Hamilton: Making the Unseen Seen
“Hamilton” is on stage at Proctor’s in Schenectady, and it is reminding the capital region that politics are personal. And the personal is definitely political.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely heard about the musical phenomenon “Hamilton” that opened on Broadway February 2015. Telling the story of an immigrant orphan, “Hamilton” traces the personal and political choices Alexander Hamilton and some of the other founding father’s of our country before and after the American Revolution. Albany starred a major role in Hamilton’s life, as he met and married his wife Eliza here. This definitely grew increased responses from the crowd, with audience members joyfully clapping when Albany was mentioned.
Part rap, part soul, and with a little 1970’s pop flair on the part of King George’s appearances, the music from Hamilton is mind-blowing. It transcends style, shifting musical and opera away from one particular format and expanding to a diversity of musical styles. The choreography was also varied, demonstrating ballet, modern, tap, and lots of sexy hip hop moves as well. Representing a flash back through stage movement and dance, the actors demonstrated fluidity with grace, suspending disbelief that we were watching a play. The dancing is jaw-dropping gorgeous.
And like many other popular musicals right now, “Hamilton” had an impressive assortment of choreographed strategies to shift how messages are delivered, bullets are fired, and targets hit, all through dance. The choreographer’s messages were as clear as the words sung from the performers’ mouths.
All of this beauty and grace was intended with the purpose of making the unseen seen. The Schuyler sisters’ early song in the first act voiced people who typically are not examined as important parts of history during America’s birth: women. The repetition of slavery as an important concept relevant to independence often isn’t even mentioned until the Civil War when most Americans think about our country’s history, but here it was noted as a common concern among many during the American Revolution.
The diversity of styles represented matched the message of Hamilton, which repeatedly reminded audience members he was originally an orphan immigrant. Respecting diversity of thought, sharing intellectual knowledge and ability is important to our country’s success; this was repeated over and over throughout the musical in words and theme. At one point, Hamilton and Lafayette were on stage musing about their contributions to the American Revolution and both agreed: “immigrants get the job done.” This brought hoots and loud applause again from the audience, who reveled in the message that diversity is required for victory.
And of course, there was the representation of many famous Americans by actors of various backgrounds. The actor portraying George Washington, Paul Oakley Stovall, is a tall, powerful, and authoritative black man whose sweet voice-guided Hamilton with paternalistic knowledge; it was easy for viewers to forget that America would wait 43 more elections after Washington before a black man would actually take the Oval Office.
Powerful and transcendent of simplicity, “Hamilton” examined who tells our stories for us, and who gets included and left out of our stories. The musical unabashedly confronts our country’s current trends of ethnocentrism and racism, demanding audience members let go of social constructs like race and gender for the good of our own future.
In the final scenes, we learn that Hamilton’s wife had started an orphanage that raised children, pulling at the present images of how our country is now dealing with immigrant “unaccompanied minors.” The musical is a reminder: we’ve strayed too far from our roots.
Professionally delivered, with nary a slip-up or mistake, Proctors has offered up one of the most beautifully engaging masterpieces of our generation for consideration. Using art for what it was most intended to do, “Hamilton” pleased the audience with sweet voices, passionate lyrics, creative sets, and a pit orchestra representing great talent.
All that talent united to show what diversity together can do.