Hamilton: From Caribbean Obscurity to Broadway Sensation

On the evening of February 9th, 2017, I attended an event sponsored primarily by the OU Humanities Forum featuring Dr. Andrew Porwancher, Professor Sean Churchman, and notable New York theater critic Peter Filichia discussing the meteoric rise of the popular musical Hamilton. As a Hamilton biographer, Dr. Porwancher was particularly fascinated by the musical, and was excited to lead the event. In addition to a panel discussion, the audience was also treated to a number of performances from OU’s own School of Musical Theater, which were breathtaking. The discussion, at least from Dr. Porwancher’s end, focused on his research regarding Hamilton’s likely Jewish origin. The question and answer portion from the audience was also particularly engaging. Most of their questions centered on the rise of musical adaptations of historical characters and stories… the panelists didn’t think anyone could top Hamilton. I certainly agree.

The panelists also discussed Hamilton’s immigrant roots, and it was this particular topic that I found the most intriguing. Hamilton was raised on the island of Nevis, and was passed around from family member to family member. His childhood is a case study in the British West Indies of the time; he was a white man that was well-educated (by virtue of his own talent) that ended up maintaining a ledger for a sugar trading company. After he was sent to America, the panel also discussed how his status as an immigrant in the early days of the republic influences his relationships with some of the other Founding Fathers. According to the panel, his immigrant identity caused great tension between Hamilton and other members of Washington’s cabinet. What I found particularly interesting about this is that it indicates that, even at the beginning of our nation, which was a time when we were supposedly embracing the “great American melting pot,” xenophobia was still prevalent. The problems we face today, it seems, are not new; clearly, the solutions we propose to them need to be.

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