Hip ‘Hamilton’ makes history hop
The very first of the famous “Got Milk?” TV commercials featured a young history geek obsessed with the infamous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Unable to answer a radio trivia contest because his mouth was glued shut by a glob of peanut butter and his milk glass is empty, the Burr/Hamilton spot was voted one of the top 10 commercials of all time in a USA Today poll.
Besides keeping a lot of dairy cows employed, that commercial may well have been the only time millions of Americans ever heard the names Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Thanks to the most unlikely of Broadway hits, our first treasury secretary and most controversial vice president are packing cheering throngs into the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 46th Street in New York and, undoubtedly, will do the same when the touring company of “Hamilton” opens at the Pantages in Los Angeles in August 2017.
As a self-acknowledged history geek myself — and a peanut butter freak to boot — that could easily have been me flubbing my chance for the big prize in the “Got Milk?” commercial, so I wasn’t about to flub my chance to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece.
Six months ago The Wife and I ponied up for tickets and last week flew east.
Based on Ron Chernow’s 832-page, cradle-to-grave biography, Miranda has created a modern theatrical masterpiece that will take its place in the canon of American musical theater alongside perennials “Oklahoma,” “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady” and “A Chorus Line.”
Featuring a hip-hop score and a multi-ethnic cast, “Hamilton: An American Musical” (the full title) does something more than treat theater fans to an exceptional night on the town; it teaches, inspires and thrills young Americans with the story of our nation’s founding in ways our high school history teachers could only dream.
Populated with heroes and villains, love and laughter, the Hamilton crowd greets each historic character’s entrance with rock starlike cheers.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, even King George III, are welcomed to the stage by 21st century Americans who may be learning for the very first time that the founders of their country were indeed a special breed the world rarely sees and has never seen in such numbers at one time and in one place.
Alexander Hamilton was the most important American who never became president. If we think of him at all today, it’s a fleeting thought as his face flashes by going into or out of our wallets.
Inexplicably, at the very moment his greatness is finally being acknowledged with popular acclaim, the current secretary of the treasury, Jack Lew, is considering removing Hamilton from the $10 bill, or demoting him to shared status. Somewhere Thomas Jefferson is smiling.
Hamilton, Washington, and our other Founding Fathers were flesh and blood men with faults and weaknesses and blind spots like the rest of us.
It’s exactly for this reason their titanic achievements are so inspiring. Superman? Please! Who can’t be Superman if the only thing that can kill us is Kryptonite and it’s not even found on this planet?
Hamilton and the rest of our founders put their lives on the line every day creating a revolution in thought as much as a revolution in war; they invented the modern republic, where men and women were citizens, not subjects.
That we have failed to teach this civic miracle to the next generation of Americans is not only inexcusable, it’s dangerous.
We’ve opened the door to hateful demagogues on college campuses who actively demonize historic giants, dismissing them as “dead white European males,” rather than the heroes who gave birth to the freedoms we often take for granted.
How wonderfully American that the son of an immigrant from Puerto Rico using the rhythms and beat of the street has set the record straight.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 on AM 790. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.