With ticket prices upwards of $1,500 and advanced sales of $57 million last November, “Hamilton” is an official Broadway juggernaut. Helmed by certified genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical mixes rap, R&B and pop to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton’s ascent from penniless orphan to chief architect of the American financial system. The twist, if you haven’t heard, is that a person of color plays nearly every major character—including Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.
Miranda, who plays Alexander Hamilton, has said that “Hamilton” is “a story about America then, told by America now.” By casting people of color as the founders of our nation, “Hamilton” forces audiences to engage with bodies and voices that would have been categorically marginalized in colonial times.
“Hamilton” also sheds light on lesser-known figures of colonial America, including proto-abolitionist John Laurens. Laurens is played by Anthony Ramos, a 24-year-old Puerto Rican actor and singer from Brooklyn, New York. Ramos also plays Philip Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s eldest son. Here, in this edited and condensed interview, Ramos talks about making his Broadway debut in a blockbuster show and his journey from the tough Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick to The Great White Way.
What’s the significance of having performers of color tell the story of the Founding Fathers?
You ever look at a painting like, “Wow, that’s so good, but I really can’t wrap my brain around why this thing that is so obscure feels so right?” “Hamilton” is that kind of painting. No one’s ever seen anything like it, and I think it’s one of the boldest pieces of art ever to hit. It’s also honest because “Hamilton“ looks like how we look like now.
Can you explain more?
Lin could have written a show and had the Founding Fathers be all White men, but at the same time, the show’s about Alexander Hamilton. A lot of people didn’t know whether or not Hamilton, who grew up in the British West Indies, was half [Black]. They had no idea. So it’s only right to have the rest of the cast embody that. Daveed Diggs, who plays Thomas Jefferson, is half Jewish and half Black. Phillipa Soo,* who plays Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, is Irish and Chinese. Lin and I are Puerto Rican. Having men of color play the Founding Fathers shows that anyone could have done what they did. This is showing our public what it would have looked like if things were different.