Tag: Anthony Ramos

RISE UP: Why “Hamilton: An American Musical” is Still a Must-See

Cast of "Hamilton" (
Cast of “Hamilton: An American Musical” performing “My Shot” (photo via nytimes.com)
by Julie Bibb Davis
by Julie Bibb Davis

The first song I heard from the Hamilton soundtrack was “My Shot.”  This song, the third one in the first act, serves the important role of introducing the ten-dollar-founding-father-without-a-father Alexander Hamilton: his burning ambition, his sophisticated oratory, his commitment to revolution.  But the verse that hit me the hardest, that immediately told me that something exceptional was going on with this show, was this one, sung by young abolitionist John Laurens (played by Anthony Ramos):

 

Rise Up!

When you’re living on your knees, you rise up

Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up

Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up

This verse — in the show an exhortation to the 18th century colonists to revolt against the British government — is universal and timely enough to be a rallying cry for any recent social justice movement.  As soon as I heard it, I knew Hamilton was trying to do something special.  Without being didactic or preachy, Hamilton was telling people to stand up for their rights, take a seat at the table, and participate in America.  

Much ink has been spilled about Hamilton: about its innovative hip-hop structure, its diverse cast, its best-selling cast album (including time at No.1 on the Billboard Rap charts), its unprecedented popularity on Broadway, its brilliant and social media-savvy creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, its eleven Tony awards.  But despite its runaway popular success, and its seemingly universal appeal, Hamilton feels to me — and I suspect to many fans — deeply personal.  As a mixed-race person, a lawyer who attended the same college as Hamilton, a federal government employee, and a life-long musical theatre nerd, the combination of the music, the lyrics, and the cast feels urgent and relevant.  

Jessica Davis (l), Tony Ramos (m), Julie Bibb Davis (r) [photo courtesy Julie Bibb Davis]
Jessica Davis (l), “Hamilton” cast member Anthony Ramos (c) and Julie Bibb Davis (r) [photo courtesy Julie Bibb Davis]
For my teenage children, who follow the charismatic and thoughtful cast on Instagram and Snapchat, it has made American history feel applicable to their daily lives in a way their school classes never have.  And when we were fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway, watching the diverse cast play the (white) American founders, and seeing how Miranda has also worked to make what has usually been understood as being primarily a story of men include the contributions of women, had an impact that cannot be overstated.

Hamilton shows the influence of American musical theatre traditions that range from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Sondheim to Disney.  The show is most solidly rooted, however, in black musical traditions.  Hamilton’s hip-hop and rap songs have garnered the most attention, but that only scratches the surface.  “What’d I Miss” is a wonderful homage to Cab Calloway, with elements of ragtime and even funk.  

“The Schuyler Sisters” echoes groups like Destiny’s Child, “Wait for It” starts with a dancehall reggae beat, and “Say No To This” is an R&B slow jam straight out of the 90s.  In addition, most of the original main case is black, including Okieriete Onadowan (Mulligan/Madison), Tony nominee Chris Jackson (Washington), and Tony winners Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr), Renee-Elise Goldsberry (Anjelica), and Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson).   Continue reading “RISE UP: Why “Hamilton: An American Musical” is Still a Must-See”

THEATER: Broadway Newbie Anthony Ramos Rips Up the Rules in ‘Hamilton’

“Hamilton” star Anthony Ramos (Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Ramos)

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.

Continue reading “THEATER: Broadway Newbie Anthony Ramos Rips Up the Rules in ‘Hamilton’”

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