Hamilton: An American Musical
“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a wh**e” become a smashing Broadway success? By combining brilliant, historically accurate lyrics with rap, six-part harmonies, and strong hip-hop influences. “Hamilton: An American Musical,” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Miranda as Alexander Hamilton, has taken Broadway by storm. While I have yet to see “Hamilton” on stage, this Grammy-winning album is superb both by music industry and Broadway standards. Listening to the album, you feel like you are sitting in a theater watching the hit show being performed. The rapping is understandable and brilliant, the harmonies are tight, and the entire album radiates that magical Broadway energy.
“Hamilton” takes you on a musical historical journey. Alexander befriends Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), who gives him advice: “Talk less, smile more/Don’t let them know what you’re against or for.” Issues facing the newly established United States are discussed through Cabinet rap battles. Commentary in “Burn” and “The Room Where It Happens” surmise what actually happened over 200 years ago and discuss the end results in a beautiful storytelling manner. “Hamilton” allows you to reimagine history as though the Founding Fathers had rapped their ideologies and emotions.
Since I haven’t seen the show but simply heard the wonderful music telling the story, let’s talk about the lyrics. The lyrics are tightly worded poetic masterpieces containing historical gold nuggets. They don’t just recite historical facts; they mine all the emotions that can be found in Hamilton’s story. It feels like you are standing right alongside him as he works his way from a poor orphan to a principled leader trying to establish economic sovereignty for our country.
But perhaps the best part of the lyrics isn’t just what is said, but all the underlying themes Miranda masterfully crams into this more than two-hour-long story. From the idealized American dream to the poor underdog shaping history through hard work, Miranda paints this Founding Father as a relatable role model. It’s a powerful and moving story about a little known Founding Father whose economic policy established strong roots that have helped generations of Americans to prosper.
Miranda also comments on our inability to control what legacy we leave. Alexander asks, “Legacy. What is legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” And Aaron Burr sings, “History obliterates in every picture that it paints, it paints me and all my mistakes.” As Hamilton and Burr discover, “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” But I believe Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rendition of Alexander Hamilton’s story portrays these individuals as honestly as possible.