I have swooned and oo’d and ah’d over Hamilton: An American Musical for a couple of years now (I know, I was late to the game). Now that it is streaming on Disney+ July 3, 2020, I have been asked why someone should watch the show.
I am not a critical writer. I am not writing this like a critic would at all. I will share the parts that are fascinating to me that I’ve learned through reading the back stories of the writer, director, and lyricist, Pulitzer Prize winner, Tony and Grammy Award winner… and more, all for Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alex Lacamoire, a musician, arranger, conductor, musical director, music copyist, and orchestrator, doing many of those duties with Hamilton, as well. There are a dozen more I have poked around learning about, but the show itself is what I will focus on.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda came across Ron Chernow’s book Hamilton in the airport on the way to a vacation. Within 2 chapters, still on the plane, the musical began formulating in Miranda’s brain.
- Alexander Hamilton struggled to climb the ladder from poverty, through education, aching for recognition and a sustainable income for his family. He had many obstacles in his way and Miranda felt his path was similar to many Black and Latinx folks in the United States today. He felt Hamilton’s story was still our story.
- There was never a question of the diversity of the cast. Miranda had already done In the Heights, another (mostly Latinx) diverse show that won him 3 Tony Awards in 2008. It seemed natural to create a cast that looked like America does now. In 1775, blacks were slaves; whites ruled and were soldiers (for the most part). In 2015 while blacks were (are) in too many ways still enslaved, the face of America has changed from primarily white to more brown and black.
- Therefore, if your children are not white, this can be an eye-opening experience to see people of their color in an amazing award-winning production. Even 5 years ago, the theater and Broadway were blandly white. Thankfully, that is changing and Miranda leads the charge.
- The music is the music of today. Hip-Hop, Rhythm & Blues, but also shades of jazz, British pop music and gods bless the Schuyler sisters and their Destiny’s Child sound.
- I have heard the album at least 200 times and I am still catching puns, humorous connections and overtones of lyrics and music that run as threads through the show. The complexity of wit, rhyme, storytelling and musical history all combined really is genius.
- Which makes the realization that “My Shot” took an entire year for Miranda to write. A. Year. One song. The entire show took 6 years. One song took one year.
- When Alexander Hamilton talks about not throwing away his shot, he comes across many choices and is always wanting to move up the ladder. It is also double entendre for his final dual with Aaron Burr that (not giving away anything since more than 200 years have passed already) when Hamilton did, in fact, throw away his shot (pointing his gun upward) allowing Burr’s shot to kill him. The only shot he seemed to have tossed.
- Costume Designer Paul Tazewell made a brilliant decision to have the costumes as traditional clothes of the time, but has asked the actors to wear their faces and hair however they want during the show.
- History repeats itself. Again and again. Perhaps not with a duel, but with the arguments that, at that moment, seem life and death (and often are), but so far, our country has bounced back and learned new ways to function (and codified them in the laws) or have fallen back onto the Constitution of the United States.
- Alexander Hamilton is not seen as perfect. He is a human being with odd foibles considering the man most likely had hypergraphia or a lot of mania in Bipolar Disorder. “Why do you write like you’re running out of time” is a thread throughout the musical (“Non-Stop“). Writers use this phrase as incentive to keep writing even when it is challenging. Write like you’re running out of time! WRITE!
- Dilemma for those with younger folks: I know an lot of younger kids who love Hamilton and can sing every word, even the F-word. Disney is deciding still what to do with the show… edit? or not edit with warnings. I am hoping they offer 2 choices; hope someone thinks of that. The F-word is said a couple of times, but there is a love affair with Maria Reynolds (pronounced Mariah), a brief side-step that leads to a great deal of strife that eventually rules Hamilton out of being a President in our history.
- Schools are using the show as a backdrop to bring history to life. I will say I thought all that Constitution stuff was dry as toast. Until now. Once I learned the music, I read Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, then his Washington: A Life (which I actually loved more than Hamilton!) and that period in history is now ALIVE for me! I can “see” the war, I can “feel” the conflicts, I can “experience” a life I never would have been able to before. History has come to life for students with Hamilton! ALL of history should be taught this way!
- Tickets to Hamilton have been so expensive, but Lin-Manuel Miranda has a serious need to serve and saves seats for students, some of whom pay $10 for what would go as a several hundred dollar seat on the open market. (I bought my mom a ticket for the Opening Night of the Orlando cast at $490.)
- EduHam is a class Miranda has helped create that is free through August in response to the Pandemic at hand. It teaches this part of history in a way students can understand… recommended for grades 6-12, but clearly many younger folks participate. Watching kids singing, dancing, creating plays around Hamilton are magnificent teachers.
All of this sounds so boring compared to the experience of Hamilton: An American Musical! The musical is picked apart in YouTube, high schools sing for us there, 3-year olds are singing “MY SHOT!”, the poetry of rap is examined as if we were looking at a miraculous artifact.
Which it is. All of it.
Even if you only watch it once, please watch it once. Open heart. Open mind. With joy for how our country was made.
We are amazing.