Hamilton’: Why Lin-Manuel Miranda Deliberately Cast People of Color in Main Roles
It seems like we all woke up and looked around, and Hamilton was all around us. Even those of us who had never had even the slightest interest in musical theater before found ourselves dying to go see Hamilton live.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and stars in this record-breaking hip-hop musical, and everyone, even former President of the United States Barack Obama, is obsessed.
There’s one thing that’s hard not to notice when watching Hamilton: Almost every single character is played by a person of color. This is rare, to say the least, in the musical theater world, and it turns out that it wasn’t a coincidence. Miranda was very thoughtful when casting for his show, and felt strongly that hiring actors of color was incredibly important.
‘Hamilton’ is a record-breaking musical
No one ever expected anything like Hamilton. It’s a musical that’s about the life of Alexander Hamilton (yes, one of the founding fathers of America).
Sounds boring, right? Wrong. What makes Hamilton so wonderful is that it’s a hip-hop musical, and the actors dance and rap their way through the entire show. There’s no break even for dialogue; Hamilton is sung and rapped the whole way through.
A hip-hop musical about an old white man doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does. It was written by Miranda, who also stars in it as Alexander Hamilton himself.
Hamilton has achieved enormous, record-breaking success. It’s won multiple awards, including a jaw-dropping 11 Tony awards, a Grammy, and even a Pulitzer Prize for drama. Shows are often sold out, and it’s clear that Miranda has created something beautiful.
What did Lin-Manuel Miranda do before ‘Hamilton’?
Don’t feel bad if you’d never heard of Miranda before Hamilton‘s roaring success. However, Broadway fans were probably familiar with his work, because Miranda was writing musicals long before Hamilton was conceived.
The first of Miranda’s musicals which made it to Broadway was In the Heights, which he started when he was just a sophomore in college and finally made it to Broadway almost 10 years later in 2008. He also starred in this musical and was nominated for a Tony award for the role.
He also co-wrote the music for Bring It On: The Musical, and had a few different television and film gigs. Miranda had success here and there, but nothing could have prepared him for the unbelievable success of his Hamilton project.
Miranda intentionally cast people of color in ‘Hamilton’
Something that people love about Hamilton is that it stars a cast that is mostly made up of people of color. Miranda himself is of Puerto Rican descent, and he wanted to make sure that his cast reflected the America that he’s proud to belong to.
Diversity is so important but also, sadly, rare in all media portrayals today. Miranda wanted to change that with Hamilton, even though the historical figures that his musicals were based on, including Alexander Hamilton, were all white.
In fact, the only white actor playing a principal role in the whole show is for the role of King George. Everyone else is a person of color, which is a really beautiful thing to see.
“Our goal was: This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance—our story should look the way our country looks. Then we found the best people to embody these parts,” Miranda once told the New York Times, continuing: “I think it’s a very powerful statement without having to be a statement.”
Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr (another founding father who was, like they all were, white in real life) in the musical has spoken about how much it meant to him that Miranda chose a diverse cast. “When I think about what it would mean to me as a 13-, 14-year-old kid, to get this album or see this show—it can make me very emotional,” he told the New York Times. This is why representation matters.