Theater: an American pastime tracing back even to the early 1900s. An array of singing, acting and dancing, that both amazes and entertains us. Theater gives us laughs, joys and tears and helps think about and understand the world around us. William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown — there have been innumerable brilliant and creative minds in the world of theater. It has enriched our lives. But even more than these musicals, theater has taken something we all learn in school — good ol’ history — and turned it into entertainment. Nowadays it continues to be not only entertaining, but also incredibly popular.
“Hamilton,” a rap punk musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, opened on Broadway in August. The show includes historically accurate characters, situations and events, and was such a success off-Broadway that was adapted for Broadway. People stand in lines for hours in hope for a chance to sit in the back row of the theater and watch actors, who are nothing but blurry specks in the distance, perform. But why?
Who actually knows? So many people hate their high school American history classes, and these plays are educating people on the same historical events, right? But I think people are so into it because it is a fun method of learning. Moreover, it is a satire of our country, people and history.
The same goes for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a political satire about the life of former President Andrew Jackson. The musical takes audiences on a journey through his upbringing, his hatred of the Indian tribes and his presidency — all with punk rock undertone and black eyeliner. And even though it is educational, people enjoy it. It mocks our country and society, and lets us listen to some pretty good rock music.
Another musical, the ever-so-popular and esteemed “Les Misérables,” has historical roots but fictional characters. Although this musical doesn’t use real historical figures to tell a true story, it does tell the history of the Paris Uprising of 1832. Again, wildly popular even though it is largely historical. Now why is that?
I think we, as Americans, love learning about our heritage. We love learning who we are, who we were and where we are going. And even better, we love that the information is being fed to us in a way that speaks to us through human emotion and music, even if it is punk or rap. The style of a show like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” directly contrasts the setting and time period, which I think adds a level of irony.
I hope I can see “Hamilton.” After performing in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” this past semester at Boston University, I can’t wait to see what this musical does with the historical context, creative plot and, especially, the music. That is, if I can get a ticket.