Sora Journal

Hamilton: How Color, Lighting, and Costume Design Shaped the Musical

By Romy Wa.

Hamilton: How Color, Lighting, and Costume Design Shaped the Musical

The musical Hamilton is one of the most known historical plays. Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical is now well known for its skill in marrying hip-hop and traditional Broadway music. In this essay, we will explore how stage directors used lighting, how the costume designers made meaningful designs, and how the use of color in Hamilton makes character designs pop.  Most importantly of all, how these things work together in making this true story a very entertaining but still informative one. 

 Why was the musical Hamilton created? How did Lin-Manuel Miranda get the idea to make a musical about a less-known founding father?

 Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda originally got the idea while reading “The Life of Alexander Hamilton” by historian, Ron Chernow. The book was over 800 pages, spanning the entirety of Alexander Hamilton’s life. Lin-Manuel Miranda was so captivated by the story that he put all his creative expertise to work and made the fantastic Broadway musical we have today. Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted to make the story of the lesser-known founding father more known. He wanted others to learn about Hamilton’s life and its importance to America. However, he knew that not too many people had the time or attention span to read the book he did. Lin-Manuel Miranda knew that to make this story captivating to the broader audience, he would have to create something that required almost no work to watch, read, or listen to. 

After sitting on the idea for a while, Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the idea for a musical. That way, he could trick the audience into learning while listening to and watching an amazing musical. When the musical was done, it covered all of Hamilton’s life, the good and the bad. The musical showed this over the span of 46 songs, 20,520 words, and 2 hours and 55 minutes. That is to say, a lot of time and effort went into the musical and it definitely shows. 

Who really was Hamilton?

Alexander Hamilton was known to be a determined and ambitious person who was not willing to let anything stand in the way of achieving his goals. He was also shown to be very intelligent, quick on his feet, and capable of making decisions in tough situations (not the best ones all the time, but decisions nonetheless.) Additionally, Hamilton was depicted as a loyal friend and a devoted husband and father, although, he did confess to his affair with Maria Reynolds which deeply hurt his reputation. He also had other flaws, (because he is human) such as a tendency to be hot-headed and impulsive, which sometimes led him into trouble.

Why is lighting so important in stage production?

Now that you know the basics of how Hamilton was created and who Hamilton was, we can start looking at one of our main topics. Lighting is one of the most important things in a play, musical, or movie. Lighting in a musical can highlight the emotion of a scene, it can create a specific mood or atmosphere, it can draw the audience's attention to a specific part of the stage, and it can also be used to create visual effects or illusions. These tactics are also sometimes very subtle like the light getting dimmer or brighter as a character travels to different locations. Overall, lighting helps to tell a story in ways that may be uncountious, or completely known by the audience. 

What makes color such a crucial part of stage production, and how is it used in costume design?

Well, like lighting, the use of color helps in setting a mood for the show. For instance, the song "The Room Where It Happens" in Hamilton is set in a dimly lit room with dark blue lighting, which creates a sense of mystery. Another example is in the song, "The Reynolds Pamphlet" which highlights the scandalous nature of Hamilton's affair and adds to the drama of the scene as red is usually represented as the color of passion. As you can see, lighting and color mingle throughout most of the musical, and Hamilton isn’t the only one to do that. But how can color be used without lighting?

Well, the use of color without lighting is also evident in Hamilton. Throughout the musical, color plays a huge role in bringing the complex character of Alexander Hamilton to life and making him relatable and even more human to the audience. Costumes were designed in a way that each character had a specific color palette that they wore throughout the show. This helped the audience easily identify the characters and added depth to their personalities.

For example, Alexander Hamilton is mostly seen in a blue coat, symbolizing his loyalty and patriotism toward America. When we see blue, we think of being calm, this is another way the show frames Hamilton as the protagonist. On the other hand, Aaron Burr, his enemy, is predominantly seen in a brown coat, which represents his pragmatism and his desire to blend in with the crowd. Hamilton actually wears a brown coat like Burr in the early parts of the play, this is to show how Hamilton realy finds out who he is as the musical continues, and finds he doesn’t have to fit in with the crowd. The Schuyler sisters, who played a significant role in Hamilton's life both in the musical and in real life, wear lighter colors that reflect their feminine and delicate nature. They also wear less common colors than the other characters, showing that their family has the money to spend on more expensive fabrics.

In conclusion, Hamilton's success can be attributed to various factors, like the skillful use of lighting to set the mood and highlight the emotions of each scene,  the meaningful costume designs that utilized color to add depth to each character's personality, and just color in general. Lin-Manuel Miranda's creative expertise and passion for Alexander Hamilton's story also played a huge role in the musical's success. In other words, you can tell that Lin-Manuel Miranda truly cares about Hamilton. Overall, Hamilton serves as a prime example of how art can be used to educate and entertain simultaneously, and it will continue to inspire and captivate audiences for years to come.