It’s long been an adage that, aside from a few examples like Larry Bird, white men can’t jump to the heights of superstardom in basketball. In much the same way, aside from Eminem and just a few others, white men can’t rap.
Perhaps for this reason, most of the lead actors of the rap musical Hamilton are African-American. The lead actor, playing Alexander Hamilton in his prime, is the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Hispanic man, and his understudy is Javier Munoz, but the vast majority of the cast is black. Standouts include Daveed Digg’s as Thomas Jefferson, and Christopher Jackson as George Washington. There’s an angry undertone to the rap rants that serve the story exceedingly well, particularly as the lyricist recreates the frustrations of the founding fathers as well as their strivings to create a better life for themselves.
The most interesting aspect of the colorblind casting is that, eventually, I stopped seeing the actor’s race, and truly believed that what he or she embodied was the spirit of the times, turbulent and tumultuous though they were. I felt transported to the Revolutionary War era, and it was eerie how the anger present in 1776 is still part of our national dialogue.
In typical rap style, not a word was wasted, and every utterance moved the story forward, tracing the meteoric rise of Alexander Hamilton to his abrupt fall from the national scene with the disclosure of a sexual indiscretions with a married woman, and his eventual death in a dual with future vice president Aaron Burr at the tender age of 47. History came alive again in a new and vibrant way.
Interestingly, King George is played with deft comedic touch by the white actor Jonathan Groff. He bumbles along from prognostication to wildly errant pronouncement in songs such as the rueful tune, “You’ll Be Back.”
In this way, the white man served as comic relief from the deadly seriousness of the antagonism between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
I was moved by this story in a way few stories have moved me before when I saw it just after it opened on Broadway, and I hope my friends get to see this important story in Chicago and with a national touring company. If high school students could only learn history this way, we would be far better off as a society.