Ask anyone who has spoken to me the last five months about what I’ve been up to and the first thing out of their mouths is liable to be “Hamilton”. The second thing will probably be “I don’t know, eating? Ask her yourself”. Between the soundtrack dropping, starting a Hamilton centered Twitter account, and seeing the show, I have been ALL ABOUT the ten dollar founding father.
In case you haven’t spoken to me in the last few months, allow me to give a brief summary: Hamilton is a new Broadway show about the life of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Written and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), the show blends hip-hop and show tunes seamlessly while actually providing a pretty good history class. The show is groundbreaking for a number of reasons. The sheer density of lyrics and information it spits at you in almost three hours is dizzying. The show is an INSANE success with movie stars, Obama, and yours truly flocking to see it.
But what has stuck with me the most since learning of the show is the fact that Lin (I call him by his first name because we’re OBVIOUSLY BEST FRIENDS) chose to cast all people of color with King George being the only character played by a white guy.
“Miranda said that the portrayal of Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other caucasian historical figures by black and Hispanic actors should not require any substantial suspension of disbelief by audience members. “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional,” he said. “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” He noted “We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.””
This show is a perfect example of why diversity matters. Why representation matters. And why things like race, sexual orientation, gender, height, etc. SHOULDN’T matter.
Hamilton has proven that fact with every single cast member. Daveed Diggs, a phenomenal black actor, singer, and rapper, plays Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. And he absolutely murders the part. When he comes onstage, you never for one second think “oh, that’s so weird Jefferson is black” you think “HOLY SHIT, where has this guy been?! I like when he smiles! HOLD UP, is he rapping in a French accent?!” When Reneé Elise Goldsberry sings “and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel” it carries more weight. Because even if, historically, Angelica Schuyler Church was white, those words carry more weight coming from a powerful woman of color. In a recent Ham4Ham show, the ladies of Hamilton performed “My Shot”, proving that it wasn’t only men who could could kill these parts.
Since Hamilton hit, I’ve had so many people come up to me and say “wait, so it’s about the founding fathers but everyone is black?” And then I take a second and think to myself “oh, here we go, I’m going to have to defend this to an undercover racist”. But, people surprise me. I explain Lin’s reasoning for the casting and why it works. And 98% of the people I talk to have an overwhelmingly positive response about it. “Oh, that sounds so awesome! Makes sense!” And then the race element of the show is forgotten about. (Usually because I get way too excited and start yelling in their face. “I HAVE IT HERE ON MY PHONE DO YOU WANNA LISTEN TO IT?! MY FAVORITE SONGS ARE SATISFIED, TAKE A BREAK, WAIT FOR IT, WHAT’D I MISS. AND CAN I TALK TO YOU ABOUT ANTHONY RAMOS?! I CAN SING THE WHOLE THING FOR YOU IF YOU WANT, WHY ARE YOU WALKING AWAY?!!!”)
Hamilton has given me so much. It’s given me 17.8k Twitter followers (@hamiltonssquad NBD). It’s given me hours of joy and entertainment. It’s given me a chance to meet and thank the cast personally.
But you know what Hamilton has given me more than anything else?
Hope. It has given me hope. It proves to me that the tides are turning. It shows me that people are willing to accept casting choices that they may not have initially expected. They’re willing to get onboard with a George Washington who doesn’t look like the old man on our money. But, to be fair, I’d much prefer to look at Chris Jackson for three hours.
The reason I care so much about what people are willing to accept is because I’ve been told all my life that I may be one of those things people won’t accept on their screens or onstage. I’m a little person. I’m 4’2″ with achondroplasia dwarfism. I currently live in LA where I’m pursuing acting. Most recently, I was Frieda Ovitz in the off-Broadway production of The Lilliput Troupe in New York City. Again, no big deal, STOP ASKING ME FOR AUTOGRAPHS.
I’ve been told all my life that I couldn’t play certain parts because of my height. When I wanted to audition for West Side Story, I knew immediately that I had a much better chance of playing Anybodys than I did Anita or Maria. I wanted Anita but knew that it would be “funnier” if I was the sidekick. When I was in high-school, I was told that I couldn’t compete with my show choir because “it would look weird to have a little person dancing up there”. And for a long time, I believed all of it. It seems silly but I had nothing to prove these people or thoughts wrong. There were no little people on TV or on Broadway who were playing anything but a punchline. Peter Dinklage has managed to break through, but he’s the first to be taken seriously. And he’s only one man.
So you can see why this show is so important to me. Because it proves what I’ve always known. We don’t have to stick to the status quo. America is different now; it’s changing. People are willing to accept a female Jedi, a black Hermione, and a deaf production of Spring Awakening. They’ll accept a Latino Alexander Hamilton and a black Stormtrooper. They just have to be given the chance to accept it. Or we have a responsibility to shove change and progress down their throats. Either way, it’s happening.
So, I have faith that the time will come when America will accept a female little person playing the lead on a sitcom or Mrs. Lovett on Broadway. That time will come and ya know what? I am not throwing away my shot.