According to an article in The New Yorker, the show is "an achievement of historical and cultural reimagining." The costumes and set reflect the period, with "velvet frock coats and knee britches. The set ...is a wooden scaffold against exposed brick; the warm lighting suggests candlelight". The musical is mostly sung-through, with little dialogue.
Miranda said that the portrayal of Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other white historical figures by black and Hispanic actors should not require any substantial suspension of disbelief by audience members. "Our cast looks like America looks now, and that's certainly intentional", he said. "It's a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door." He noted "We're telling the story of old, dead white men but we're using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience."
"Hamilton is a story about America, and the most beautiful thing about it is...it's told by such a diverse cast with a such diverse styles of music," says Renee Elise Goldberry, the actress who plays Angelica Schuyler. "We have the opportunity to reclaim a history that some of us don't necessarily think is our own." The creator insists that the Founding Fathers can be played by people of color, i.e. non-white, and is open to women playing as the Founding Fathers. Casting for the British production is expected to feature predominantly black British artists.
Although Hamilton is based on true events, Miranda does use some dramatic license in retelling the story. For example, while Angelica did have a strong relationship with Hamilton, it is exaggerated in the show. During "Satisfied", Angelica explains why Hamilton is not suitable for her despite wanting him. In particular, she states, "I'm a girl in a world in which my only job is to marry rich. My father has no sons so I'm the one who has to social climb for one." In actuality, Angelica had less pressure on her to do this. Philip Schuyler actually had fifteen children, including two sons who survived into adulthood (one of whom was New York State Assemblyman Philip Jeremiah Schuyler), and Angelica had eloped with John Barker Church several years before she met Hamilton. Miranda stated that he chose to do this because it is stronger dramatically if Angelica is available but cannot marry him.
In addition, in Act I, Burr's role in Hamilton's life is overstated, and much of the early interactions between the two men in the show are fictionalized. For example, while Burr was present at the Battle on Monmouth, Burr did not serve as Charles Lee's second in his duel with John Laurens as seen in "Ten Duel Commandments", Lee's second was Evan Edwards. Hamilton also never approached Burr to help write the Federalist Papers as portrayed in "Non-Stop".
During Act I, the character of Aaron Burr says that "...Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him! [Hamilton]", to which Alexander Hamilton replies: "That's true!" In fact it is false. The idea of Hamilton as a serial adulterer has been one of the biggest mischaracterizations of the real Alexander Hamilton for centuries, with celebrated authors repeating the story over and over again, notwithstanding that the sexual connotation of tomcat as a womanizer did not appear in dictionaries until the first half of the 20th century. The "tomcat" story has been previously discredited by author Stephen Knott, and refuted by historian and author Michael E. Newton at the "Alexander Hamilton Discoveries and Findings" talk held by the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society at Liberty Hall (Kean University) as part of the 2016 CelebrateHAMILTON events.
In Act II, there are multiple inaccuracies throughout Hamilton's decline, probably due to time constraints and narrative arc. While it is true that John Adams and Hamilton did not particularly get along, John Adams did not fire Hamilton as told in the show. Hamilton resigned from his position as Secretary of the Treasury at the end of 1794, two years before Adams became president. However, Hamilton remained close friends with Washington and highly influential in the political sphere. In addition, Jefferson, Madison and Burr did not approach Hamilton about his affair, it was actually James Monroe and Frederick Muhlenberg in 1792. Monroe was a close friend of Jefferson's and shared the information of Hamilton's affair with him. In 1797, journalist James Callender broke the story of Hamilton's infidelity. Hamilton blamed Monroe, and the altercation nearly ended in a duel. With nothing left to do, Hamilton then published the Reynolds pamphlet. In "Blow Us All Away", George Eacker and Philip Hamilton engage in a duel, before the events of the 1800 presidential election. The duel actually occurred in 1801, with Philip Hamilton dying on November 24. In the show, Eacker fires on Philip at the count of seven, while what happened in real-life is almost the opposite; both men refused to fire for over a minute before Eacker shot Philip in the hips. Lastly, it was not the presidential election of 1800 that led to Burr and Hamilton's duel. Burr did become Jefferson's vice-president, but when Jefferson decided to not run with Burr for reelection in 1804, Burr opted to run for Governor of New York instead. Burr lost to Morgan Lewis in a landslide. Afterwards, a letter was published from Charles D. Cooper to Philip Schuyler, claiming that Hamilton called Burr, "a dangerous man, and one who ought not be trusted with the reins of government", and that he knew of "a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr." This led to the letters between Burr and Hamilton as seen in the show in "Your Obedient Servant."
Criticism of historical differences
The show has also been critiqued for a simplistic depiction of Hamilton and vilification of Jefferson. Joanne B. Freeman, a professor of history and American studies at Yale University and a recognized authority on Hamilton, writes:
The real Hamilton was a mass of contradictions: an immigrant who sometimes distrusted immigrants, a revolutionary who placed a supreme value on law and order, a man who distrusted the rumblings of the masses yet preached his politics to them more frequently and passionately than many of his more democracy-friendly fellows.
Another historian, Shane White, also states that the show's depiction of the founding of the United States stems from an outdated narrative that a few great men built the country. White says that historians now view the founding in a new way:
Attempting to get away from the Great Men story of the founding fathers, these scholars have incorporated ordinary people, African-Americans, Native Americans and women and placed the whole half-century in the broader contexts of the Atlantic World. In this more inclusive and nuanced telling of the republic's creation, Hamilton plays a cameo rather than leading role.
Yet another historian, Lyra Monteiro, criticized that the show's multi-ethnic casting obscures the complete lack of identifiable enslaved or free persons of color as characters in the show.
Some commentators have criticized the show for making Hamilton and other historical personages appear more progressive on racial injustice than they really were. For example, Ishmael Reed writes: "His reputation has been shored up as an abolitionist and someone who was opposed to slavery. Not true."
Other critics have pointed out that the musical's portrayal of Hamilton as an idealist committed to democratic principles ignores the historical record of Hamilton's reactionary, anti-democratic politics and legacy, including his leading involvement in a military coup plot, the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783, against the Continental Congress; his development of a national financial system which empowered the plutocratic elite; and his eagerness to ignore civil rights and use military force, indefinite detention, and mass arrests against dissenters in the young American republic, for instance in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.
Use in education
KQED News wrote of a "growing number of intrepid U.S. history teachers...who are harnessing the Hamilton phenomenon to inspire their students." The Cabinet rap battles provide a way to engage students with topics that have traditionally been considered uninteresting. An elective course for 11th and 12th graders on the musical Hamilton was held at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York. KQED News added that "Hamilton is especially galvanizing for the student who believes that stories about 18th century America are distant and irrelevant" as it shows the founding fathers were real humans with real feeling and real flaws, rather than "bloodless, two-dimensional cutouts who devoted their lives to abstract principles." A high school teacher from the Bronx noted his students were "singing these songs the way they might sing the latest release from Drake or Adele." One teacher focused on Hamilton's ability to write his way out of trouble and toward a higher plane of existence: "skilled writing is the clearest sign of scholarship—and the best way to rise up and alter your circumstance."
Hamilton's producers have made a pledge to allow 20,000 New York City public high school students from low-income families to get subsidized tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway by reducing their tickets to $70 for students, and the Rockefeller Foundation provided $1.5 million to further lower ticket prices to $10 per student. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History created a study guide to accompany the student-ticket program.
The website EducationWorld writes that Hamilton is "being praised for its revitalization of interest in civic education." Northwestern University announced plans to offer course work in 2017 inspired by Hamilton, in history, Latino studies, and interdisciplinary studies.
In 2016, Moraine Valley Community College started a Hamilton appreciation movement, Straight Outta Hamilton, hosting panels and events that talk about the musical itself and relate them to current events.