Most Broadway productions fail financially, and musicals are a particularly hard genre to pitch. So when the young playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda first pitched the idea for a new hip-hop musical about one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, nobody took him seriously. But Miranda believed in his idea: the story of Hamilton inspired him, therefore it can inspire others too.
In 1772, 17-year-old orphan Alexander Hamilton escaped the hurricane and poverty in the Caribbean and arrived in New York. Later, at the age of 34, he became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. When Miranda first read it, the story reminded him of modern-day rappers who escape poor neighbourhoods by the power of the spoken word. Other historical figures of the era (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de Lafayette) also seemed to Miranda like cool hip-hop guys, rather than dusty monuments in white wigs. So he not only wrote a rap musical about them, but also cast non-white actors to play the Founding Fathers.
Against all the odds, “Hamilton” turned out to be a box office sensation. An exciting musical about legacy, ambition and jealousy, it became an instant classic. “Hamilton” went on to receive a record-breaking 16 nominations for Tony Awards and even the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Michelle Obama said it was the “best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.”.
Both Hamilton and Miranda are immigrants who transformed America in their own ways. Alexander Hamilton founded the nation’s financial system, and Lin-Manuel Miranda revolutionised musical theatre. Looking back, it’s funny to see how it all began (there is a video on YouTube): in 2009, a nervous-looking Miranda recited the first song of the future musical at the White House Poetry Jam. The audience laughed out loud.