Big shows like Hamilton continually sell-out, and can sell their tickets for extortionate prices. But do shows like this really deserve the praise they receive? Or are people only going because they’ve been swept up in the social media mania? Theatre lover Izzy Bostock tells us her thoughts.
As a huge theatre fan, I have been very fortunate to see many shows over the years, and, living close to London, I have seen some of the biggest in the West End. These include: Wicked, Heathers, We Will Rock You, The Lion King, Matilda, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and, most recently, Lin Manuel Miranda’s global sensation, Hamilton. But some might wonder why one would pay such extortionate ticket prices for just two hours of entertainment – plus the extra £7 for a small tub of ice cream in the interval!
For those who have no interest in singing and dancing (and there are quite a number), you can see why they might be quick to dismiss theatre because, for them, there is nothing attractive about watching something they don’t care for. However, those who do enjoy singing and dancing might find many reasons as to why musical theatre receives all the hype it deserves. To me, the most exciting development in musical theatre – for both its musical excellence and socio-political messages – has to have been the arrival of Hamilton, which saw its first Broadway stage in 2015.
When I first heard of Hamilton, I remember being so critical of the concept before I’d even listened to the songs, so protective of the traditional musical theatre I had grown up with. To me, rap and hip hop had no place in musical theatre, nor did they have any place in history further back than the 1990s. What I would come to learn is the great mind and politics behind Hamilton. Lin Manuel Miranda, who has contributed his expert song-writing skills to films like Moana and other musicals such as In the Heights, has experienced a huge rise to fame in the last five years. But, when I delved deeper into Miranda’s eccentric and brilliant mind, I discovered that he used music from the rap and hip-hop genre because of his desire to present the young revolutionaries to look and sound like young Americans today, which is also reflected in the musical’s diverse cast. Miranda’s politically engaged musical about taking a stand against injustice, fighting for feminism and immigration, and combating a tyrannical political system couldn’t really have come at a better time for America. As well as this, the hugely intricate songs, which switch from rising revolutionary numbers such as ‘My Shot’ to heartbreaking ballads like ‘Burn’, are riddled with empowering lines such as:
“America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me. You let me make a difference. A place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.” ~ Hamilton, ‘The World Was Wide Enough’
With the rise of online streaming, Hamilton arrived in a very different time compared to some of Broadway and the West End’s other successful original musicals, such as Mamma Mia, nor did it have the pre-existing fanbase that musicals based on films or books already have, like The Lion King or Matilda. It has enjoyed such a rise to fame because of social media and streaming services which makes listening to the music accessible to almost everyone. This is hugely significant because it isn’t cutting off those who cannot afford show tickets – because they are pricey! – or those who live in countries where the show hasn’t reached yet. Online streaming has changed the game completely, and Hamilton arrived at precisely the right moment. Currently, Miranda has returned to his starring role in Hamilton in his homeland, Puerto Rico, in order to raise funds to help rebuild artistic schools and projects that were destroyed by the hurricane in September, 2017.
Even if you are not a musical theatre, you cannot deny that Hamilton is a masterclass for songwriters and has inspired a whole new generation of musical theatre performers, who previously felt restricted by their ethnicities and race. Miranda has broken all the unspoken rules of musical theatre and I, like many, feel this has come at no better time; never before has a musical made such a huge impact both socially and politically. It certainly lives up to the hype is has stirred in its four year run, and will continue to inspire new ground-breaking musicals in the future.
– Izzy Bostock