Evelyn #OFFSCENE about ‘The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’
How did a rapper, writer, Tony winner
Go on and on about a Founding Father who we only know from history books.
A dead white guy from the 1700s, yet became one of Broadway’s best-selling hits.
The ten dollar
Founding Father of the treasury
Transferred from history to the Broadway stage garnering millions of hard dollars.
By Lin-Manuel Miranda, yet still not everyone is charmed by this musical.
Hamilton has become a global phenomenon since its Broadway premiere in 2015, spawning multiple touring companies around the U.S. and the U.K. Although it’s not the first rap musical to be on Broadway, the show is the first to deliver American history through hip-hop, portraying multiple Founding Fathers on stage. Even those who don’t follow musical theatre know the show, often dropping $230 for minimum-priced tickets…
Now, I love Hamilton with all my heart. I’ve seen it multiple times, most recently with fellow SEEN writer Amberley. I first listened to the original cast recording almost three years ago and I was instantly hooked. My friends are constantly annoyed that it’s the one original cast I keep playing on repeat, but the music helped me to persevere through my college career.
While I adore this show, something about it has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. The show is essentially a piece of historical fan fiction in which the Founding Fathers’ mistreatment of slaves and indigenous Americans is ignored or left out.
The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda provides a different lens to this era of American history. Written by Ishmael Reed, the show is not the first work to comment on Hamilton’s historical inaccuracies. However, Reed has been one of the loudest dissenting voices against Hamilton and has written multiple articles discussing the show’s oversights.
The play was a bit more cut-and-dried than what I’m used to. Most of the plays I’ve experienced don’t hit you with all the revelations until the very end, and then you decide what you think the truth is. This show isn’t like that. From the moment it starts, it's just one hard-hitting fact after another about Hamilton and the Schuylers’ compliance to the slave trade and the massacre of the indigenous people of America. It felt a bit like I was attending a college lecture, but in a more entertaining fashion (and with the added bonus of some amazing banana pudding that they gave out before the show started).
The show makes valid points about the exclusion of marginalized groups in the musical. Slaves are rarely spoken of in Hamilton, and while the word “abolitionist” is mentioned in passing several times, the Schuyler sisters and even Hamilton himself were known to keep slaves. While George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are both interesting and exciting characters to watch on stage, these Founding Fathers were cruel to their slaves and murdered indigenous people. Yet we praise Hamilton’s version of the Founding Fathers. This is a dangerous case of fiction mixing with fact, with audiences possibly mistaking the show as historically accurate. It is important to note that in Hamilton, multiple characters’ lives are either redacted or changed completely. The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda wants to correct that.
The show even makes a bold point about the financial workings of the Broadway industry. After being enlightened by the stories of the natives, slaves and indentured servants that haunt time, Miranda confronts Ron Chernow (the guy whose book inspired Miranda to write the musical) about these historical inaccuracies. Chernow is flabbergasted that Miranda isn’t spellbound by his authorial take and retorts in frustration, “Would they invest if I told them the truth?” Obviously not. While Hamilton is a tragedy, the real history of Alexander Hamilton would be much harder to bear, especially the story of one of the Schuylers’ slaves, Diana. You can’t write characters who willingly purchased slaves for others or murdered indigenous people and expect audiences to adore them.
It is ironic that if the Founding Fathers somehow traveled forward in time and watched Hamilton, they would have been disgusted to see non-white actors portraying them. Perhaps that makes Hamilton the ultimate revenge, an alternate reality where the people the Founding Fathers enslaved and abused are playing them, and having the time of their lives doing so.
Yet, while Hamilton is fictional and revisionist history, it serves an important role on Broadway as one of the few shows that largely employs people of color. At the same time, we should encourage more shows like The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, which serve up important counter arguments for big musical theatre juggernauts. Discussions need to be had in which even critically acclaimed works can be evaluated and fact-checked. For now, Hamilton continues its success at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and beyond, but it is important to keep in mind whose stories are left out of the narrative.
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