Theater students perform Hamilton rap battle at Pizza & Politics

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Photos by Nathan Gross

Through the beats and lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, students revitalized the role politics has played in American history. Students performed a rap battle from the musical that focused on the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton at a Pizza and Politics event March 14 in the Ragan Theater.

The scene was titled “Cabinet Meeting #1,” where George Washington (performed by Shelby Gist) acted as a moderator in a cabinet meeting between Hamilton (performed by Nick Varney) and Thomas Jefferson (performed by Dallin Major). Hamilton’s plan to establish a national bank and assume state debt was the focus of the scene.

In the scene Jefferson raps, “His plan would have the government assume states’ debts. Now, place your bets as to who that benefits: The very seat of government where Hamilton sits.”

To which Hamilton responds with, “If we assume the debts, the union gets, a new line of credit, a financial diuretic. How do you not get it? If we’re aggressive and competitive, the union gets a boost. You’d rather give it a sedative?”

Prior to the performance, Peter McNamara, associate professor of political science at Utah State University and Hamilton scholar, discussed the simplification of the cabinet scene.

“The debate that went on in Washington’s cabinet is something that’s reverberated down through American history,” said McNamara. “The debate was more complicated than the musical lets on. Uncharacteristically for me, I’m a bit of a Hamilton fan.”

He also discussed what the musical got right as well as the rivalry between Hamilton and Jefferson.

“There are some things the musical gets that’s spectacularly right. First, Hamilton’s centrality to the American founding. He was ‘Washington’s right hand man.’ The musical also gets right the excitement and achievement of the American Revolution, history has happened,” said McNamara. “The musical gets right the immigrant’s story, ‘Immigrants we get the job done.’”

Hamilton served as treasury secretary and Jefferson as secretary of state, before being appointed to Washington’s cabinet. Their rivalry began because of their differences in personality and views on governing.

The critically-acclaimed musical is known to cast people of color and women for roles that are traditionally given to white men.

The relevancy that carries over from history, and the power of immigrants are junior theatre major Gist’s favorite aspects of the musical. The performers spent a week practicing for the rap battle.

Before the musical was released, the life of Hamilton was not well-known or interesting to some people, according to Varney, a history education major.

“Back in November, the political action committee, we had the idea to put this together,” said Varney, who has a background in musical theatre. “It was an opportunity to bring Hamilton to life.”

“I thought it was really fun,” said freshman special education major Jodi Johnson, “The music is amazing and it’s a cool way to introduce history.”