OPINION: Who tells your story...musicals based on history

02 Oct
Posted in: Features
Musicals based on history...

Who'd have thought history could be so...tuneful? There are certainly a lot of fantastic musicals based on true past events and with HAMILTON about to open in London's West End, we wouldn't be surprised if there were many more to follow! But if we're getting our history from Musicals, shouldn't we know how accurate they are? Lauryn Clarke, from our friends at the Musical Theatre Appreciation Society takes a look at some of the most popular musicals based on historical events and sees how they measure up with the truth...

With the newfound crazy success of HAMILTON, and the long reign of LES MISERABLES in the West End (as well as a North American Tour coming this year), more and more people are learning human history through the vehicle of musical theatre. But do you know the true history behind it? Are they at all accurate? Let’s find out! So, let’s start with the newest entry on the list...


Although there have been many musicals about American history (think:  ‘ASSASSINS’,’ 1776′, ‘BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON’), HAMILTON is the new favourite. With 3 current shows in America and a new version premiering in the West End this winter this is the new up-and-comer which is telling the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the United States and (before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show) arguably one of lesser-known Founding Fathers. Burr shot straight, but did Lin-Manuel Miranda get his facts straight?

Well, some of them! Let’s discuss some of the inaccuracies… Renee Elise Goldsberry sings “my father has no sons so I’m the one who has to social climb for one” but in fact Philip Schuyler had 15 children, several of whom were sons and 2 of whom survived to adulthood. Angelica was historically very flirtatious with Alexander and attended balls with him but when she met him (as depicted in ‘A Winter’s Ball’) she had already eloped with her husband John Baker Church years before. Philip Hamilton was actually shot in the late November of 1801, after the 1800 election and unlike in ‘Blow Us All Away’, Philip and George Eaker stood facing each other after the countdown for a full minute before Eaker shot Philip just above his hip.

Some critics of HAMILTON argue that the most important historical change is in the representation of the relationship between Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens. They were historically very close with some historians speculating they were in fact in a secret relationship. Although he didn’t attend the Hamilton-Schuyler Wedding as was shown in ‘Helpless’ and ‘The Story of Tonight (Reprise)’  as he was a prisoner of war in Pennsylvania, they were extremely close and  had much correspondence including letters where Hamilton wrote a long paragraph detailing how Laurens had stolen his heart, one where he invited John to join the “final consummation” with him and Eliza and one where Alexander writes several paragraphs about the size of his *ahem* nose. We don’t see this closeness in the musical but it sure is interesting!


This was of course based on the 1992 movie of the same name starring Christian Bale, but ultimately both were inspired by the true events of the 1899 Newsboys strike in New York – but how does this Menken musical stand up to the truth?

As a base antagonist, they got it right. Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the World (the very man the Pulitzer prizes are named after, which have been awarded to HAMILTON, RENT and A CHORUS LINE) was the main opponent of the newsies; but also opposing the newsies was William Randolph Hearst, the publisher of the Journal, a direct competitor with the World and engaged in yellow journalism to compete with each other. On the subject of Pulitzer, he did indeed have a daughter called Katherine however...