The musical Hamilton took America by storm and it is slowly doing the same to the rest of the world. After a bidding war against Melbourne, Sydney secured the rights to Hamilton with performances starting from March 2021. If you are someone who has no idea why Hamilton deserves as much praise as it’s getting, or if you just want to know more about the musical itself, look no further. This deep dive will give you all the information you need to understand why Hamilton is such a monumental musical and why it will undoubtedly go down in theatre history.
Hamilton is a rap musical about the American founding fathers, specifically Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. It is common knowledge, especially to the American public, that Burr killed Hamilton in a duel, however, prior the musical gaining popularity, it was really only political historians who understood why. This musical begins from Hamilton and Burr’s first meeting and ends at their duel, along the way showing how they changed as people and how their relationship evolved. The whole musical is sung through which means you can hear everything from the soundtrack alone. This is, however, with the exception of one short song which was purposefully excluded to surprise live audiences.
The creative team behind the musical, self-described as “The Cabinet”, are the same creative team that worked together on the musical In the Heights. Due to their previous work together this team is a well-oiled machine who are all incredibly close. This team consists of:
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Creator, Music and Lyric Writer, Alexander Hamilton Actor.
Lin-Manuel came up with the idea for this musical on a holiday while reading Ron Chernow’s biographical book titled Alexander Hamilton. The show first started as a Mixtape of songs called The Hamilton Mixtape, and it wasn’t until a White House poetry event that a song from that mixtape was performed for the first time. Although the song was at first met with laughter, the audience, including president at the time Barack Obama, quickly became enraptured by the performance. From there it took another six years before the musical made it to Broadway, with one song titled My Shot taking a whole year to write. If you want to hear more of Lin’s music check out In the Heights, 21 Chump Street, Freestyle Love Supreme, or Moana.
Thomas “Tommy” Kail – Director
Tommy is the self described Josh Lyman to Lin’s Sam Seaborn. Lin has described himself as the type of person who needs a deadline to work toward and Tommy provides that deadline. Ever since meeting in college, Lin and Tommy have worked together on almost everything.
Alex Lacamoire – Orchestrator
Alex is an amazing composer despite suffering from hearing loss. What may have prevented others from having a career in music didn’t stop Alex, but instead pushed him harder to chase his dreams. Alex was also the orchestrator for another Tony award winning musical Dear Evan Hansen.
Andy Blankenbuehler – Choreographer
Andy is the type of choreographer who makes every movement mean something, which you can clearly see from his YouTube breakdown videos. Incredibly, he also choreographed the entirety of Hamilton while his five year old daughter was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Instead of letting this situation overwhelm him, Andy used the suffering that his whole family was going through and brilliantly put it into his work.
One of the reasons why this musical is so monumental is the fact that the majority of the creative team and cast members are people of colour. To many audiences this can be confusing at first because we know the founding fathers as white men, however, this choice helps highlight the fact that some of the founding fathers were actually immigrants themselves. In addition to this, when talking about the casting choice, Lin-Manuel said,
“This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance between a contemporary audience and this story.”
It is also important to note that some of the actors play different characters from Act 1 to Act 2. A decision that was purposefully made to not only increase the number of characters in the musical, but also to create a subconscious link between the people in Hamilton’s life. This fact is also skilfully played with during the opening number when the characters sing about their relationship to Hamilton.
There is a reason why Lin-Manuel chose to make Hamilton a rap musical. Rap is the perfect medium to tell such a dense story full of incredibly quick and intelligent thinkers. With 20,520 words in the 2.5 hour show, Hamilton averages at around 144 words per minute. Lin-Manuel has said that while reading Ron Chernow’s book he realised that Hamilton not only wrote like a rapper, but had the story of one too. Director Tommy Kail added to this by saying,
“In Alexander Hamilton, you have someone born into very difficult circumstances who used words to elevate himself out of those circumstances, and then died violently because of those words. That’s a classic hip-hop story.”
Lin-Manuel uses incredibly intricate rhymes to portray each character’s level of intelligence. The Wall Street Journal has a well-done article demonstrating some of Lin’s amazing wordplay throughout the musical, nonetheless an example of some of the best internal rhyming in the show can be seen in the song We Know. For example, one of Lin-Manuel’s self-professed favourite lines is when Hamilton sings, “I never spent a cent that wasn’t mine, you sent the dogs after my scent that’s fine.” Amazingly, most of the music written for Hamilton made it through to the final Broadway version, which is quite rare for a Broadway musical. This speaks to Lin-Manuel’s lyrical genius. Additionally, those few cut or changed musical numbers can be found on Lin-Manuel’s soundcloud.
Hamilton can also be seen as a love letter to everything Lin-Manuel is a fan of, from various Hip-Hop musicians, to film and TV shows, to classic musical theatre, and even most obscurely, a comedy podcast. There are way too many references to list them all in this deep dive so I’ll leave you with just one example of each:
- “I’m only nineteen but my mind is older” in My Shot is a line by the Hip-Hop duo Mobb Deep.
- “Here’s an itemised list of thirty years of disagreements” in Your Obedient Servant is an homage to Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.
- “Nobody needs to know” in Say No to This is from a song by the same name in the musical The Last Five Years.
- “Unless… Unless” in We Know is a reference to a phrase commonly said on the podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me.
For those who want a deeper dive into the references in Hamilton make sure to check out one of our other articles, What’s the secret behind the Hamilton hype?
Hamilton is a critical hit with a mountain load of award nominations and wins. It broke a Tony awards record with 16 nominations, becoming the most nominated musical ever. It also then proceeded to win 11 of those nominations missing out on the record of most wins by one (The Producers received 12 wins in 2001). Lin-Manuel was also awarded the coveted Pulitzer Prize award for distinguished drama.
Despite its huge success there have been some criticisms surrounding the musical’s historical inaccuracies and glorification of slave-owning founding fathers. Lin-Manuel has responded to these criticisms by tweeting, “All the criticisms are valid. The sheer tonnage of complexities & failings of these people I couldn’t get. Or wrestled with but cut. I took 6 years and fit as much as I could in a 2.5 hour musical. Did my best. It’s all fair game.”
Overall, Hamilton is the type of musical that appeals to all ages and walks of life. Even though I’m not an American myself and don’t particularly care for American politics, I still found this musical insanely intriguing and entertaining and would recommend it to anyone who wants a good night out. From your obedient servant, L.Hatcher.
Because of the insane level of popularity Hamilton has received, there are numerous sources online if you would like to learn more about the musical or just want to watch the cast and crew play around and have fun with each other. My recommendations are:
- Hamilton’s America – A PBS Documentary on the making of the show.
- The Hamilcast – A Hamilton Podcast that interviews everyone involved in the show.
- Hamilton the Revolution – A book with behind-the-scenes photos and interviews, and exclusive footnotes from composer-lyricist-star Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- Hamildrops – Hamilton inspired songs by well-known musicians.
- Hamilton on Disney+ – A live recording of the original cast on Broadway.
- Ham4Ham – Found on Hamilton’s YouTube channel, a series of weekly live performances by the original cast outside stage door.