- Mercy Sais
Lin-Manuel Miranda worked for six years to do the book, music, and lyrics for his hip-hop musical Hamilton. The musical explores the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean, who came to America and helped found our country’s financial system and, of course, was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. The musical has won the Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy, and 10 Tony awards. I love all 23,000 words of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton. The songs become earworms as they just make you replay them.
If you don’t have enough Hamilton $10 bills to get a pricey ticket to the Broadway production or time to wait in line for the cheaper Broadway lottery tickets for the play, check out the music CDs at the library from the original Broadway cast, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s backstage pass in Hamilton: The Revolution; and the book it is based on, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton.
Miranda takes the American musical into this century. He not only plays homage to the Founding Fathers but also to the greats of musical theater such as Gilbert and Sullivan, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story and the musical 1776. The first rap song begins with an overview of Hamilton’s early life and asks the question which will be explored through the musical:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
Hamilton moves to New York to make something of himself (“New York/A New Man”) and to begin a new country with the song, “My Shot,” which presents our young country’s world view and ironically describes Hamilton’s fate at Burr’s hand:
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot!
Casting our very white founding fathers with Hispanic and black actors in period dress challenges the all-white narratives about the beginning of the United States and the American Dream. Hamilton laughs with the Marquis de Lafayette that “immigrants get the job done!” Our founding fathers, including Hamilton and Burr, were only men after all, visionary yet flawed. They were a group of ambitious, workaholic men who lived, loved “the laydees,” and made mistakes.
Using a style of music that mirrors each character, Miranda’s versatility delves into all aspects of Hamilton’s life. The musical follows the politics of the day, including the Constitutional Convention, the taking on of the war debt, and moving the Capitol to Washington, DC. You hear George III, whose music sounds like a Beatles break-up song, as he sings to colonies, “You’ll Be Back.” General George Washington takes on the presidency and nobly steps down to “say goodbye.” Thomas Jefferson comes back from France with a jazz tune asking, “What’d I Miss?” Their personal lives are poignant, as Hamilton meets his wife Eliza and later betrays her. Both Hamilton and Burr sing achingly beautiful songs about their first children.
It all boils down to the song and dance of Hamilton and Burr. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” is the final song and question of the play. To make a mark in history, both Hamilton and Burr make great personal sacrifices. At every turn, as Miranda points out, Hamilton stops Burr from achieving his ambition, even the presidency. All the other Founding Fathers get to grow old, but time is not given to Hamilton. Miranda explains in the PBS documentary, Hamilton’s America, that he knew Hamilton would change his life, but he did not realize how much Hamilton’s legacy would change because of the musical. With their talent and hard work, both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton take a shot at immortality.