Let's play a little game. Think back through our cultural history and see if you can remember the last time that seeing a Broadway show was a badge of honor. When a Broadway soundtrack was made up of songs that people everywhere wanted to listen to. When a ticket for a play cost more than a ticket to the Super Bowl. When anyone besides Tony voters could even name the composer behind a musical.
Welcome to the era of Hamilton. And Broadway was never the same.
Today marks the 70th Tony Awards, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda's record-breaking show is up for a, yes, record-breaking, 16 awards. In addition to Best Musical (duh), Hamilton is nominated for Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and a whopping seven of its cast members are up for acting awards. The Tony audience members should prepare to become well-versed in all things Alexander Hamilton, as the team will surely make several visits up on the stage.
But more important than all the history-making and the countless awards and the staggering box office sales is what Hamilton has done for Broadway in general. Musical theater is not only cool now, but it's (finally) here for everybody.
And it all started with Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's widely accepted that he's basically the closest thing the world has to a creative genius these days (he did win last year's MacArthur genius award), but he's done something that most geniuses still couldn't do. The singer/writer/actor/professional man-ponytail-wearer isn't exactly new to Broadway (he wrote the Tony-winning In the Heights), but he's the exact opposite of musical theater establishment.
His personal mandate seems to be to make art accessible to all. He wasn't raised among the theater elite that often caters Broadway plays to their fellow fancies, and it really shows. The guy was a master before he created Hamilton, but he's stepped it all up since the show made it big. Miranda is charismatic, funny and rule-breaking, which makes him the perfect subject for viral fame. High quality of the actual musical aside, Lin-Manuel himself has contributed so much to its success. Just watch the guy accept a Grammy award with an original rap instead of a speech and try not to have a smile on your face. When you compare him to, say, Stephen Sondheim, it's no wonder he feels like a giant non-elitist breath of fresh air.
Which brings us to our next point: Rap music. There's a reason that the soundtrack recording debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200 chart (the highest-ever since the 1960s), and that reason is rap music. Sure, everyone has to download the album because nobody can actually get tickets to the show, but the tracks—all 46(!) of them—are songs that real people would actually choose to listen to. It may have seemed blasphemous to the classics to make a musical almost entirely out of hip-hop, but truly the best way to make a debate between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson interesting is to turn it into a rap battle.
The result now is about the catchiest damn thing in the world, with roots stemming from Jay Z's The Blueprint and the 8 Mile soundtrack, and lyrical references to Biggie Smalls' "Juicy." Even if you've never come close to sitting in the Hamilton audience, you know exactly what lines like "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a/ Scotsman dropped in the middle of a/ Forgotten spot in the middle of Caribbean by providence" come from. They're musical theater songs that wouldn't feel out of place in a bar. It's genius.
On top of choosing hip-hop as the soundtrack's underlying theme, the play's overtones of immigrants and otherness have boosted its cool factor tenfold. Many a Broadway show has been written about topics that don't appeal to or have any relation to the majority of the public. The Phantom of the Opera? Please. Now, we know what you're thinking: The tale of Alexander Hamilton founding America isn't exactly edgy. But Miranda chose to root the story in the fact that Hamilton was always an outsider—a bastard, if you will—and that idea of otherness really rings true right now.
Audiences have grown sick (make that incredibly sick) of movies and TV shows that were created by and for old white men, for lack of a better descriptor. Hamilton talks about (gasp!) immigrant life and features (gasp!) a diverse cast that (gasp!) looks like the people of New York City. Who would have thought that being inclusive would boost Broadway?
Of course, as much as we'd like to give every single prop to Lin-Manuel Miranda when it comes to Hamilton's overhaul of musical theater, we must take a second to pay homage to another factor: The PR machine. The public relations powers that be really did this play a solid. It's been helped by the charisma of its stars, but Hamilton is literally everywhere. It started with Ham4Ham, the impromptu performances that the cast put on each afternoon for the dedicated fans waiting in the last-minute lottery ticket line. Miranda and the other stars would pop up with adorable little bits, like singing karaoke to "Always Be My Baby" or answering questions using only Les Miserable lyrics. The YouTube clips make for the perfect viral sensations.
From there, Lin-Manuel started making the late-night rounds. If there was a person who hadn't jumped on the Hamilton train yet, they couldn't resist after seeing Miranda freestyle rap on The Tonight Show. All of his appearances culminated with a stop on the now-famous Carpool Karaoke. This segment was even more amazing than it sounds, mostly because the creator brought along a few of his Broadway pals—Audra McDonald, Jane Krakowski and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, specifically. That's right, four musical theater geeks on The Late Late Show.
It doesn't get much bigger than that. We would say "next stop: The Tony Awards," but something tells us this is one show that doesn't need a fancy statue to feel legitimized.