times, and likewise another point of historical change, because after all ‘history has its eyes’ on us.