I was incredibly lucky to recently attend Hamilton: An American Musical at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Hamilton tells the story of founding father and first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. My family, friends, and I have all thoroughly devoted to and obsessed with the soundtrack to the musical for months on end, and couldn’t contain our excitement to finally see it. It was even better than we could have dreamed of– the acting, singing, and dancing was all top-notch. We all exited the theater with ridiculously bright smiles on our faces.
Hamilton‘s creator, Lin Manuel-Miranda, describes his massively popular, hit musical as the “story about American then, told by America now.” His words were reflected in the performers I saw on the stage: the actors who rapped and sang their way through the roles of America’s white founding fathers were people of all kinds of colors – a refreshing reminder that diversity is the keystone of America and the world. Furthermore, I noticed the overarching feminist themes in a musical set in a time period which did not much value or give freedom to the female sex. Here are some of my observations of Hamilton’s themes of feminism and sisterhood:
THE SCHUYLER SISTERS
Leading the pack are the famous Schuyler sisters, the daughters of a rich senator. The eldest is Angelica, who owns one of the show-stopping numbers, “Satisfied.” Angelica won’t stand for merely equality for men. She reels off, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” during her “The Schuyler Sisters” rap, but then defiantly adds, flanked by her two sisters: “When I meet Thomas Jefferson, Imma compel to include women in the sequel!” Angelica is all about taking in the exciting revolution around her rather than staying meekly at home. Other people may scoff at or disapprove of her ambition, a sentiment that is all too real in today’s society, too. When she raps, “Some men say that I’m intense or I’m insane!” she’s detailing in a few words the societal restrictions placed on women to act in a reserved, ladylike way and the criticism they get when they don’t. Angelica won’t be stopped– she’s looking for a mind at work!
Her younger sister Eliza feels the same way. In one of the musical motifs that sum up the musical’s theme, she sings: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” Though Eliza would go on to marry Hamilton, Angelica is initially drawn to Hamilton to begin with, too. Still, she lets the audience know that she values her sisterhood with Eliza over all else: “I love my sister more than anything in this life; I will choose her happiness over mine every time.” The Schuyler sisters are a perfect example of how to use the power of sisterhood to defy the odds. Check out a video of their actresses rapping feminist quotes in March in honor of Women’s History Month!
The ensemble members perform as fellow founding fathers, soldiers in the Revolutionary War, and Congressmen– all roles that were filled by men as part of a decidedly male-dominated society in America’s early years. However, the company of Hamilton throws gender roles out the window: about half of the ensemble consists of female actresses fighting, debating, and negotiating right alongside their male colleagues, just as it should have been. They’re dressed the same as the men, and they serve all the important roles that the men do. It’s a striking symbol of equality and the power of a female warrior.
THE FINAL NUMBER
Hamilton ends with a bang– literally, as the final scenes of Hamilton involve Hamilton’s longtime friend and nemesis Aaron Burr shooting him dead in a duel. But the show doesn’t end there– Eliza has the final say. She comes out and sings to the audience that she will be the one to tell her and Alexander’s story. She tells us of the many things she did for her new nation: speaking out against slavery, interviewing war veterans, raising funds for the George Washington monument in D.C., and establishing the first private orphanage in New York, where she helped many children who had no home to find one.
The final chords of the musical are sung a cappella, with barely a whisper closing it out. Processing the show in that moment, you may wonder if Hamilton was really the story of Alexander Hamilton after all. The musical pays tribute to not only our founding fathers, but to the strong and ambitious female founders of America, too. In fact, it is just as much Eliza Hamilton’s story as it is Alexander’s.
Have you seen Hamilton? Are you as obsessed with the soundtrack as we are? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to download Hey! VINA if you’re looking for the Angelica to your Eliza!
(Featured Image via Playbill)