How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore…grow up to be a hero and a scholar? This is the central question of Hamilton: An American Musical, a two and a half hour play that looks at the life of Alexander Hamilton, who rose up the ranks of the military during the American Revolution, became the first Secretary of Treasury under George Washington, and ultimately fell from the public’s good graces after a scandalous affair. He achieved much more than this summary, as the musical reminds us every so often, but the excitement of Hamilton doesn’t really come from its subject matter.
Hamilton: An American Musical is a story told mostly through rap, a medium considered risky by Broadway standards, especially if the play is a biography of a man who lived two hundred odd years ago. And yet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of the show- who also played the titular Hamilton from the plays inception until a few months ago- read Alexander Hamilton, an 800-page biography by Ron Chernow, and realised that this man’s life had something in common with classic hip hop stars; he was a loud mouthed, genius with words, immigrant. He decided this was a story that could only be told though hip hop before he had fully made the decision to be the man to tell it.
To find a cast that could pull off his fast rhythm and intricate rhymes, and more importantly, would understand fully his decision to make these historical figures start rapping, Miranda filled his show with people competent with the genre, instead of looking for actors that bared any resemblance to the characters. As such, of the major cast members, only one person is white, and he plays King George III for about nine minutes. It’s this blending of American history with American present to show how little the story has changed that has made this show such a success. With instances like Chris Jackson, a black man, playing George Washington, a slave owner, the play doesn’t pretend that these American heroes are flawless; they are worthy of both admiration and criticism. By not shying away from this important truth, Hamilton: An American Musical distinguishes itself as revolutionary.
Even now that Miranda has left the show, there’s still a lot to look forward to. The Hamilton mixtape are planned to be a throw-back to how he originally imagined his project: a selection of famous artists- not all of them from a rap or R&B background- covering songs from the show without any context, reimagining them to suit their own needs. Before Miranda, or any of the other original cast members left, the show was recorded, and many people hope that this could signal a DVD release of the original Broadway show, a rare and coveted event for any musical.
The show itself has begun its inevitable takeover of the national musical scene; it recently started playing in Chicago and Los Angeles with San Francisco expected to open early next year. More excitingly, for people who can’t afford plane tickets to the states just to see a musical, Hamilton is coming to London late next year. Until then, just keep playing the Original Broadway Cast Recording on Spotify.