I’m obsessed with Hamilton. There, I said it out loud in front of god and everybody. I’m owning it. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for going on two years now, I’ve watched the PBS documentary at least three times, I’ve sung my way through the libretto of this book while listening to the soundtrack, I’m currently reading the Chernow biography of Hamilton that inspired Miranda to write the musical, and I’ve now seen it on Broadway. Judge me, I dare you.
I was raised listening to Broadway musical soundtracks as my mother was a huge fan, and I wish, oh, how I wish she could have lived to have heard this one. Lin-Manuel Miranda has been called the Shakespeare of our time and I agree. First, there is the music, everything from classic Broadway ballads all the way to rap battles. Then there is the way the genre of each number defines and often advances each of the characters. Jefferson, who has been in France for the war, is singing jazz when he steps off the boat, while the rest of his contemporaries are hip-hopping–he literally is not speaking the same language as his peers. But when the time comes to debate states’ rights vs federal rights in “Cabinet Battle #1” he is mic-dropping with the best of them. King George IV and his high-kick number as a sole source chorus line (In which he does, in fact play the Chorus as if he were in something by Sophocles. This Miranda guy knows what the hell he is doing.)? Genius. If you’ve ever loved a child, parent or not, ‘Dear Theodosia’ is a hymn to your hopes and dreams for that child.
You will come of age with our young nation.
We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you.
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you, and you’ll blow us all away…
Second, there is the glorious inspiration that had Miranda casting African and Hispanic American actors in the roles of all these white-as-you-can-get-without-bleach Founding Fathers. These kids are up there on stage singing their hearts out about the great American experiment, and it is impossible to be unaware that the American Revolution succeeded in bringing freedom and equality to white males, but to women and people of other ethnicities not so much. The American Revolution, says the casting? It ain’t over. We’re still fighting it. And we’re gonna win.
From the day Alexander Hamilton arrived in what would become the United States, he fought against everything that flag would come to stand for. “If they break this Union, they will break my heart,” he said on his deathbed. His fight isn’t over, Chris [Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington] thinks: “It’s living and breathing.” When he looks around today, he sees a battle of ideas going on, one in which even a Broadway musical has a role to play, in every word, note, and gesture. “This is our own form of protest.”
Okay, so having proved my obsession in a few brief paragraphs (believe me, I could go on–‘Carefully taught!’ ‘The very model of a modern major general!’ Squeeee!), whether you’re obsessed like me or you just like great lyrics paired with great music, this book is for you. Yes, it’s expensive, but it is beautifully produced and each musical number is separated by essays and interviews on the history of the time, the production of this play, its characters and its cast members
Daveed [Diggs, who originated the role of Thomas Jefferson] thinks that seeing a black man play Jefferson or Madison or Washington when he was a kid in Oakland might have changed his life. “A whole lot of things I just never thought were for me would have seemed possible,” he says. Even now the show is changing him, making him feel more American. “I always felt at odds with this country,” he says. “You can only get pulled over by the police for no reason so many times before you say, ‘Fuck this.'”
and is illustrated throughout with photos of the production. Best of all are Miranda’s notes on the libretto.
This book is a terrific addition to the play, and it’d be a great gift for the Broadway musical fan in your life, or any student of history then and now. (FYI, I’ve already got mine.)
Read more of my Goodreads reviews here.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.