Let’s Talk About Diversity: The Importance of Representation in MT
Rave reviews and articles about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton agree that it is a groundbreaking show. One of the groundbreaking elements of Hamilton is a diverse cast portraying the Founding Fathers. I’ve noticed that this has sparked a discussion about the need for diversity in musical theatre. Diversity is important to make musical theatre connect with audiences and I’m glad to see the musical theatre world taking notice.
Hamilton is a show about “America then told by America now,” which is a true reflection of diversity in our country. In one interview, Miranda stated, “In Hamilton, we’re telling the stories of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience. You don’t distance the audience by putting an actor of color in a role that you would think of as default Caucasian. No, you excite people and you draw them in.” Contemporary audiences are young and diverse, and the accessibility of Hamilton’s casting not only makes the story of Alexander Hamilton more relevant but also influences future actors, writers and/or composers.
Miranda’s previous show, In the Heights, Tony Award winner for Best Musical in 2008, also successfully represented our country’s diversity. Being Latina, I am proud that In the Heights had strong character narratives that were beyond stereotypes often seen on stage. I was also happy to see strong female representation in the show and to read that Miranda also represents strong female roles in Hamilton. An article discussing the women of Hamilton states that the show “acknowledges the women who built the country alongside men.” Recognizing women in history who are often overlooked emphasizes the importance of female representation – which reflects the present as much as it reflects the past. The recent Tony Award for both Best Musical and Best Original Score went to Fun Home, based on writer/artist Alison Bechdel’s memoir. The show’s writing team, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, made history for being the first all-woman team to win this award. A song from the show, “Ring of Keys,” serves as an anthem of identification. Tesori stated in her speech, “It’s a song of identification because for girls you have to see it to be it.” The musical theatre world is breaking new ground and evolving into a place where anyone can identify with what they see on stage. Representation, diversity, and opportunities for identification make way for others to tell their stories. The new Broadway season will have shows such as George Takei’s Allegiance and Gloria Estefan’s On Your Feet!, giving way to diverse character narratives.
The contemporary relevance of diversity in musical theatre is important for writers and/or composers present and future. With discussion and recognition of the contemporary audience, MT writers can create stories that truly reflect the present. It’s great that a show like Hamilton is sparking more discussion about diversity and hopefully it will continue.
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