Late To The Party For ‘Hamilton’

Late To The Party For ‘Hamilton’
Courtesy Photo Hamilton, a hip-hop musical co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda — who also performs the lead role as Alexander Hamilton — won a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album in 2016.

Courtesy Photo
Hamilton, a hip-hop musical co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda — who also performs the lead role as Alexander Hamilton — won a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album in 2016.

On May 12, 2009, Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to speak at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word. Ostensibly, Miranda was there to perform pieces from his award-winning musical In The Heights. Instead, Miranda gave a brief glimpse into a project he was working on about a founding father who “embodied the spirit of hip-hop,”: Alexander Hamilton.

This was met by laughs from the audience, but Miranda shook them off. He started performing the first number from what would become Hamilton,the American History musical that has taken Broadway, and much of the nation, by storm.

Growing up, I used to love musicals. My Mom likes to say that she played West Side Story for me the day I came home from the hospital, and I remember car rides to meet my Dad where she and I would loudly sing Godspell, Rent, or West Side Story for the entire two-hour drive. In high school, I put my focus on drama, and fell in love with theReefer Madness musical. Somewhere along the way, though, I lost the love I had for them. Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical as released in 2005, and that was the last musical I can really remember getting into.

Then I heard some of the music from Hamilton.

To say that this isn’t like any musical I’ve ever heard is to understate what Hamilton is on a severe level. The music is a mix of hip-hop and traditional Broadway chorus, characters belting out ear-shattering verses before a beat drops and they switch to rapid-fire hip-hop. The lyrics, written by Miranda, are beyond phenomenal. “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not givin’ away my shot!”

As the story goes, Lin-Manuel Miranda was on a break from production of In The Heights, and was headed out on vacation. At the airport, he picked up the historical biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow for a bit of “light beach reading.”

The story of this “bastard orphan son of a whore” who immigrated to a pre-revolutionary America and lifted himself up from the literal bootstraps to become such a prominent and important figure in American history endlessly fascinated him, and after discovering that only one play had ever been produced about Hamilton, on Broadway in 1917 starring George Arliss, began to hatch his plan.

What was originally called The Hamilton Mixtapesoon became a passion project for Miranda, and his passion, I’d wager, has been rewarded. The Original Broadway Cast recording debuted at number 12 on the Billboard charts, the highest debut for an OBC since 1963. It quickly climbed the charts to number one on Billboard’s Rap/Hip-Hop charts.

It’s won numerous accolades, and will likely sweep the Tonys when they come up, and won the Grammy for the cast recording. Hamilton has exploded in popularity, and the more it was talked about, the more I felt I had to see what the big deal was.

So last night, I spent $20 on the OBC recording. The lyrics and music, the performances even through sound alone. … I can see why this is such a highly-lauded musical. Lots of folks are claiming racism, because honestly at this point I just think some white people feel left out, so they are claiming that he’s “Brown-Washing American History!”

This is a bloody asinine argument, especially when you take into account the thousands of occasions in which white-washing has occurred. Miranda made the decision to cast black and Latino/actors and actresses in this telling of American History because, as Miranda told the New York Times, “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional. It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.”

My advice? Absolutely check out Hamilton if you are late to this party as I am. Buy the cast recording, watch Miranda perform at the White House alone and then perform again seven years later with the full cast ensemble backing him up.

See the passion, hear the passion, because it’s everywhere. Fall in love with it and let it open you up to a new world of music. It’s damn well worth it.

Categories: Commentary