Yes, I’m most definitely late to the party, but I intentionally put off listening to this musical until after I had wrapped up my master’s degree. You see, once I heard that Hamilton’s main components were musical, hip-hop, and history, I knew I would be hooked, and would need ample time to obsess over it.
Turns out I know myself well. When I finally got around to checking it out, I listened to it three times in as many days.
The musical, penned by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, hit Broadway in August of 2015 and tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, a man who fought for and helped form America into the nation we know today. It sports dazzlingly deft lyrics, plenty of powerful moments, and a skillful repetition of motifs that merit repeat listenings to get the full effect. Much has already been said about the musical, and really, it speaks for itself, so I’ll just offer up a few moments that I particularly enjoyed:
- The three songs sung by King George III to the colonies, taking place during the revolution, immediately after the revolution, and after George Washington’s presidency. They’re written to sound like break-up songs and they’re just tons of fun. Jonathan Groff plays the most delightfully simpering king this side of Jesus Christ Superstar’s King Herod.
“Oceans rise, empires fall. We have seen each other through it all. And when push comes to shove, I will send a fully-armed battalion to remind you of my love!”
- “Dear Theodosia,” a song for two characters who just became fathers. I’ve never been a parent, but I feel that this song captures the overwhelming love, wonder, and devotion a new parent must experience.
“When you smile, you knock me out, I fall apart and I thought I was so smart.”
“We’ll give the world to you and you’ll blow us all away.”
- Portraying cabinet meetings as rap battles. Tensions are high in the afterbirth of a new nation. Heads butt and tempers flare as individuals clash and try to determine what kind of country America will be. (That’s another thing this musical does well: it reminds us how personal and messy politics are, thus transforming the idealized versions of the Founding Fathers we knew into real people with flaws, emotions, and agendas.)
“If we assume the debts, the union gets a new line of credit, a financial diuretic. How do you not get it? If we’re aggressive and competitive, the union gets a boost. You’d rather give it a sedative?”
- “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” the final song of the musical, a heart-wrenching, cathartic testament to legacy, to wonderings of what makes a life well-lived, to the impact we can make on the world in the short time we’re given.
“And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?”
Hamilton is not only an achievement of musical theater, but also of American history and storytelling. It draws cultural attention to an important figure in our nation’s history who, until now, was known mainly for the duel that claimed his life. Were it not for Miranda’s transformative work, I would never have known that Alexander Hamilton’s story is the quintessential immigrant story—a rags-to-riches tale with the pathos of a Greek tragedy.
Bonus: A really cool Wall Street Journal article that breaks down the rhyme structure used throughout Hamilton with vibrant graphics and an algorithm
Bonus, Part II: Lin-Manuel Miranda and I share the same favorite podcast (My Brother, My Brother and Me) and slipped one of the brothers’ catchphrases into Hamilton as a subtle send-up. MBMBaM fans can listen for it in the track “We Know.”