How does an orphan, immigrant, forgotten Founding Father emerge from the shadows of history to become a Broadway superstar? He gets noticed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and has a hit hip-hop musical written about him, that’s how. Hamilton has taken New York, and indeed the entire country, by storm and has reduced this particular musical theater nerd to puddles of history-fueled, hip-hoppy happiness.
Previously known to most people as “that guy on the ten dollar bill” or “the guy Aaron Burr killed in a duel,” Alexander Hamilton has been reintroduced to the world as George Washington’s “Right Hand Man,” prolific writer, ladies’ man, husband, father, first Treasury Secretary, and all-around ambitious loud-mouth who could get involved in flame wars with the best of them, long before the Internet even existed.
Hamilton: An American Musical first came on my radar when I kept hearing people on unrelated podcasts talking about it, so finally I gave in and listened — and I promptly and proudly joined the ranks of the Hamilton-Obsessed. There is so much I could say about this show. Shall I start with the mix of styles (it’s generally referred to as a “hip-hop musical” but also includes traditional Broadway-style numbers and songs that evoke groups like Destiny’s Child and 1960s British pop), the diverse casting (not nearly as many white guys as you’d expect for a show about a bunch of dead white guys), or the incredible fandom that has grown up around this pop culture phenomenon?
How about this: instead of going on and on about the wonders of Hamilton (which I could do, at great length, trust me), I leave you with a list of links and other resources to get you started on your own American musical journey.
- To start with a broad overview of the show, its creation, and its creator, check out Mo Rocca’s excellent interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda for CBS Sunday Morning. The piece, which aired in 2015 just before the show moved to Broadway from the Off-Broadway Public Theater, also features a few other cast members as well as Ron Chernow, author of the biography that started it all.
- Next, check out the cast album and listen to this amazing show! Because everything is sung or rapped, there is almost nothing left out — you get a whopping two and a half hours of music. If you are an Amazon Prime member, the album is available to listen to through the Prime Music streaming service. It can also be found on Spotify, and is available to purchase in the usual places (Amazon, iTunes, etc.). Just be aware, in case you have young Fandomaniacs, that the album does have an “explicit lyrics” tag for mature language and occasionally mature subject matter.
- Now you’re ready to see it! Unfortunately, tickets are extremely hard to come by and the national tour doesn’t begin until spring of 2017. Until then, however, YouTube is your friend, where I recommend starting with their performance at the 2016 Tony Awards. Speaking of the Tonys, the show had a record 16 nominations in 13 categories (the lead actor and featured actor categories for musicals both included multiple Hamilton nominees) and won 11 of them, including Best Musical. Hamilton has also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
- I also rather enjoy the performances by the original Broadway cast at the White House in March of 2016 – “Alexander Hamilton,” and “My Shot” are on YouTube. And speaking of the White House, Miranda first performed the opening song at a poetry jam there in 2009, when he was still in the process of writing the show.
- Because the show is so popular and tickets are so hard to get, they instituted a daily lottery for a small number of inexpensive tickets to each show. In conjunction with this, Lin-Manuel Miranda started “Ham4Ham,” performances on the theater steps so that even those who don’t win tickets will still get to see some of the actual performers performing live. Many of these are on YouTube — search for “Ham4Ham” and you’ll have hours of entertainment at the click of a mouse. If you don’t have time to go down the “related video” rabbit hole, however, try some of my favorites: the women of the cast performing “My Shot;” three King Georges as The Schuyler Sisters; and Miranda performing Javert’s and Valjean’s confrontation from Les Miserables with Kyle Jean-Baptiste, who plays Jean Valjean in the production at the theater next door to where Hamilton is playing.
- For the readers out there, check out the book that started it all, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, published in 2004. It’s 800-some pages, but they’re interesting pages to read. You might also enjoy Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, a book about all aspects of the history and creation of the show and known to fans as the “HamilTome.”
- Not only has Hamilton increased awareness of certain aspects of American history, it has also brought an increase in tourism to a number of sites in New York and New Jersey as fans flock to the “rooms where it happened.” The New York Times talked with a NYC tour guide who can take you to see the Hamilton sights, or you can read here and here about a variety of Hamilton-related places to visit in New York and beyond.
- And because I just can’t resist, here are three more performances of music from the show by original cast members: Phillipa Soo (Eliza) and Lin-Manuel Miranda sing “That Would Be Enough“, Chris Jackson (Washington) and Miranda sing “One Last Time“, and Miranda does “Carpool Karaoke” with James Corden in The Late Late Show’s run-up to the 2016 Tony Awards, which Corden emceed.
So there you have it. Hooked yet? No? Well, stay tuned. If the original stuff didn’t make a fan out of you, just wait until you see what the legions of Hamilton fans can do when they get their hands on Lin’s masterpiece. Hamilton: An American Fandom (Part 2) is coming soon to a Fandomania near you!