HAMILTON Whose Narrative Is it Anyway?

by Annette Daniels Taylor (photo by Joan Marcus)

Hamilton, An American Musical winner of 11 Tony Awards, 2016 Pulitzer for Drama, Drama Desk Awards, and a Grammy award currently being performed at Shea’s Performing Arts Center is a sure fire modern classic by 33 year old genius actor/playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. This “historical hip-hop-opera” is inspired by U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s life to the rhythmic influence of 90’s rap and hip-hop.

Seeing Hamilton in the newly renovated Shea’s reminds us that experiencing theater in a space this magnificent and plush, is a rare treat for those living daily lives within Buffalo.

In a city with as much theater as Buffalo, live theater is still a cultural luxury, however Hamilton producers, believing arts power, are offering $10 tickets during daily lotteries.

If opportunity keeps you away from Shea’s now you’ll have a shot at witnessing nothing less than the best theater you may ever see this year because Lin-Manuel Miranda has created a brilliant work of art in Hamilton, which is moving and motivating but historically, may be misleading.

Folks watching this production may feel educated on forgotten American history while head-bopping, however this narrative of Alexander Hamilton was derived after Miranda read Ron Chernow’s biography of Mr. Hamilton and sadly, according to historian Dr. Phil Magness analysis in Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement, it seems Mr. Chernow’s biography overlooked behavior and documents portraying Hamilton, not as the Revolutionary abolitionist Miranda stages him to be in the play, but instead as a slaver, slavery sympathizer and slavery collaborator. The flaws appear in his narrative.

Despite the play being an energetic and engaging perfect work of art, Miranda used Chernow’s biography as his sole reference. I feel this is the flaw of the narrative. Before, during and after the Revolutionary War many free, White citizens profited from slavery. In the North many of these citizens lived in New York. Alexander Hamilton and his in-laws were part of this society. On July 4, 1827, slavery was abolished in New York State and prior to that 25% of New York City’s White family’s owned at least one African descended slave.

The most elite owned more than one and also owned property along the Hudson, in Albany, New York as well as Southern and Caribbean plantations. Alexander Hamilton’s main interests were securing this young country fiscally and securing his own social economic status and legacy.

Hamilton suggested freeing slaves to fight the Revolutionary War. Washington who owned hundreds of slaves disagreed until they discovered the British was offering freedom if they ran away and fought against the colonists. Hamilton, as a lawyer, regularly acquired, sold and retrieved enslaved men, women and children for clients including his father and sister in-laws.

Songs like, Room Where It Happened, examine Hamilton’s and his cohorts desires to be a part of the country’s narrative, and a favorite, Not Gonna Miss My Shot addresses Hamilton’s need for power, wealth, respect and status.

Musical theater is a safe place to experience culture, to be enlightened by other points of view, to be entertained by dazzling talents. Hamilton, will fulfill all of these promises, because it is that good and because Lin-Manuel Miranda is that good.The entire cast of this touring show are absolutely spectacular adding to the breathtaking performances committed to this narrative, music, language and story-telling you will undoubtedly connect the historic stage events to present day.

Miranda remixes mid to late 80’s / 90’s music of a “hood-life revolution for liberty” against the lack of livelihood for being Black, Brown or poor in America, into a historical American Revolution of “white only” freedom fighting founding fathers played by dark brown actors. The multi-racial cast is a reflection of what New York City and much of the country looks like today and in Hamilton may also represents how New York City looked in the 1700’s except back then, Black and Brown folks were not the elite, had no little rights, and didn’t make direct decisions regarding the formation and direction of our government.

Most importantly Hamilton is a reflection of today streaming through a historic lens. It’s also a play about 18th century societal issues still concerning us today. This musical is about controlling narratives within one’s story and history. If you get the opportunity to see it, you should.

Buffalo Based Writer, Director and Thespian / Annette Daniels Taylor