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What ‘Hamilton’ gets right and wrong

Many people are now seeing ‘Hamilton’ for the first time, as the Broadway phenomenon came to Disney Plus Friday.

Hamilton Orpheum Theatre Cast Michael Luwoye, Joshua Henry, and Rory O’Malley, Rubén J. Carbajal as John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton; Jordan Donica as Marquis De Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Amber Iman as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Isaiah Johnson as George Washington; Solea Pfeiffer as Eliza Hamilton; Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica Schuyler; and Mathenee Treco as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Ryan Alvarado, Raymond Baynard, Amanda Braun, Daniel Ching, Karli Dinardo, Jeffery Duffy, Jennifer Geller, Jacob Guzman, Julia Harriman, Afra Hines, Sabrina Imamura, Lauren Kias, Yvette Lu, Desmond Newson, Desmond Nunn, Josh Andrés Rivera, Raven Thomas, Ryan Vasquez, Keenan D. Washington, and Andrew Wojtal.
The cast of the touring production of “Hamilton” during a recent performance. “Hamilton,” featuring the original Broadway cast, comes to Disney Plus on Friday.
Joan Marcus

SALT LAKE CITY — Many people are now seeing “Hamilton” for the first time, as the Broadway phenomenon came to Disney Plus as a movie Friday.

Since its Broadway debut in August 2015, “Hamilton” has earned 11 Tony Awards. Tickets have sold out fast in every city it visits.

When “Hamilton” first came to Salt Lake City in 2018, the Deseret News interviewed history professors about their takes on “Hamilton” — what the musical gets right and things the production misses.

Here’s a rundown of the biggest takeaways.

What ‘Hamilton’ does well

The source

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda picked a good source for his musical: Ron Chernow’s 2004 bestseller “Alexander Hamilton.”
  • Prior to Chernow’s book, biographies about Hamilton were generally written by champions who often whitewashed the character, University of Utah professor Eric Hinderaker told the Deseret News. He called Chernow’s book “a real warts and all biography.”
  • “Hamilton is not portrayed as a saintly figure — he’s a complicated figure — but he is also somebody that you can really kind of empathize with,” Hinderaker said.
  • “One thing Chernow does that informs the musical so strongly is he figured out Hamilton’s origin story in a way that nobody else had,” the professor continued. “(He) really tracked down the details, and that obviously is the cornerstone for Lin-Manuel Miranda.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton and Leslie Odom, Jr., is Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.” “Hamilton” is one of several productions making a return to Broadway in the fall.
Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton.” “Hamilton” comes to Disney Plus Friday.
Disney Plus Media Relations

The music

  • The musical styles of “Hamilton” help the production dive more in-depth into politics.
  • “The brilliance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wordplay and the complexity of rap as a form just allows for a much wordier kind of exposition than you could do in any other sung format,” Hinderaker said.
  • “(Hamilton) is a guy who lived through the Revolutionary War, lived through the drafting of the Constitution and was involved in the first presidential administration,” he continued. “The scope of this musical is really breathtaking.”
  • The different musical styles — and how they’re used — also tell their own story, according to Brandon Dabling, who was then a visiting Brigham Young University political science professor.
  • “(Miranda) gives nods to different types of genres. … It’s cool to see how he blends that history throughout with the history of the country,” Dabling said. “When Jefferson comes back, he’s still singing jazz when everyone else is rapping, and it takes him some time to catch up to everything that’s happened while he’s been gone in France.”

The importance of history

  • “Hamilton” has sparked greater interest in American history, but it also draws attention to the subjectivity of that history.
  • “The very line, ‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?’ — that raises the question in your mind that history isn’t direct facts from the past where we know exactly what happened, but it’s actually crafted by people and it’s framed,” said Benjamin Park, who taught an “Age of Hamilton” course at Sam Houston State University.
  • Miranda’s “Hamilton” serves as yet another framing of the American timeline, according to Christopher Jones, who teaches early American history at BYU.
  • “You’re not getting an objective history when you go and see ‘Hamilton,’ Jones said. You’re getting an interpretation of Hamilton and his life and its significance.”
Daveed Diggs is Marquis de Lafayette, Okieriete Onaodowan is Hercules Mulligan, Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. is Aaron Burr and Anthony Ramos is John Laurens in “Hamilton,” the filmed version of the original Broadway production. Aug. 6, 2020, marks 5 years since the musical opened on Broadway.
Daveed Diggs is Marquis de Lafayette, Okieriete Onaodowan is Hercules Mulligan, Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. is Aaron Burr and Anthony Ramos is John Laurens in “Hamilton,” the filmed version of the original Broadway production. The production comes to Disney Plus on Friday.
Disney+ Media Relations

What ‘Hamilton’ misses

Slavery

  • While the musical features a multicultural cast — something all of the professors praised — the story of “Hamilton” largely leaves slavery out of the picture.
  • “Slavery is acknowledged in a handful of lyrics, but you can never really sense that enslaved individuals were active participants in the American Revolution itself,” Jones said. “They were, and I think that their actions were crucial to understanding that period.”
  • The omission creates an irony for “Hamilton,” a musical Park said prides itself for being diverse and inclusive.
  • “Besides an offhanded reference to Sally Hemings in the ‘What’d I Miss’ song, there’s not a single Black person referenced or a Native American or any minority figure referenced … and those minority figures are in the history,” Park said.
  • “In ‘the room where it happens,’ where these fundamental decisions of America are made, there are enslaved Africans, there are Native Americans, there are women and yet they’re being pushed off,” he continued.
  • In addition, the professors said the musical portrays Hamilton as an abolitionist — a stance that in reality wasn’t so clear-cut.
  • “He might have had some tepid anti-slavery views, but they were never strong enough for him to act on,” Park said. “To the contrary, he built a financial empire that was dependent on the slave system in the South.”
Cast members during a production of “Hamilton.” The production, featuring the original Broadway cast, comes to Disney Plus on Friday.
Cast members during a production of “Hamilton.” The production, featuring the original Broadway cast, comes to Disney Plus on Friday.
Joan Marcus

Aaron Burr

  • The rivalry between Hamilton and Aaron Burr is overemphasized in the musical, according to Dabling. Instead, the professor said, “the burning rivalry that dominated Hamilton’s political life” was with Thomas Jefferson.

Hamilton’s politics

  • Park said some of Hamilton’s politics, specifically, were watered down in the musical. The Founding Father had views that likely would not be accepted today, including lifetime appointments for the president and the Senate, and a deep distrust for the popular vote.
  • “Hamilton’s politics are mostly absent except for a few very general statements on banking and finances,” Park said. “In some ways, his political views were much more extreme than what we’d be comfortable (with) and yet, that doesn’t appear because we want to make Hamilton this liberal hero of the 21st century.”
  • “I do think that there are ways in which Lin-Manuel Miranda kind of wants to make (Hamilton) a person for our times,” Hinderaker said. “He’s bending Hamilton’s sensibilities a bit in the direction of the 21st century to make that work.”