Hamilton is the new Broadway musical that’s blowing up faster than any show I’ve ever seen. Written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, it uses rap and hip-hop to tell the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton. Some parts are slightly fictionalized, but on the whole it’s remarkably educational.
The opening number debuted during a command performance at the white house several years ago, and it perfectly sums up the core of this story.
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a
You can listen to the entire thing for free on Spotify. If you don’t have a premium account you’ll want to use the browser version so that you can listen to it in order – putting a narrative work this compelling on shuffle would be a crime. You can also buy it on Amazon, or listen on their streaming service if you have Prime.
Miranda’s lyrics are utterly brilliant, and the accompanying score blends hip-hop and R&B with more familiar Broadway elements. The bouncy pop of King George’s songs are a perfect contrast with the fast-paced rap battles that represent historical debates, and cast is as diverse as the musical genres in play.
“This is a story about America then, as told by America now,” Miranda explained in a recent New York Times interview. Digital streaming presents a unique opportunity for a musical in America now, allowing it to reach far beyond traditional Broadway audiences. This is the first breakout show to have its soundtrack so freely accessible early in the show’s run. The result is an instant, awesome, passionate fanbase. The album’s Rap Genius page is the world’s hippest history lesson, and Hamilton has the kind of tumblr presence a Marvel movie would be proud of.
Miranda at the Halloween ticket lottery.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is so clearly one of us that it hurts. He understands the internet and pop culture – there’s even a Parks and Rec reference buried in the show’s lyrics.
The show plays to its unconventional fanbase by running one of Broadway’s best ticket lotteries. Lotteries offer fans who show up to the theater a chance at special discounted tickets. For other shows these special tickets usually range from $20-50, but Hamilton’s lottery winners get their tickets for a cool $10, another tribute to the show’s namesake. These #Ham4Ham giveaways often feature musical performances, so those who make the trip but don’t win get to experience some peripheral magic, at least.
If you can’t make it to NYC, this is one of the best stand-alone Broadway albums ever, and the aforementioned Rap Genius page is a libretto book on steroids. There are a lot of shows where you miss vitally important plot points if you just get the soundtrack, but this isn’t one of them – the album does a great job of telling the whole story.
I’m calling Titanic rules on spoilers for this show – if you don’t know that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, you didn’t pay attention to history class OR mid-90s milk commercials. His life story is one of incredible triumph that culminates in crushing tragedy. The show is an emotional roller-coaster, with an energetic and often hilarious act 1 followed by a far more tense and dramatic act 2. Despite the fact that I knew where this was all headed, I found myself weeping profusely throughout the final two songs. I’ve always been weak to history – show me a History Channel documentary about any given civil rights struggle, and chances are I’ll shed a few tears. Despite this I did not expect to spend an entire morning mourning a guy who got himself shot in a duel hundreds of years ago, and yet here I am.
Even if you’re wary about the style or the content, you should definitely give Hamilton a chance. If you’ve already listened, make sure to head over to the genius.com page I keep mentioning. It is one of the best cross-cultural educational nerd-fests on the internet and I just want to live there. References to Morris Day and the Time share space with quotes from Sarah Vowell.
I’ve always had a distant respect for the founding fathers, but this musical made me care about them the same way I care about my favorite fictional characters. That’s a very weird thing to say, but I stand behind it. Also, I identify more strongly with Alexander Hamilton than I have with any main character in forever. I may be contemplating cosplay. I may need help.
The only bad thing I have to say about the musical is that it’s so lyrically dense that it’s impossible to write while I have it on in the background. Time to wrap this article up so I can start continuously looping it again.