What ‘Hamilton’ says about Obama’s presidency
Themes in the show, which he saw Saturday, are similar to his story
It was only a matter of time before President Obama caught a showing of “Hamilton,” the hiphop musical about one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
Granted, the president saw an early version of it six years ago: The show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed a song from “The Hamilton Mixtape” back on May 12, 2009, at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word. Miranda, accompanied by Alex Lacamoire, belted out lyrics that aren’t normally spoken in front of the first family.
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore/ And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot / In the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor / Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
Michelle Obama snapped along to the tune while the president laughed throughout it. Once Miranda was done singing, Obama led the audience in giving him a standing ovation.
The Obama administration hasn’t been totally kind to Hamilton the person: It recently proposed phasing the nation’s first treasury secretary off the $10 bill and replacing him with a woman. But on Saturday, the president took his daughters, Malia and Sasha, as well as his sister and her husband to a matinee performance of the musical in New York.
The show opened at the Public Theater in Greenwich Village earlier this year to glowing reviews, and began previews at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre this month. Michelle Obama has already seen it, as have the Clintons and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power (who took several of her U.N. ambassadorial colleagues along for the ride). Former vice president Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, caught it in March, prompting Miranda to tweet a reference to him and Aaron Burr, who killed Hamilton in a duel and figures prominently in the musical.
“Dick Cheney attended the show tonight,” Miranda tweeted. “He’s the OTHER vice president who shot a friend while in office.”
The musical’s theme meshes perfectly with the Obamas’ vision of politics and has several similarities to the president’s personal story. It is the story of a fatherless boy born on an island who rises to political influence on the basis of his intellect and work. Or as Miranda sang at the White House:
The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father / Got a lot farther / By workin’ a lot harder / By bein’ a lot smarter/By bein’ a selfstarter.
The cast includes African American, Latino, Asian and white performers, including Miranda — the son of Puerto Rican immigrants — as the star. And the show’s political message — that a group of outsiders can challenge the establishment — harks back to Obama’s first presidential campaign.
The Broadway trip was just one stop in a father-daughter weekend that was crammed with activities. Obama started the trip Friday evening by headlining a Democratic-National Committee fundraiser but spent the rest of the night taking his daughters and friends to the Italian restaurant Carbone and the Whitney Museum for a private, late-night tour.
On Saturday, the president also visited Central Park, ate lunch with his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, her husband Konrad Ng and some friends, and then took in the show before returning to the District that evening.