New COVID-19 'Alexander Hamilton' Parody Focuses on Connections Through Art
There’s a new Hamilton in town. Well, there’s a new Hamilton at home. Featuring updated lyrics by the Chinese film and theatre writer Raymond Zhou, “In Lockdown You Can Be A New Man” has a new main character – the COVID-19 virus – and a message of unity through international arts. Starring actors from touring musical theatre productions and posted on social video platforms within China and on YouTube, the video has garnered nearly 2 million views (as of this writing).
“The virus becomes the villain but a clownish villain,” says Zhou in a call from his home in Beijing. Culture has a power that inspires and transcends and this is clear in “In Lockdown You Can be A New Man,” which alters the lyrics from Hamilton’s opening number.
Like other American imports, musical theatre and hip hop are prominent parts of mass culture in China, where both home-grown musicals and touring international productions have succeeded in recent years. Zhou saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s production last year when he visited the U.S. and thought he might be able to capture the crisis through parody. He was aware there were many Hamilton parodies on the web but decided to take a different direction, with the virus at the center.
The virus becomes the villain but a clownish villain.
He struggled to find a rhyme scheme that would work until he discovered “COVID-19 Quarantine” for “Alexander Hamilton.” Zhou then called on some of the best musical theatre singers and actors in China and asked them to perform from their homes in quarantine. They each filmed themselves at home and Zhou worked with his editor Maney to put the clips together as a cohesive whole before sharing the finished video online.
Globally, we are more culturally interconnected than we realize. This work underscores how artists reach out across the globe to feel a sense of community in this time of physical isolation but virtual connection. His final lyric changed Aaron Burr’s words in the original from “I’m the damned fool who shot him” to “I’m the damned fool who ignored it.” The bigger message is that we indeed are in this together and none of us can ignore this.
Raymond Zhou interviewed by Rachel Cooper, April 19, 2020.