Musical theater has been a worldwide cultural phenomenon for centuries. It is distinct from traditional drama due to one major difference: music. The genre of musical theater combines a traditional plot narrative with corresponding songs, or in the case of Hamilton, rap battles. While the majority of well-known musicals are performed in major cities, the most elite musicals are performed in the West End of London or Broadway of Manhattan. This genre, like political melodramas, has become integrated into popular culture predominantly due to the use of memorable showtunes, extravagant production, and comedic value. Unlike political melodramas, not all musicals are political in nature, with plots ranging from love stories to revolution and everything in between.
A predecessor to Hamilton, 1776 depicts the journey of American independence, especially in the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. Written by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, this musical had its Broadway debut in 1969. This musical follows John Adams’ quest for colonial independence. Hamilton is an American musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life. It was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and premiered on Broadway in 2015. This story is about Alexander Hamilton and his journey in creating his vision in America. It follows the birth of America while focusing on Hamilton’s politics, family, and affair. This musical includes many historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr, and how they are involved not only with Hamilton, but with what America is today. Hamilton offers a “revolutionary tale of America’s fiery past told through the sounds of the ever-changing nation we’ve become” (Playbill).
Similar to the way that Cathleen ni Houlihan, The Plough in the Stars, The Old Lady Says ‘No’ and Irish political melodramas tell the story of the Irish fight for independence from England, the American contemporary musicals 1776 and Hamilton both express the story of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. The signing of this document verified American independence from England, just as the rising in Ireland attempted to do. Although 1776 and Hamilton tell the same story, they tell it with a different protagonist. This changes the collective memory that is presented to the public and shows that historical memory is not static.