“Hamilton” has gone from Broadway musical to total phenomenon. The story of a scrappy “son of a whore and a scotsman” who helps mold the beginnings of the United States — only to fall to his career rival in a duel — has taken America by storm. The musical has gained plenty of famous fans, including President Barack Obama, who joked that the musical was the only thing that he agreed with Dick Cheney about. Central to the musical’s success are its diverse cast and the way it engages with hip-hop. These unique facets will be the foundation of its legacy.
HAMILTON: THE NUMBERS
What a success it’s been: Hamilton has been sold out from its opening performance at the Off-Broadway Public Theater. By the time the show opened on Broadway, it had already taken in $30 million in its advance ticket sales. The peak of its historical success was in late November 2016, when it grossed 3.3 million for 8 performances for the highest grossing week in Broadway history. As far as sales of the original recording are concerned, the Original Broadway Recording was one of only three cast recordings to move into the top 10 of the Billboard 200.
One of the big factors in Hamilton’s success lies in its natural conversation with contemporary culture through hip hop. Before “Hamilton” was a phenomenon, it was a workshop performance called The Hamilton Mixtape, hearkening to how rappers without deals would debut their music on independently released recordings hoping to strike up a buzz. One of the first people to fully buy into “Hamilton” was Daveed Diggs, the rapper for experimental rap group Clipping, who played both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis Lafayette.
After the show became a phenomenon, a mixtape helmed by Questlove of The Roots and Lin-Manuel Miranda featured plenty of rap luminaries, including Busta Rhymes and Nas. The musical’s reverence for hip-hop is totally sincere, and as hip-hop becomes america’s most appreciated and popular music form, it follows that its best practitioners would respond to a musical that is a love letter to the very genre they pioneered. Broadway musicals often respond to popular music, but rarely respond like this, and it’s shown to be a winning formula.
It’s easy to see why “Hamilton” inspired Busta Rhymes to reach out to Lin-Manuel Miranda after he saw the musical: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s project very consciously features a cast made up of people of color and women, reflecting the changing makeup of the United States, with the only white actor in the original cast playing King George III, the King that inspired the American Revolution. As the play asserts, “Immigrants/we get the job done,” and that’s inspiring to a wealth of people across the world.
“Hamilton’s” legacy will certainly be represented by its bold embrace of hip hop, the diversity of its cast which is itself an unprecedented embrace of the story of the founding fathers by people of color, and perhaps most importantly the depiction of immigrants as the backbone of the American success story. If more musicals follow “Hamilton’s” example, we’ll continue to see fruitful collaborations of socially aware concepts, inclusive casting, and the exciting currency of popular music.