Back in December when I first became aware that there was a Broadway play called “Hamilton,” I was both excited and skeptical. You see, I’m a history major and hold both a Bachelors and a Masters degree. Teaching history was something I wanted to do before I changed my mind and became a technical writer. Now, as an author, I get the chance to ‘teach’ history but in a different venue.
I love musicals. Always have. The Music Man was always my favorite until The Lion King. That show is so much more than the sum of its parts. I actually had the opportunity to travel to New York back in 1998 to see TLK because I didn’t think it would ever tour.
I saw a second show on that New York trip: a revival of 1776. Now I only became aware of 1776 in graduate school and the idea that the Founding Fathers would be singing was, well, weird. Until I saw it, the movie that is. While it took me a little time to get behind John Adams singing, I quickly grew to love the songs not only as Broadway pieces but as pseudo history classes. Want to know how the Declaration of Independence was written? You could do worse than listening to the “But Mr. Adams” song. It soon became clear that a two-hour musical could deliver history to folks who hated history in high school.
So when I learned about Hamilton, I was both excited and skeptical. Excited for the potential a show like this to educate viewers about America’s first Treasury secretary. Skeptical for how the music would be presented. I figured it would be good, but I needed to give it a listen.
NPR put up the cast soundtrack on its First Listen program. I gave it a ‘spin.’ I was mesmerized. Not only was the music hip-hop (hip-hop!) but the words coming out of the singers’ mouths were chock full of historical goodness. Songs like “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot” are history textbooks condensed and full of life. Spectacular!
I’m so glad the musical has become a national phenomenon. I’m glad its success has, apparently, kept Hamilton on the ten dollar bill. I’m glad that Ron Chernow’s original biography is now likely experiencing a resurgence in popularity. (It’s a great bio, BTW.) I’m glad that the musical took hom 11 Tony awards last night. Well deserved.
But I’m really glad that history—the subject for which I have a passion—is now getting ‘taught’ to folk who didn’t really think they loved history until it was presented in a different format. If it takes a musical to ignite a drive to learn more about our history, so be it.
“How lucky we are to be alive right now!”