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Hamilton is not throwing away its shot

The hit musical "Hamilton" Fever has infected BHS

Colby Perron, Staff Writer

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How does a genius, playwright, historian, and musician, take a historical figure from the early days of America, and turn it into a musical phenomenon?

During August of 2015, a brand new musical took up residence in the New York City theater district. “Hamilton”, written by Lin Manuel Miranda, opened to a packed theater of fans of the hip-hop historical musical. For months since, fans have been hard pressed to find tickets for what they consider a reasonable price. One student at BHS, senior Joshua Kalinsowki, was one of the lucky fans to score tickets to the show.

“Back in December [of 2015], I was talking to my grandma about history and was discussing how Alexander Hamilton was my favorite founding father,” said Kalinowski. “Before this point, I hadn’t ever heard of “Hamilton,” but my Grandma told me she was going to buy tickets, and I said that it sounded really cool.”

Kalinowski’s grandmother, however, did not realize the hefty price of “Hamilton” tickets. Not wanting to disappoint her grandson, she paid a grand total of $800 for the two tickets.

“I really take it for granted how lucky I am,” said Kalinowski. “She spent so much money on tickets just because she didn’t want to disappoint me. I still feel really bad about it, but I am very glad we got to go experience the show together.”

In the hot summer heat of New York City, Kalinowski and his grandmother arrived, jumping right into the line being two of the first people there.

“We waited outside of the theater for quite a while, watching as scalpers came around trying to buy and sell tickets,” said Kalinowski. “Once we were finally admitted, I was in complete awe at the theater. It was really beautiful.”

However, Kalinowski’s luck did not end at getting to see the exceptionally popular show, but also being able to see it with the full original cast.

“When [my grandma] bought the tickets, there was no news about the show besides its popularity,” said Kalinowski. “But a few weeks before our show, Lin Manuel announced that he was going to be leaving, no longer playing the main role. We rushed over to the computer to check our date and realized that he was scheduled to leave after our show, so we got to see the whole thing with the original cast.”

While Kalinowski was able to see the show starring the original cast, another BHS student, sophomore Maggie Behen, will be seeing the show with the new cast.

“I get emails from different ticket websites whenever tickets go up for sale,” said Behen. “When I got an email that ‘Hamilton’ tickets were up, I jumped right on and was able to secure tickets for October.”

Behen says that she anticipates the show and looks forward to being able to see it, regardless of the stars.

“It’s kind of sad that [Miranda] won’t be there,” said Behen. “But really, I’m overlooking that part because of how exciting it is to see the show in general. The music itself is amazing and I don’t think the person singing it will really make that much of  a difference.”

Behen explained her interest in the musical was not solely based on the music, but also by the historical aspect.

“I really thought that story of Hamilton himself was really interesting,” said Behen. “I think being able to tell a story about something that happened hundreds of years ago, in a way that gets people today interested, is something really great.”

Like Behen, history teacher Ryan Minzy also attributes a fascination for history to the popularity of the show, believing that this was written for Americans to enjoy.

“People love history,” said Minzy. “History books are often one of the best sellers in the United States compared to other countries. I don’t think this is the first time that a history musical has been this successful. ‘Les Mis’ you could call a historical musical, although it is more historical fiction.”

The demand for historical musicals is high according to Minzy, taking individual people and turning their lives into a musical, saying while it’s needed, it’s nothing new.

“I do think the better comparison would be the musical ‘Evita,” said Minzy. “They came about in the same sort of vain, the writer read a book about a person’s life and decided to write the story into a musical. It is something that works really well and people love, but I don’t think there is anything atypical about ‘Hamilton.”

However, while Minzy does attribute the history aspect to be the driving factor for its popularity, he also does acknowledge that there are many historical inaccuracies.

“I had a history professor who once told me, ‘you have to lie a little to tell the truth,” said Minzy. “I’m sure that there are people out there that have a problem with historical inaccuracies, but me personally, I don’t have a problem with some of the minor things.”

Minzy goes on to explain the reason that he attributes these historical inaccuracies to: a limiting media.

“The problem is, it is such a limited media,” said Minzy. “They can only pay so many actors to play so many characters, compressing roles in history down to one or two characters. I will say, there are some problems. Ultimately, though, I would say that I am just happy that it gives people an interest in history. Any benefit this gives to history outweighs any minor historical inaccuracies. It gets people interested in learning, so then they go and look up the full, historically accurate story.”

However, Minzy does point out one issue that he considers very major in the grand scheme of a historical musical.

“To me, the little historical inaccuracies aren’t the problem,” said Minzy. “To me, the problem is these ‘individual stories’ that focuses on one or two figures in history and attributes these grand events to them, leaving out a lot of the smaller people as well as the way the everyday person affects history.”

Even with the telling of an individual story, the popularity of “Hamilton” proves that the telling of “individual stories” are popular, something that Minzy does recognize and accept.

“If you’re going to think of the movie ‘Lincoln’, it’s all about this one person, so it seems like all you have to do is write down something on a piece of paper and it gets done, and that’s just not how it works,” said Minzy. “Having said that, when you’re using the medium of movies or musicals, it is the way that it has to be done. It is hard to make a play about social history. You could, but it would be a five plus hour of boring events.”

Minzy is also willing to accept the “individual history” aspect as it is able to tell, what he considers, an excellent story. According to Minzy, the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is the part of Hamilton’s story that would most likely be the major inspiration to create a musical.

“It’s the duel,” said Minzy. “The good thing about individual history is you get to tell those smaller stories that are much more personal and are immensely compelling. Not only that, but it now gets to tell the story of Aaron Burr as well, developing his and Hamilton’s relationship, allowing the writers to track these two figures throughout history.”

The music is another major factor in the popularity in “Hamilton.” Kalinowski believes that the different genres of music is one of the major appeals. From jazz to rap, the musical stylings written by Miranda are, according to Kalinowski, unique choices for a musical.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that it [Hamilton] is just a ‘rap musical,” said Kalinowski. “While I do think that [a solely rap musical] has appeal, I think the blend of music, be it rap, jazz, or anything else, really connected with a modern audience in a unique way.”

While the music in the musical is very unique, the casting choice by Miranda is also unique to the story. Rather than casting an all-white cast to play famous historical figures, Miranda chose to cast a diverse group of stars including  stars of African American, Latino, and Asian descent. According to Minzy, not only does the casting provide a unique twist to the story, but it also makes a commentary on “who is an American?”

“I think the casting choice is perfect,” said Minzy. “The subtitle that a lot of people miss is ‘An American Musical.’ A lot of people tend to say ‘don’t count me as an American, Americans are bad. After they do that, who’s left to wave the American Flag? Southerners, conservatives, the people that really want control of the ‘American Identity.”

Minzy, while making it apparent he has nothing against the individuals he mentioned, he believes that Miranda focused on the integration of multiple cultures into an American story in order to prove a point. Minzy believes that by writing different ethnicities into the American Story, Miranda is bucking a trend of an all-white idealist society.

“If you’re sitting there and decide that you don’t want to be considered an American, the people that do consider themselves as Americans are happy about that,” said Minzy. “What Miranda is doing is writing himself and his culture back into the American Identity, and to some extent, it bucks the trend of recent civil rights movements. It really shows that Miranda is recognizing himself as part of the American identity rather than making an issue of it.”

The popularity of “Hamilton” is very difficult to dispute, but Kalinowski believes that the popularity is not a novelty. According to Kalinowski, “Hamilton” will go down in history as one of the best musicals of all time.
“The fact that ‘Hamilton’ is extremely popular, I think, is due to the genius that is Lin Manuel,” said Kalinowski. “His crafting of lyrics being both historical as well as relevant today is one thing, but to also do it all through so many different genres that tells a story of an immigrant who played such an important role in American history, I just think it is amazing. Lin Manuel will go down as a visionary with the likes of Steve Jobs and Walt Disney.”

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The student news site of Biddeford High School in Biddeford, Maine
Hamilton is not throwing away its shot