How I feel about Hamilton, the musical, could fill a book. (You may have noticed that the title this blog itself is stolen from a Hamilton song.) Of course, anyone with half an interest in Broadway (or anyone who can read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch TV) has heard of Hamilton- it took the Tonys by storm with a record breaking 16 nominations, and it took the people of the world by storm with it’s innovative and truthful reflection of love, loss, triumph and tribulation. Not only are the music and lyrics so cleverly composed that they kind of hurt your head when you think about the weight of them, but they continue to inspire a generation of open minded, forward thinking individuals, who value integrity and determination.
The characters are expertly crafted and conveyed to provide a glimpse into the human emotion behind real people that are often forgotten as 2D pictures in a history book. Although factual historical texts are undeniably vital to our understanding and research, I’ve always felt it a great injustice that we have to see people as mere sums of their actions. History is usually told in a way that relays the facts of someone’s life, and it is so easy to forget that they FELT things just as you or I might do. Maybe because, as the character George Washington sings, “you have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” It is, in a very literal sense, awesome that Lin-Manuel Miranda has succeeded in making such an important part of world history so accessible to the people of today. It is even more amazing that he is using this amazing platform he now has to make the story of Alexander Hamilton relevant to the modern context in which it is received, paying particular attention to social and racial injustices and fighting them with his extremely talented and diverse casting.
So, what about the music itself? Songs are important in any musical, but in Hamilton, where there is almost no unaccompanied dialogue, they are an especially integral part of the story. As such, there are musical highs and lows, the soundtrack mirroring the events of time as the show progresses through the decade or so it depicts. The numbers go from fast paced, riotous rap in songs like ‘Guns and Ships’ and “Cabinet Battle”‘s #1 and #2 (the cabinet meetings are in the form of rap battles- come on.) to the smarmy, petulant but adorable waltzing sounds of King George in ‘You’ll Be Back’ and the subsequent reprises. An emotional climax comes in the form of ‘Burn’, sung by Hamilton’s spurned wife, Eliza. Again, the raw pain and hurt that you feel when you hear Eliza sing brings to life a pain that the real Eliza must have felt- one that doesn’t come across in the formulaic history books she usually features in. It’s not an easy song to sing either (anyone who’s shared a car with me for longer than 5 minutes can probably testify to that), and the Eliza’s who have graced the stage at the Richard Rogers Theatre have blown it so far out of the park that every time I hear someone else’s version I am sure it can’t possibly get better.
Alongside all the pain and heartache come blissful relapses of humour as well. Hamilton’s boyish banter with Aaron Burr (obviously, pre-murder), when Burr muses “If you can marry a [Schuyler] sister, you’re rich, son” and Hamilton quips “Is it a question if, Burr, or which one?” always earns a laugh from me. The funniest character is undoubtedly King George, who is played as a bit of an idiot, sining lines like “I will kill your friends and family to remind me you of my love” with a giant, slappable smile on his face.
The lyrics are also brimming with poignant life lessons that hit you right in the gut. “Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes, and we keep living anyway”. I mean, wow. Lin-Manuel does not mess around. He also likes to show two metaphorical fingers to any racist listener or audience member with one of my favourite lyrics, “Immigrants. We get the job done”. Finally, there is the running motif, “I am not throwing away my shot.” to remind you not to throw away yours.