When I first saw Hamilton a few days after it opened in February 2015 my very first reaction was that I could not wait for the high school version of the script to be licensed. Finally the drama club at your local high school might be the cool place to be. Not so when I was growing up. When my high school did “The Miracle Worker” I was cast as Captain Keller and we had a coup when a pitcher on the baseball team was talked into playing my son. A jock in a play? Got us huge audiences and lots of hooting at inappropriate times.
But the multi-ethnic casting of Hamilton plus the rap/R&B component will draw different people to be part of the drama club they can be a part of. This is exciting because if we can draw new blood into the business it has a chance of not withering on the vine.
Not only that but Lin-Manuel Miranda has found an exciting way to present history that young people may just eat up. I can’t wait until his next work “The War of 1812 and the Anthem that Followed.” Should be great!
Now the controversial part. Way back when the original Miss Saigon played New York (coming back this season) there was an uproar when Jonathan Pryce was cast as The Engineer, a Vietnamese role. I get the concern about cultural appropriation and the long and hurtful history of caucasians cast with makeup to play Asian roles. Not going to evade the fact that I have white man privilege but I saw Jonathan’s performance and he was great. At the time I said the answer was cross cultural casting across the theater, which was insensitive as it was then very unrealistic as white men controlled the theater and saw everything through their lens. So I am happy to see more and more control of the theater and the central leading roles shift toward other ethnic (and gender) persons. It will enrich and expand our art form for the better. But there still can be no quotas or bans on white people playing other types – IF it works and enriches the work. Sorry, I still felt Jonathan gave a great performance. This will always be a tough topic and one which causes great hurt to some people. Seeing George Washington as an African American, Alexander Hamilton as a Hispanic and all the other ethnic twisting that Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton provided an entirely new insight to the play. Go with it people, we are Stronger Together! 🙂