At the time of Hamilton Broadway debut in New York, Hair became the only truly successful musical to incorporate rock music. As Miranda exclaims, It’s so crazy that Hair came out in the flicking Sixties, and still, anytime there’s a rock musical, it’s like [stuffy voice], – Does rock belong on Broadway?
Other shows like the bitter, world-weary A Chorus Line succeeded, as did John Kander and Fred Ebb’s cynical Chicago. Breglio dates the beginning of this uneasy alliance between commercial and non-commercial theatre to A Chorus Line, which had its initial run at the nonprofit Public Theater and transferred to Broadway in 1975, where it became a phenomenal success, generating millions of dollars.
Hamilton, of course, got its start at the same place. The cast even held a celebration for the fortieth anniversary of A Chorus Line there and sang What I Did For Love, then invited up the original cast. The owner of the Public Theater described how A Chorus Line focused on the backgrounds of the contributors rather than the star, and compared it to Hamilton, a story with the same message, told by the people who actually make up this country.
And then, suddenly, the British (and French) were coming – this time to the rescue. The pop operas of Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats and The Phantom of the Opera) and Claude-Michel Schonberg and Akin Boublil (Les Miserables and Miss Saigon) dominated the scene during the 1980s, the lone force, it sometimes seemed, countering the decadence into which the Broadway musical had slipped, like a washed-up diva listening endlessly to her old recordings.
The 2000s offered some more original stories with edgy Spring Awakening and the breakout hit Wicked and Miranda’s Tony Award-winning In the Heights, with the rap-ping that set the stage (as it were) for Hamilton. In much more recent days, musicals have been flooding the big and small screens, from big budget movies of many of the latter shows to High School Musical and the TV series Glee. These made musical theater `hip’ again for those who had outgrown the Disney movie years.
Thus the world, and especially the young audience, were primed for a new, groundbreaking twist on the tradition. Miranda reveals that he keeps tinkering, hoping for something truly spectacular. Because those are the shows we love. We love Fiddler. We love West Side Story. I want to be in that club. I want to be in the club that writes the musical that every high school does. We’re this close.
Indeed, many critics are already anticipating all the teens who will perform Hamilton as a classic for their era, a musical written with tons of minority parts that’s edgy but also makes history fun.
On Broadway, there’s the Hamilton Effect – people, having enjoyed the one musical, buy tickets to more or get subscriptions. This is especially apparent among young people in their twenties and thirties. Of course, a similar surge has occurred many times with breakout smashes like The Book of Mormon or Wicked or The Lion King. Billboard called the Hamilton musical NYC (get tickets here) – the Best Rap Album of the Year in 2015, suggesting it could mainstream Broadway – returning to the days when songs from musicals appeared on the radio as popular music.