Why do audiences love Hamilton so much? Why do people pay thousands of dollars for tickets? Why do nearly a hundred thousand people line up in the digital lotteries each time new tickets go on sale? What is it about this musical that connects so deeply with people?
Part of the answer lies in the truth that stories hold a unique power to transform our lives.
I’ve spent the last three years of my life researching and writing about the spiritual themes found in Alexander Hamilton’s life and the Broadway musical he inspired. My book, God and Hamilton, which released this week, wrestles through these different themes. But more than any individual theme, I continued to be struck by how story inspires, challenges, and motivates us to live a more fully human life.
Brene Brown writes about the power of story. She suggests that “Story is literally in our DNA….we are hard-wired for story.” She tells about how studies show that when we engage in a story our brain releases chemicals that help us connect, empathize, and make meaning of this world.
Other studies in the field of neuroscience point to this same truth. They have found that when we watch a story, our brain activity jumps significantly. If we watch a scene in a movie about someone swimming in a race, the parts of our brain that fire when we actually swim are active. They call this phenomenon “transportation.” The idea is that when we watch a story we get transported into it. We begin to feel like what is happening in the story is actually happening to us.
In Hamilton, there are so many important themes that transport us into the story. We see the incredible initiative Hamilton takes throughout his life, as he sings about “not throwing away my shot.” That example motivates and challenges us. We feel inspired to be that kind of person as well, the kind of person who takes advantage of our opportunities, who doesn’t throw away our shot.
Or we watch a scene where Eliza Hamilton forgives her husband for betraying her in his affair with Mariah Reynolds. We are moved by her forgiveness and challenged to follow her example. Will we be the kind of person that forgives, no matter how difficult it may be? Will we offer grace to those who betray, hurt, or wrong us?
So many reasons exist as to why Hamilton impacts audiences so deeply. But the transformative power of story is part of the answer. We watch or listen, to the story Hamilton tells, and find inspiration, encouragement, and hope to live a more fully human life ourselves.