Hamilton normalizes hip-hop culture for theatergoers
There are many reasons why the Broadway show Hamilton has record-breaking ticket sales. One reason is that it’s amazing, but a less obvious reason is that it brings elements of urban lifestyle to an unlikely audience.
The community of Broadway theatergoers for the 2015-16 season was predominantly white, college-educated, middle-aged women, according to The Broadway League. This is pretty much the opposite of the perception of a hip-hop enthusiast. However, Hamilton has found a way to bring the two worlds together.
As I sat in the Richard Rodgers Theater, I looked around to what was a very typical Broadway audience–predominantly white, mostly females, and most likely middle to upper class (seeing how the cheapest of seats are nearly $200 and nearly impossible to find). What made this experience abnormal was the content of the musical itself. Director Thomas Kail used rap battles, breakdancing, and a cast of minority races to produce the play (based upon the 2005 book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow).
The lyricism of the songs was extremely clever, being based on historic facts while still incorporating popular culture references, for example a line from a Notorious B.I.G. song. The music had beats and a flow that really captured the feel of 1990s hip-hop and R&B. One would think this might turn off your average theatergoer, but instead it has been drawing more and more people in and it is due to the skillfully done breaking down of barriers. In addition to the music and rapping, the dancing is also fluid and more urban, consisting of more freezes, footwork, and groundwork than fan kicks and jazz hands.
Racial diversity is perhaps the most prominent choice. It’s one thing when you see black actors on the stage for Lion King, but when America’s history is shown to you from the perception of black and Latino talent, that is something special. The cast was a delight, hardly ever missing a beat, captivating the audience with their intensity, and displaying such passion on stage.