Musical Review: Hamilton

 

Details: Won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2016, among others. Playbill for the original Broadway cast can be found at http://www.playbill.com/production/hamilton-richard-rodgers-theatre-vault-0000014104. The official site is http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com/

I’ve read a lot about Hamilton that refer to it as not just one of the most successful Broadway shows of all time, but as a phenomena. I don’t know about that, but Hamilton has accomplished something that few shows have ever done. Hamilton has shown me something new. In fact, Hamilton has shown me something that I could not ever have conceived of. Hamilton is a ridiculously entertaining musical that combines numerous musical styles along with a civics lesson about Alexander Hamilton and American history. The result is a show that is so original and contemporary that I doubt anyone other than Lin Manuel Miranda could have come up with it, much less executed it so successfully.

Hamilton tells the story of American treasury secretary and founding father Alexander Hamilton. We follow the life of Alexander Hamilton from his meeting with other American revolutionaries, through the American revolution and the creation of the American financial system, to Alexander’s death.

I think one of the more interesting things about this show is the choice of which founding father they chose to focus on. I think most Americans, myself included, vaguely know about Alexander Hamilton as the face of the person on the ten-dollar bill and as the only founding father to die during a duel. After the debut of this show, I imagine that far more people are aware of the life of Alexander Hamilton than there ever was.

Which is one of the great parts of this musical. This is fairly educational if you care at all about American history. I mean, yes, it is over dramatized and some things are altered to create more conflict, like the romantic and relationship aspects of Hamilton’s life. However, some of the songs and debates on the merits of the financial system Hamilton proposed and how American politics function are surprisingly detailed and informative to a degree that even allows criticism of the American way of government. It isn’t too in-depth though. This is still a musical.

The story itself is good and by the end of it, I did feel a little choked up. I give credit to the actual Alexander Hamilton for living such an interesting life and to the writers of this show for presenting it in such a way as to maintain my interest.

The best part of this show is of course the music. The songs are generally of styles that are African-American influenced. That means that while there is a lot of rap, there are also songs that reminded me of Creole influences and more seductive, soulful songs. The one song that does not fit the general tone of the show is a song sung by the King of Britain (played hilariously by Jonathan Groff of Spring Awakening fame) that sounds more like something you’d hear from a musical like Grease, rather than Hamilton.

It should also be noted that the rap is more academic and less “street.” That means that words are better enunciated and instead of a traditional rap beat, you get a live orchestra playing along as well. Further, this is a very different style than that of the current crop of mumble rappers that dominate the Billboard charts. This is the kind of “rap” you’d find at a poetry slam, not a Fetty Wap concert. It may be more accurate to describe it as spoken word. I would even go so far to say that this is a style that “white” people, or those who don’t enjoy contemporary rap, can enjoy.

The cast is also interesting as that it is almost entirely of Hispanic and Black. It’s especially interesting when you consider this is a story about the founding fathers, some of the whitest people in American history. It just helps to convey one of the themes of the show that the stories of the founding fathers is not so different from those of immigrants or people of color, or that the stories of minorities and whites are not so different.

The whole cast is great. With that said, it’s not hard for me to see them replaced by others that are just as talented if not more talented. Lin Manuel is talented and brings unparalleled energy to the show. Unfortunately, he’s a really bad singer, especially when you take into account the other amazing singers in the show. I can easily see a more talented singer and rapper doing a better job, though likely not matching Lin Manuel’s energy or celebrity status. In other words, even if the original Broadway cast leaves, this show will likely still be an amazing show due to the merits of the material itself.

Overall, Hamilton is, in many ways, a miracle to me. This is not a show that Andrew Lloyd Webber could have come up with. This is not a show Lil Wayne or Dr. Dre could have come up with. You needed someone with the technical ability and formal training in music and songwriting in both African-American musical styles and Broadway musical style. Then that person needed such an interest in American history that they’d even consider devoting the whole story onto one of the lesser known founding fathers. That person would also need the credibility to recruit collaborators and investors to create a finished product. And the execution… good heavens there are so many ways the execution could have gone wrong. Without Lin Manuel Miranda, I don’t think such a work could ever have existed as there just isn’t a desire by anyone to combine the worlds of African-American centered music and American history. This show is a miracle of originality and if you get a chance to see it, you should absolutely do so.

Score: 9/10

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