Hamilton: The Hip Hop History Lesson I Never Knew I Needed

Photo: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

This week, I had the awesome privilege of seeing the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. Because of my love for all things Broadway and the genius of Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda, I pretty much knew what to expect; hip-hop meets the Great White Way. I’ve watched the cast perform during the 70th Annual Tony Awards over and over. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the Hamilton White House performance;  it gives me chills!

As I walked to The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Pittsburgh, and onto the long security line into the theatre, I was looking forward to the opening number, I was ready for all of the hip-hop cultural references and was super psyched to see the choreography. I was ready for Broadway at its finest, but what I wasn’t ready for was the urban history lesson of the founding fathers of the United States of America. It was like a super-lit history class taught by Chuck D of Public Enemy.

The life of Alexander Hamilton could easily be a storyline on Love & Hip Hop New York.

Who knew the first Secretary of the Treasury, had some much drama in his life? Miranda based the musical on the Hamilton biography written by historian Ron Chernow, so along with the beat-boxing, rapping, and street dancing; the award-winning musical serves up a heavy helping of U.S history. I think Hamilton taught me more about how America was built than my high school history teacher, (shout-out to Mr. Mac).

I don’t want to give anything away for anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet, but the founding fathers were basically clueless about how to run a country. Hamilton was a brilliant man, who was against slavery and had a love affair with his sister-in-law, and a married woman with a husband who gave zero f*cks about anything.

Although I would have loved to see the show with the original Broadway cast, the touring company was amazing, I think it has to be every Broadway actors dream to be cast in an iconic show like Hamilton, and every one of the performers gave about 200 percent on stage. The show was great, but I did make another observation about the audience that wasn’t so great.

Back in 2010, the touring company of Miranda’s other Tony Award-winning musical; In the Heights also played at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. In the Heights is one of my favorite musicals. I’ve seen the show on Broadway and twice during tours. In the Heights is similar to Hamilton, in that it is rap, and hip-hop based. Like Hamilton, there’s street dancing and music that makes you bop your head rather than tap your foot.

In 2010, just like this week’s Hamilton show, the audience was full of middle-aged and older white people; mostly season ticket holders of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. But unlike the Hamilton performance of 2019, in 2010 – about one-third of the audience seated in the orchestra section left before intermission, and after intermission, it seemed dozens of people sitting near me didn’t bother to return.

Why did the audience walk out on Miranda’s In the Heights but stay through Hamilton?

Obviously, some of the audience in 2010 was not comfortable with the show; was it the rapping, the multi-ethnic cast, or the setting of New York City? If any of those factors led any of the audience members to walk out on the show, then they should have walked out on Hamilton as well – Hamilton, has rapping, a multi-ethnic cast (George Washington is played by an African American man, Hamilton is a  fine racially ambiguous Latino-looking man), and it’s set in New York City.

Maybe the theater really does bring people together, but the super-pricey Hamilton tickets leave much of the audience that the show is intended for in the dark. I’m sure the 60-something white men sitting in front of me, didn’t understand the Mobb Deep references in the first act during the musical number “One Shot”. There are numerous odes to hip-hop royalty like Jay-Z and Biggie, but there are also references to classic Broadway musicals that most hip-hop heads wouldn’t have a clue about.

It’s not fair that the privileged and elite get to have sole access to something so important to the culture like Hamilton

– (that’s a loaded statement because there are plenty of young urban professionals that can afford to see a Broadway show), I’m talking about the talented teenage dancer whose’s parents can’t afford a $150.00 theater ticket but desperately needs to see someone who looks like them on a Broadway stage.

Hamilton: An American Musical…..indeed.





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