By now, you’ve probably seen more talk about the founding father, Alexander Hamilton in your social media than you ever expected to see in life. This is because of the new Broadway show, Hamilton which has taken the entire world by storm. But why is everyone talking about this musical? Here are some basic facts:
Lin-Manuel Miranda, age 35 (lol what am I doing with my life), the 2008 Tony and Grammy award winning writer/lyricists of In The Heights, decided to read the biography, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow when he was on a vacation after the success of In The Heights. He didn’t get very far into the book before he realized that Hamilton’s story was similar to the backstories of many successful rap artists. I mean, yes, I too think that when reading historical biographies. He researched to find out if a musical on Alexander Hamilton existed and it didn’t. (You’re shocked, I know).
Shortly thereafter, Miranda began his work on what he called The Hamilton Mixtape. In 2009, he was invited to The White House to perform a piece from In The Heights, but at the last minute, decided to showcase his first song from the mixtape, entitled Alexander Hamilton, which was told from Hamilton’s frenemy, Aaron Burr. He knew it was a gamble to perform a rap about the man on the ten dollar bill , as you can see from this video, but the crowd, including President Obama, were enthralled.
From that point on, Miranda spent the next six years working on The Hamilton Mixtape, which eventually became Hamilton the musical. One of those six years was dedicated solely to the third song on the soundtrack entitled, My Shot. When you listen to it, you’ll see why it took a full year to write. It’s perhaps the most complex rap and song I’ve ever heard.
In February 2015, the musical made its Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater in New York, where its engagement was sold out. The show transferred to Broadway that summer, opening on August 6, 2015 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. On Broadway, it has received enthusiastic critical acclaim and unprecedented advance box office sales, and is breaking records left and right.
But what makes this musical stand out from anything else that’s ever been on Broadway? Well firstly, the cast of Hamilton is mostly people of color playing the roles of the founding fathers: Leslie Odom Jr. plays Aaron Burr, Daveed Diggs plays Thomas Jefferson, and Christopher Jackson plays George Washington.
Hamilton begins with the quoted text I started this post with, as he arrives in New York as a striving eighteen-year-old in 1773 and quickly becomes George Washington’s right-hand man (another amazing track from the show), coauthor ofThe Federalist Papers, Secretary of the Treasury, main player in political Monica Lewinsky-esque scandal, and victim of a fatal bullet in an infamous duel with Burr.
Hamilton himself is a flawed hero. He’s just like his country, “young, scrappy, and hungry”, which leads him into situations using rash judgement, which infuriates those around him. He is a husband and father, but chooses to spend more time on his work, than with his family, which leads to scandal, which completely derails any shot he had for presidency.
Another stand-out in this show is Jonathan Groff as flamboyant King George III. From what I’ve heard of the show (yup, I’m this obsessed and haven’t seen it live), he is a scene stealer every time he’s on stage. Beyonce herself told him she wanted to learn his walk from the show. His songs also stand out from the rest of the musical:
“Where most of Hamilton tends towards the conventions of hip-hop/rap and R&B, King George’s music pays homage to British Invasion pop, particularly The Beatles. It creates a tonal separation between the old school, white monarchy in Britain and the young revolutionaries in the colonies (most of whom are played by actors of color).” (source)
In his song, You’ll Be Back where he addresses the grievances of the colonies post Boston Tea Party, he sings:
“You’ll be back
Time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well
We have seen each other through it all
And when push
Comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion
To remind you of my love!”
If history were told to me like this, chances are, I’d be a historian.
Secondly, this is not just an ordinary musical, it is a hip hop musical with influences from Busta Rhymes, Beyonce, Snoop Dog, and more. As you listen to the soundtrack, you can feel the classic hip-hop & R&B running through the veins of each and every song. If you’re not into rap, don’t fret, you’re still going to like this musical. If you don’t like musicals, well haha, I’ve had about six friends say that, then listen to the soundtrack, and completely change their tune because this is a story that sucks you in.
In the song The Schuyler Sisters, the beat and into from Burr starts off like Melle Mell’s verses of “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This song is where the audience is introduced to Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy. Eliza eventually becomes the wife of Hamilton, and a main player in the narrative of Hamilton’s story. The Schuyler Sisters in look and in song, give throwback vibes to Destiny’s Child as they look for a “mind at work/werk”.
Additionally, Miranda knows that not everyone can afford tickets to a Broadway show, and that trying to find ones for this show are nearly impossible, so he started #Ham4Ham, which he, or some of the cast do random and fun performances most nights during the lottery for tickets where anyone can enter their name into a bowl out in front of theater a couple hours prior to show time. The lottery winner is drawn at random, and wins 2, TEN DOLLAR (I see what you did there Miranda), tickets to the show that night. Makes you want to live in New York ammirite? Miranda wanted to make sure that even if you couldn’t get tickets to the show, you got some kind of entertainment while you waited. One of my favorite #Ham4Ham videos is where the original King George from Off-Broadway, Brian D’Arcy James, the current King George, Groff, and the temporary King George when Groff had to leave to film for HBO’s Looking, Andrew Rannells, did their own take on The Schulyer Sisters. I dare you not to smile.
The soundtrack is also smashing all sorts of Billboard records. Rolling Stone named the soundtrack the #8 album of the year on their Top 50 albums of 2015 list. It went #1 on Billboard’s Hip Hop chart which is unheard of for a musical, and was just nominated for a Grammy. Come Tony season, I’m sure the show will wipe the floor clean in nominations and wins.
This show is made of magic, and Miranda’s genius, and if you can’t get tickets in New York, I hope you at least check out the soundtrack (it’s on Spotify too!) and join the Hamilton family/fandom. Especially, since it was just announced today, the show is starting an open-ended tour in Chicago beginning September 27, 2016! I, myself, scored tickets for mid-September 2016 in NYC, but will I be able to wait for it? Time will tell.