Hamilton is the musical making huge waves in the US, becoming increasingly well known in arts/music and creative pockets around the world. Over in London, where I am, where numerous shows have been born – or made their way to from Broadway – the only downside to Hamilton is that I probably won’t ever see it performed with its original cast.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who stars as the show’s titular character, wrote the book, lyrics and music for Hamilton; based on a 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda also recently won the Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album which speaks to the power of the music in the show, and why I wanted to write about it.
Alexander Hamilton is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. While this part of history is well documented, its more well known by those across the pond. But even then, Hamilton’s life has never, I believe, had this level of notoriety. Such is the power of a musical to reach a wider world.
Hamilton is a musical that is mostly sung-through, a term meaning that there is little to no spoken dialogue. As a result, you can understand the story from the music. Typically, I prefer to see the show before I listen to a musical’s soundtrack. But Hamilton was different. As I mentioned, I’m unlikely to see this musical in its current run and unless I fly to America and somehow get a ticket to the show, I won’t see it for many years, if at all. But I wanted to know what the hype was all about. I’d heard Hamilton described as a hip-hop style musical, mashing the historic time with contemporary music. Not unconnected but also interesting, the show has colour-blind casting, meaning there are hispanic and black actors, among others, playing majority white historical figures. This is used to ground the audience in the present, while the costumes reflect the past setting.
But why talk about the music, when I haven’t seen the musical? Because I’ve imagined it, I’ve heard it and, most importantly, I’ve felt it. Listening to the 46 track album, I’ve laughed, wanted to march and teared up. I’ve felt those waves of emotion that comes from seeing something that resonates, but I’ve only heard it.
The mastery of the music, in the choices of the lyrics, the moments that have been selected to piece together this story are so interesting. Alexander Hamilton is at times heroic, but he’s not always the classic hero, at least not one who always does the right thing. He’s hopeful and naive to start, but that makes him brilliant. Without his brashness, intelligence and candor, he wouldn’t have been able to get his wife, have his son, become the first United States Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington. Yet, he does fall from grace and accepts his mistakes. He lived his life well, as honestly as he could, regardless of how honest he was with those around him.
As I write this I realise I should note that I haven’t read a biography of him. I don’t know these things as facts, corroborated by historians and factual accounts. Rather, this is what I’ve learned from this telling of the story.
I don’t want to go into the plot too much because I would rather you get to see it, or hear it, for yourself. I don’t watch trailers for movies I know I’m going to see to avoid spoilers and I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment and natural emotional connection by telling you where and when to notice smart lines, quick asides or the most gut-punching songs.
If you aren’t convinced, or still don’t know why you should take notice of Hamilton, consider the opening number the blurb on the back of the book and watch this performance of it at the Grammys: