Behind the White Curtain: A Look into Racial Representation in Miss Saigon.

Dialogue between Gabe Robles-Nieles and George Zhu.

GZ: Today Gabe and I are going to be talking about one of the musicals that we watched in class titled Miss Saigon. The rendition that we watched was the 2014 West End Revival version which featured a more demographically appropriate casting of characters, addressing a few racist aspects of the original. In this discussion, we’re going to try and center our conversation around Miss Saigon’s depictions of how the framework of whiteness impacted the non-white characters in this musical. Before we begin, let’s both tell everybody a little bit about ourselves just so they can better understand the perspectives that we’ll be speaking from. To start, I am a Chinese American male who grew up in the States. So culturally, I’ve grown up in an environment shaped by American mass media which is predominantly shaped by white America. Having been indoctrinated into white society, there was definitely a disconnect in my mind when watching this musical. I saw and identified with certain tropes that Chris displayed but found it difficult to reconcile the other parts that painted Asians in a lesser light.

GRN: As for me, I am Latino, and I grew up here in the States, just a little out of Nashville, so I’ve got a pretty similar media upbringing in terms of a white standard with minorities set as others.

GZ: Now that we’ve taken a second to understand where we as individuals stand, let’s begin to explore some of racial tension within this musical. First and foremost, there is the relationship between American soldiers, representing a white society, and the native Vietnamese population. Immediately from the beginning of the musical, a sharp distinction is drawn between the portrayal of the American soldiers versus the Vietnamese “bar girls”. If we break down this opening scene a little, what we find is that the American soldiers are characterized as better than the overtly sexualized Vietnamese women working in Dreamland. Seemingly desperate for a way to get to America, these Vietnamese characters were never given a chance to be equally respected. Beyond this, while John, an African American soldier, wanted to engage sexually with these bar girls, Chris, the White American Soldier, seizes the moral high ground and refuses to get with Kim, a young innocent bar girl, perpetuating the idea that white morality is superior.

GRN: Yeah, exactly.  They’re treating them as though that’s what their purpose was in being there.  They’ve basically gone in and set themselves as the standard, and even though this is their country and their home, the soldiers treat the locals as though they are there to serve their desires and their wishes.

GZ: This really seems like the classic colonialist vision where white individuals go to a foreign space, do what they deem is right, and take what they feel like they deserve. Oftentimes like this musical portrays, after these individuals take action, they fail to take responsibility for those actions. We see in the Fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese people who were relying on American protection from the Vietcong get inhumanely left as US soldiers quickly retreated in the face of a defeat. Kim is also abandoned by Chris during this time but of course Chris does not leave without first placing a huge burden on Kim. Chris and Kim’s son, Tam, offers an avenue to continued explication of their relationship. Even though Chris left, Tam serves as a continual reminder of the impacts that one individual can make on another’s life.  

GRN: It’s almost as though, in writing this, they were trying to embody these consequences that we see after Chris leaving.  In the grander scheme of things, it’s as though Tam were personifying the foreign impact in Vietnam. Yeah, because Kim is there, and she raises Tam and is dealing with this every day.  On the other hand, Chris goes home and has no clue: it doesn’t cross his mind, and it doesn’t bother or matter to him.  And I think that this is very reminiscent of the position that we take as a foreign power—and when I say “we,” I mean the United States.  We go in, and we do what we decide is best, and then when the situation is not as beneficial for us, we pull out and leave the people that were already there to deal with whatever situation that we’ve just left them in. 

GZ: Yeah I think in positions like this, it’s especially interesting to consider the burden that’s placed on different races. I’m not saying Chris didn’t go through any hardships while fighting the Vietnam War. Chris definitely experienced trauma to a certain degree but it’s a stark contrast from the physical representations of burden that had been left to Kim. And because she had a child with Chris, her well-being became challenged by Thuy who wanted to kill her son and get with her, and also the Engineer who wanted to turn her over to Thuy.  While I’m unsure if I can say that Chris is responsible for all these bad things happening to Kim, the framework of whiteness allows for Chris to leave Kim in Vietnam with all these burdens. This kind of plot paints an image where white people are able to be detached from the consequences of their actions, but even when they attempt to remedy those consequences, this musical doesn’t distribute the repercussion in an equitable way. The musical was scripted in a way where Kim had to die at the end even though she didn’t do anything too wrong throughout the entire musical. She risked her life to save her son, she saw her parents get massacred, the tragedies and hardships that Kim had to endure were arguably greater than what Chris had to go through.

GRN: Even then, having gone through all of that, Kim doesn’t deflect her responsibility with Tam and with what we’ve sort of personified as the consequences of the situation; she remains a devoted mother all the way until the end.  On the other hand, we have Chris and Ellen, who are initially very interested in doing what’s best for Tam, until suddenly they realize that what’s best for Tam would require some sacrifice on their part, and so they slowly start to distance themselves from their responsibility to Tam.  Especially on Chris’s part, as he realizes what bringing Tam to the United States would entail and how it would involve Kim and the strain that this would put on their relationship; he creates all of these reasons why he can’t step up and accept his responsibility when in reality, it’s fully within his power to give them his support.

GZ: A really interesting aspect here is that even though all these problems center around a white man’s decision, I really felt that the entire musical was still rooting for Chris. We saw that Kim wanted to get to America and find Chris throughout the entire musical, that John was a secondary character who was in support of Chris the entire time, and that Ellen was also supportive of Chris the entire time despite not knowing about Chris’ relationship with Kim. It seemed like whatever Chris did, regardless of the impact toward other people, the majority of the characters were always on the side of the main white character.

GRN: I think you have a really good point about how the avenue for the story is based around Chris’s decision and then ultimately his lack of follow through with the consequences.  Even the way that they portray him and Ellen, as opposed to Vietnamese majority that there is in the story: Chris and then Ellen are portrayed as the “saving grace.”  They approach these situations as though it’s their responsibility to make everything better.  Well, the way that I saw it, anyways, especially as we’re going through this last little bit of the musical where there is this meeting and this reckoning between Kim and Ellen, is that Americans and the white folk are meant to be seen as this “bastion of goodness,” as though they were sent into the world to do good and to save others and lift them up from their circumstances, and I thought this was really ironic, because if you look at the cast, Ellen and Chris are very much the minority in terms of race, and you would think that it would follow the standard for these majority versus minority situations, whereby within this binary we see the majority portrayed as the one to root for and as that bastion of goodness.  I thought it was really interesting to see that even with this role reversed, where Chris and Ellen are the minority, they’re still meant to be seen as better than or the purifying force.

GZ: Yeah I think that’s a really interesting observation. Despite the fact that white is the minority in this musical, white American culture is still definitely championed especially through the American Dream. Even among the Vietnamese characters, taking the Engineer as an example, the white way of life in America was his greatest dream.

GRN: Yes, and the whole song!  I, personally, thought it was a really funny song: it played to this idea of the “American Dream” and how great that it’s meant to be while at the same time satirizing the whole thing.  There was one line that really stuck with me as relates to this and I think it was “Cocaine, shotguns, and prayer: the American Dream!”  And he’s not wrong!

GZ: The aspect of having to pimp his own mother out definitely contributed to that satire-ization. While the song described the American dream perfectly, it also helped the audience to understand how twisted the outcome of the American Dream could turn out, you know? Not everything is as clean as glamorous as it appears and the things people have to do to achieve those dreams aren’t always the most wholesome either.

GRN: Also, I know that we discussed previously in the course, representation and the familiarity bias, and I thought that this was really important to discuss in terms of representations of race within Miss Saigon. If we think about it, the only two Vietnamese male characters that we see are the Engineer—who is clearly not meant to be a role model—and Thuy—who is the very traditional, very domineering male.  In terms of female representations, it consists almost entirely of the girls in the club—all competing for this spot of Miss Saigon, competing for the top spot.  They’re all meant to be objects of desire for the GIs, especially, and they are all meant to submit to the will of the men that surround them.  I thought that there was a major issue in terms of the fact that these are the only representations of the Vietnamese that we see, as opposed to a character like Chris, who is instantly meant to be viewed as the moral standpoint, especially in the beginning: he identifies an issue with what’s happening and their acceptance of the situation.  We later see a similar thing from Ellen, who claims that she wants the best for Tam, and, again, I thought it was very interesting to see this dynamic whereby this idea of majority/minority are flip-flopped to still fit the context of the American standpoint.

GZ: I definitely agree with that analysis. From what I saw, the white perspective was the right perspective. Despite having been put on this moral pedestal, ironically enough, Chris still gets with 17 year old Kim and actually impregnates her despite his “moral superiority.” Chris has sex with an underage girl and the entire remainder of the musical romanticizes this relationship. Ultimately, I think this musical can only serve as an artifact of a contribution to the dialogue of race. It really offers no comprehensive picture of how race should be understood and addressed. Because of this, it can only offer a glimpse of what past ideologies on race looked like and what decisions were made. It’s nice that producers aren’t using slant eye prosthetics anymore to depict Asian characters but this musical inherently contains a lot of themes and overall plot lines are racially problematic. I don’t think any amount of superficial change in costume or performer can rectify the backwards aspects of this musical.

GRN: 100%.  This storyline is just inherently problematic, like you said.  It’s good to be appreciated within the context of it being a product of its time and its viewpoints being antiquated, and definitely as a conversation-starter and as a means for discussing and learning and getting people to think about the way that their thought processes can harm and be harmful. 

GZ: That’s a really good point, I think if anything, this musical can serve as a good start point for dialogue and conversation is a tremendously important aspect for understanding each other.  

GRN: Exactly. It’s really important to have these conversations and to ask ourselves why we accepted this as the standard and why, even today, we allow this standard to pervade our media and our own views.  As a global community, we are definitely in the midst of sea change among public perception toward race. It’s because of these conversations that topics of race can be continually challenged and be made more just. Will Miss Saigon ever be revised again? And more importantly, can there be enough change in the musical to uphold contemporary ideals? 

“You Wouldn’t Stab a Child!”: A Discussion on Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Miss Saigon

A conversation between Paige Adams, Liv Donofrio, and Valerie Kraft on the 2014 revival of Miss Saigon.

Liv Donofrio: Okay, so we’re here to talk about the 2014 West End Revival of Miss Saigon, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr., and produced by Cameron Mackintosh. We’re probably also going to talk a lot of trash about Miss Saigon (laughs). Specifically, we’re going to discuss how the show uses people of color, specifically Vietnamese  individuals, as props to idolize whiteness. Essentially, we’ll be discussing the ways in which Miss Saigon weaponizes racism and sexism to uphold the supremacy of a white and patriarchal America.

LD: So I guess we can start by talking about, at least I am very interested in talking about, the American soldiers and the way that they are portrayed in the musical. Specifically how they are kind of seen as the standard of masculinity, especially with the entire plot revolving around this dichotomy of Chris (played by Alistair Brammer in the 2014 production)  versus Thuy (played by Kwang-Ho Hong)  as Kim’s only options. Because then it feels like what the musical wants us to do is see Thuy, who represents basically Vietnamese culture, as the villain. They want us to see him as like, the worst person ever. And like to be fair, he does try to stab a four year old, but it feels to me that the reason they’ve set up this dichotomy between Chris and Thuy is because they’re attempting to assert that the ideal is whiteness. She should be with this white man because this is the ideal is this white man, and they’re then implying with Thuy as the villain that her culture is bad, and Vietnam is bad, and so like what the musical wants is for us to root for and defend Chris, this white American soldier.

Valerie Kraft: Absolutely! The musical spends so much time building up sympathy for Chris, even from the very beginning. In the first songs of the musical, we see all the other soldiers in his troop completely happy to buy prostitutes, and yet, Chris is abstaining because he’s just so morally superior. And I think one of the biggest examples I can think of for the way in which we are supposed to see these American soldiers as completely forgivable, no matter what crimes and awful acts they commit, is through the character of John Thomas (played by Hugh Maynard). In the first minutes of the musical, we see him acting in a sexually aggressive manner towards these women who are unable to give genuine consent.

Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi and Hugh Maynard as John during “The Heat is On In Saigon”

VK: He literally purchases Kim (played by Eva Noblezada) for Chris, as if she is an object. And then in the opening number of the second act, “Bui Doi,” we see John running his new organization, and he spends the rest of the musical being this “hero” and kind man who is just so devoted to righting the wrongs of the war and “saving” these children from poverty and orphanhood. And in contrast, we don’t get any kind of redemption arc for anyone of Vietnamese descent – we hardly get any sort of sympathy for, you know, the hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese people that were left behind after the American evacuation, and yet they’ve spent so much time building up empathy for these men who have really done nothing to deserve any of the audience’s support.

Paige Adams: Yeah, I agree! And to go off of the soldier aspect that you introduced… These boys are leaving their families to go “make right” while they’re doing wrong (sometimes starting families accidentally with prostitutes- Yikes) but just like you said, Valerie, it’s okay because “boys will be boys.” Their behavior is excusable when it shouldn’t be, all while female behavior is not only not excused but also criticized. We’re looking at the prostitutes in such a harsh light without considering or focusing on what circumstances led them to that. Instead, we’re told that Gigi is unwanted because she’s considered to be a “slut,” but Kim is desirable because of her sexual purity. Meanwhile, these boys are doing God knows what to God knows who, and they’re totally offed from criticism and consequence in a way that women were (and still are) not excused from. There’s no double standard.

Kim, played by Eva Noblezada, during “The Heat is On In Saigon”

LD: Like Valerie was talking about, I think there’s also something to be said for the way that the musical gives us little sympathy for the Vietnamese people who get left behind. The only inkling that we get of that is in “Fall of Saigon,” like that very gratuitous scene of all of them falling to their knees and the camera panning over their faces over and over again. It’s like two to three minutes of these people being in anguish for our viewership, and like that is a real thing that happened to real people. To me, putting that on stage for so long and like really hammering that home the way that they do, especially considering that the fact this musical was written by two white men, feels to me more like trauma porn for American audiences than it does an accurate representation of what Vietnamese people were going through. So then it makes me really suspicious about how this musical is representing Vietnam and Vietnamese culture. And again, the way that they’re villainizing Thuy and upholding Chris, who has done nothing to deserve it.

A terrible screencap of “The Fall of Saigon”

LD: I also think there’s something to be said about the way that they cast Chris and John. It feels wrong that Chris has to be a white man. We talked about this when we were reading for this section, but the way that Broadway just does not do racially diverse casting at all, and if they do like they default to white roles. It feels like they’ve defaulted to a white role for Chris, and so they put John in this supporting role. But they also put John in a supporting role that is a sexually aggressive supporting role, so at the beginning in “The Heat is On In Saigon,” it felt very much like they were playing into racist stereotypes of Black men as being sexually aggressive. And so there’s another layer to racial representation in Miss Saigon that comes from the casting that I think was completely unacceptable. There’s no reason why Chris has to be white, but Chris is white because the musical is trying to tell us that white masculinity is the standard that we should be rooting for.

VK: Liv, I think that’s a great point, and I think when you talk about trauma porn, that speaks to the ending as well. The bottom, unspoken, line of the musical is that Kim was never going to get her happy ending because she is a Vietnamese prostitute. And even though that is not necessarily explicit from the beginning, knowing what we know about who is allowed to “win” and who is allowed to have a happy ending in stories that are written by Americans – and in stories that are written by white men – it wasn’t going to be Kim. So despite the fact that Chris’ wife, Ellen, (played by Tamsin Carroll) doesn’t do anything other than glorify Chris, it’s not an accident that she is the one that “wins” Chris in the end. And even when Kim’s dream of a happy ending is ripped from her, the musical shifts the audience’s focus from Kim to Chris in those final moments. It’s not solely because we see Kim’s dead body on stage that we feel grief – we’re feeling grief because of Chris’s reaction to her.

Another terrible screencap in which Chris is the camera (and audience’s) focus during Kim’s death

VK: Once again, even in her death, the feelings of white Americans are emphasized over the loss of a Vietnamese woman. Kim is sidelined, and Chris’s feelings are given priority, despite the fact that he was the one that abandoned her. In fact, anything that’s related to Kim always somehow goes back to Chris, which, once again, upholds the idea that white emotion is the most important, and thus, it is the white man who is the most important of all the characters. Whether it be John, a black man, or whether it be Kim and the other prostitutes who are Vietnamese women – they solely exist just to move Chris’s plot forward. It’s not about them or their experiences whatsoever.

PA: And strictly addressing the Vietnamese-American issue, whiteness is idolized to the point of suicide. It’s terrible because at the end, we are ‘taught’ that it’s better to be dead than to be Vietnamese. Our takeaways are that the victims are Vietnamese women, and the villains are Vietnamese men, and the Americans just sit back and reap the benefits of being considered the ideal. The Vietnamese struggle is downplayed by the emphatic greatness of being white and American. Kim would rather be dead than be Vietnamese (specifically non-American), and this is exactly what the white, patriarchal, American audience wants to hear.

LD: I think we also see that idolization of whiteness and that idolization of America in The Engineer (played by Jon Jon Briones)  a lot as well, like his entire plotline, is just he wants to get to America. And like, there’s another aspect that he wants to get to America specifically by exploiting women. I think we could honestly write a whole other essay on the Engineer, and we could probably write an essay just on “The American Dream” as a number, but we’ll touch on it a bit here.

Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer during Miss Saigon’s production number, “The American Dream”

LD: I’m honestly not sure if it’s placement in Act Two is ironic or not. I’m not sure if the musical is attempting to critique itself. While I was watching it, I had a little bit of like, “Oh, this is a little ironic that he’s talking about the American dream when we know that the American dream is literally crumbling for Kim in front of her eyes.”  So maybe that was the musical’s attempt to make an actual critique about American involvement in the Vietnam War. But what I think when you step back, what we take away is that the Engineer was obsessed with being American. He was obsessed with coming to America and it’s once again it’s this demonization of being in Vietnam, it’s calling the Bui Doi “raised in hell,” it’s pitting Vietnam against America and painting Vietnam as a place of “hell” without acknowledging the way in which American involvement made it worse. The only acknowledgement that we get of that is talking about the Bui Doi, but again, that is more of a plot point for Chris to establish that John is going to find Tam and not an actual critique of these American soldiers and their actions abroad.

VK: I think one of the best examples we get about the way that America and whiteness are shown as superior to Vietnam and “Asianess” is Thuy versus Chris, because essentially those are Kim’s two options. She can either go with Chris, she can go with Thuy, or she can die, which is what ultimately happens. And Chris – and let’s not beat around the bush here. Let’s call it what it is. Kim was bought for Chris. Kim is underage. Chris literally raped her – Chris is still painted as “the good guy.” Oh, he’s just so kind, he’s going to take care of her, he’s gentle, he’s not like the other soldiers. And in contrast, we get this villainization of Thuy. As we learn in “Thuy’s Arrival,” Thuy betrayed Kim by siding with the communists and abandoning her. We see Thuy act violent and crazed, and like Liv mentions, even willing to kill a child just to have Kim as his wife. And of course, this violence and attempted murder is horrible, but I feel like this is a very intentional dichotomy that the musical writers set up. It would be one thing if Thuy was Kim’s childhood best friend and she simply just didn’t love him the way she loved Chris. But to continuously make Thuy the villain, and in the same vein, gloss over all of the reasons that Chris is a terrible person seems to further emphasize that white soldiers are “good” and the Vietnamese characters are “bad.” Because it’s something that is highlighted over and over with Thuy – and perhaps even with his ties to communism, which has historically been villainized and portrayed as the most “un-american” ideology possible. And this dichotomy of “white/good” and Vietnamese/bad” is even further exemplified by the character of The Engineer. The Engineer profits off of the sexual abuse of women, and the American troops are not only complict in this, but active participants. Yet, only The Engineer spends the production being characterized as sleazy, whereas the American soldiers – who literally rape these women – very quickly are absolved of this and spend the second act of the musical portrayed as respectable Americans that have bravely fought for their country. Even John, who is shown as the epitome of sexual aggression and sexism in Act 1 is polished and refined in Act 2, an honest man in a clean suit working hard at his organization, completely absolved of his violence from before.

PA: It really just further reinstates the problem with depictions and realities of America- to be honest- and the American dream. We all encourage each other to pursue the American dream, but what we don’t discuss is that the pursuing is at the expense of someone else. America is the land of the free at the expense of people’s freedom (even still). It’s the land of opportunity because it took opportunities from others. I’m not sure if Miss Saigon is necessarily critiquing that or satirizing it, or if it’s simply encouraging a realist view that you have to be selfish to not be exploited in American culture, let alone accomplish what you want and achieve the great American dream. And perhaps the attraction to Chris symbolized the attraction to the American dream, despite how problematic it is? (Problematic favorites @ week 1, am I right?!)

LD: I just want to make one final point– I also think we have to recognize that this musical is adapted from source material which has been around forever and is rooted in stereotypes of Orientalism and this American fascination with the “exoticism” of Asian women. And we need to ask ourselves, why? Why is this a story that needed to be revived in 2014? Why did we need to make Madame Butterfly from a play to a musical to an opera, and why did two white men (Boublil and Schönberg) have to do it? Why are they so obsessed with this kind of tragic prostitute story? We saw them do it in Les Mis in “I Dreamed a Dream,” and there’s major parallels between “I Dreamed a Dream” and “The Music in My Mind.” Why is this? Why is this a story that we keep repeating when it is so obviously rooted in American imperialism?

Hamilton: Contradictions that Create a Community

In 2016, Lin Manuel Miranda’s unique form of musical storytelling made Hamilton the sight to be seen on Broadway. Everyone soon fell in love with the novel “hip-hop musical” that shared the old, yet often neglected story of one America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Specifically, how the mere immigrant orphan from the Caribbean rose to power to become Washington’s right-hand man, as well as one of the most respected figures in America’s political founding. By contrasting a dated story with a more contemporary music genre and progressive, off-race casting, Miranda’s retelling of Hamilton’s life reaches a greater audience. This outreach to a larger audience is due to the community Miranda creates on stage. The community of Hamilton is of white men (played by actors of color) in an era where women have little to no rights (where female actors are given primary roles in the story) where honor and integrity are held in the highest regard (though everyone acts upon shady, power-hungry incentives). This constant juxtaposition between Hamilton’s community and the outside community is what makes Hamilton such an endearing protagonist, unifying the audience behind him.

The two acts of Hamilton are very distinct from one another in regard to the sense of community. Even though the same actors are in both acts, Hamilton’s changing community, as well as the audience itself, are unified against different threats. In act one, Hamilton’s community exists of his rag-tag group of friends that are united in their fight against the British monarchy. This creates a standard for anyone hoping to join Hamilton’s circle. Specifically, they must be supportive of the American revolution. This comes to play in the reprise of “The Story of Tonight.” Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s close friend in the first act, is in love with a married woman: “It’s alright Burr. I wish you’d brought this girl with you tonight, Burr / You’re very kind, but I’m afraid it’s unlawful, sir / What do you mean? / She’s married / I see / She’s married to a British officer / Oh shit.” Hamilton reacts less to the fact that she is married, and instead to the fact that she is married to a British officer. The relationship is not taboo to Hamilton until he learns that she is part of a different “community” on the side of the British. Act two is less direct in this approach. Hamilton is more isolated in act two for none of his friends (except Burr) are around him anymore. Ironically, the actors that play his friends Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan (Daveed Diggs and Okieriete Onaodowan respectively) play his main political adversaries in act two. Not only is this to subvert your expectations as an audience member, but also to create a rival community to Hamilton that still remains familiar. In parallel to act one, Hamilton is at war with Jefferson, a man with previously established wealth and power who easily accumulates votes–a socioeconomic foil to Hamilton. Hamilton’s community is reestablished as the Federalists, with the understanding that the Democratic-Republicans are the main adversary. The Democratic-Republican’s community often discriminates against Hamilton. In “Cabinet Battle #2,” Jefferson publicly remarks, “He knows nothing of loyalty / Smells like new money, dresses like fake royalty / Desperate to rise above his station / Everything he does betrays the ideals of our nation.” Similarly, the juxtaposition between Burr’s patient nature and Hamilton’s aggressive political activism in songs like “Wait for It” and “Non-Stop” further define those who can fit into Hamilton’s community. That is to say, the words and actions of rival communities create assumptions for Hamilton’s community, which become associated with ideals like “new money,” progressiveness, and impulsivity.

Hamilton’s discrimination is not limited to socioeconomic factors. The line “Arrogant immigrant, orphan / Bastard, whoreson” and variations of it are often repeated throughout the show (this example was taken from “Your Obedient Servant”), mainly through Burr’s narration. Ironically, though all of the historical characters portrayed in the show are white, most of the Hamilton cast are actors of color. This juxtaposition between what we hear the characters saying and what the characters look like not only points to the idiocy of discriminating against race, but also puts the community of Hamilton into a more contemporary setting. The community within Washington’s cabinet often disregards Hamilton due to his Caribbean lineage, even though he is smarter than most all of them. The audience shares in Hamilton’s frustration, subconsciously pushing Miranda’s progressive ideals of race onto the audience. In this sense, the audience shares a community with Hamilton, one centered among racial equality. Further, back in act one, Hamilton surrounds himself with societal outcasts, namely Lafayette, Laurens, and Mulligan, because he feels he is an outcast himself. It is no coincidence that as Hamilton’s connection with Eliza Schuyler, a woman from a well-established family, grows stronger, and his relationship with his outcasted cronies diminishes, he gains power in the outside community, leaving his old one behind.

Another interesting dichotomy that creates community is the representation of women in Hamilton. Women in the 18th century did not carry much of a voice. However, in Hamilton, the women of the show take much more control over the story. This idea is best seen in the song “The Schuyler Sisters.” Perhaps the most famous line from this song is when Angelica tells Burr, “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” Miranda purposefully breaks historical accuracy in order to better establish the women in Hamilton’s community. In opposition to the traditional ideals of complaisance and agreeableness, Angelica and Eliza (and Peggy!) are striking and passionate. This is also in part due to the acting choices by Angelica and Eliza’s actors: Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo respectively. The two actors play the Schuyler sisters in a more progressive and modern manner. They actually take agency within the story, further establishing a contemporary community within an old story, which invites the audience to share in this sense of community. The women are just as revolutionary as the men and they actively make choices that affect Hamilton’s community. For example, when Hamilton publishes The Reynold’s Pamphlet, the audience is encapsulated with Phillipa Soo’s intense and engaging rendition of “Burn,” forever changing the dynamic of the community we see onstage. Eliza’s decision to leave Hamilton tarnishes his legacy and conveys that she can be independent of him. Similarly, it is Eliza, not Hamilton, that carries on their family legacy in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Phillipa Soo creates depth to Eliza that gains sympathy and further support from the audience to the community in Hamilton.

Finally, honor plays a large role in the building of community within Hamilton. Three duels take place over the course of show, all with the intention of defending and accusing the honor of those involved. The first duel is between Charles Lee, an American General whose cowardice was responsible for the death of hundreds of troops, and Hamilton’s good friend John Laurens. Hamilton challenges Lee to the duel after Lee audaciously blamed his failures on George Washington. Therefore, Hamilton is defending Washington’s (and subsequently, his own) honor. The second duel was between Hamilton’s son Philip and a blabbermouth named George Eacker. Hamilton supported the duel with his son in order to protect his honor. And finally, the last duel was with Hamilton himself, defending his own honor against Aaron Burr. In all of these cases, Hamilton was defending his honor and legacy. Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy creates a relationship, a community, among his inner circle that is an “open-book.” Everyone in Hamilton hopes to be well-remembered, but Hamilton’s legacy holds more validity, for he keeps himself honest throughout the show. The audience trusts the account of Hamilton’s life because they learn to trust Hamilton himself. Whether in regard to the duels or The Reynolds Pamphlet, Hamilton is honest, while the outside community is not. Burr usurps Philip Schuyler’s (Hamilton’s father-in-law) position in the senate and, along with Jefferson and Madison, tries to blackmail Hamilton. Again, Hamilton’s community is contrasted with those against him, which goes to unite the audience on his side, despite his flaws.

There’s no doubt as to why Hamilton was such a success on Broadway. Of course, Hamilton’s music and acting are prestigious, but more than that, Miranda creates a community on stage that the audience can easily relate to. Miranda expertly bridges the gap between an old story and a modern world by including contemporary social issues such as racial discrimination, women’s rights, and integrity. He accomplishes this via his writing and casting choices. Hamilton’s cast is made up of a majority of actors of color. Similarly, though not as historically accurate, he gives the women in Hamilton agency and depth. Beyond that, Hamilton continuously unites the audience behind an unlikely protagonist: an “Arrogant immigrant, orphan / Bastard, whoreson,” by creating a likable community onstage around Hamilton that is readily supported by the audience, and contrasting it with other communities, rivals, with less appealing characteristics.