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February 10, 2016

‘Hamilton’ the musical tells the immigrant story of a Founding Father

A popular new hip-hop show on Broadway chronicles one of the nation’s founding fathers and his “rags to riches” story.


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A popular new hip-hop show on Broadway chronicles one of the nation’s founding fathers and his “rags to riches” story.

“Hamilton” stars playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton. The musical tells the story of how former U.S. Treasurer Hamilton came to the United States as an immigrant from the West Indies and climbed his way up the political ladder as an aide to George Washington before dying in a famous duel with Aaron Burr.

The thirty-five-year old Miranda, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, previously took Broadway by storm with his musical “In the Heights,” which focused on the experiences of Latin Americans in New York City.

Writing “Hamilton” felt even more autobiographical than “In the Heights,” according to Miranda, despite the fact that the new musical is set hundreds of years ago.

Hamilton’s rise demonstrates one of the first immigrant success stories in the U.S. and the role they played in the nation’s formation, Miranda said.

Miranda’s hip-hop and fast, rap-like lyrical style makes the show unique. “We need a revolutionary language to describe a revolution… hip-hop is uniquely suited to that, because we get more language per measure than any other musical form,” Miranda said.

Miranda wrote many parts for Latino and African-American actors, who he said often struggle to find parts in Broadway musicals.

Diversity on stage eliminates the “distance between the audience and the story,” Miranda says. “Let’s not pretend this is a textbook. Let’s make the founders of our country look like what our country looks like now.”

Key Terms

  • Ingenuity — the quality of being clever, original and inventive
  • Internment — the act of putting a person in prison or other kind of detention, generally in wartime
  • Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882 — a federal law prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S.

Discussion Questions

  1. Who was Alexander Hamilton?
  2. Do you like musicals? How are musicals different than other forms of entertainment?
  3. How do art, movies and other forms of entertainment portray history?Critical thinking questions
  4. Do you think Miranda has a responsibility to teach history, why or why not?
  5. Why did Miranda choose to use hip-hop as the musical style for his show?
  6. Why are there so few roles for Latino actors? Does it matter?
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