Whether one is a diehard theater kid, a mild musical enjoyer, or a tolerator at most, Alexander Hamilton is now a household name. This is arguably due to Hamilton, the 2015 hip-hop rap musical. While most may only see Hamilton as an exceptional and emotional story, this musical affected the theater world more than anyone could have imagined.
One notable reason was the exceptional racial diversity in the cast. All the characters in Hamilton, including Alexander Hamilton, were white. However, when Lin Manuel Miranda and his executives created this musical, their casting call called for “non-white men and women.” This led to most of the cast members being people of color, excluding Jonathan Groff (King George) and a few ensemble members. Most regional productions of Hamilton kept the same practice. For many reasons, this was groundbreaking. Broadway remains exceptionally white, with almost two-thirds of actors and 94% of directors being white. Many old and modern musicals, such as Heathers, Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls, and others have majority white casts. And even though many musicals nowadays cast color-consciously, that is not to distract us from the lack of diversity that still remains in theater. Lin Manuel Miranda and other producers have stood by their choice. Media has a huge tendency to whitewash stories and only highlight stories following white people. However, producers of Hamilton believed that casting a diverse cast was necessary to represent the diversity of America today and before.
Hamilton also brought new types of music into the light, which has previously been met with mixed success. While most musicals had trouble breaking out of their Broadway bubble, the music in Hamilton was able to transcend the entire theater industry. Billboard 2015 labeled Hamilton’s soundtrack as the second-best album of the year, as well as hitting many top music charts. By incorporating rap and hip-hop into the musical, the show was widened to more than just musical theater fans. People who had not been fans of Broadway could see the catchy tunes of Hamilton and find love in this art form. That’s not to say that musicals haven’t tried this in the past. Shows such as Hair, RENT, In The Heights (also written by Lin Manuel Miranda), Six, Hadestown, and more have mixed in other musical genres in the past, but none of these musicals had reached the same level of success as Hamilton.
While there are a million more reasons why Hamilton has been such an impactful musical, the fans it has impacted are just as important. Ola Oladitan ’24 has said that this musical has gone to lengths to broaden his view on theater “It opened my eyes to the true opportunity that I, as a man of color, could have a place in such a prestigious and competitive field,” he states. “As cliché as it sounds, the fact that this form of art could be bent to fit my culture and my way of listening, enjoying, and being present felt incredibly uplifting and empowering.” Not only this, but if one was to ask someone what their first musical was that they saw or were made aware of, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hamilton was it. For many, it opened up their perspective of what theater could be and got them into musical theater.
Hamilton is not without its criticism, but one would be lying if they claimed that it had not had a huge impact on the Broadway world. Whether you are vibing to “Satisfied” or humming “The Room Where It Happens” on the way to school/work, it’s an understatement to say that it’s “just a musical.” For the Broadway world and beyond, it is more than that.