Hamilton: An American Musical

“Do not throw away your shot” to find out more about the hit musical sensation taking over America. The tale of a founding father that will leave you in fits of tears, but also full of laughter.

When I first heard about a Hip-Hop musical retelling the life of a founding father who I’d never heard about I, like many others I’m sure, was rather skeptical. Without meaning to, I completely prejudged (and thus misjudged) the whole genre of Hip Hop as something that should never be mixed with politics of the late 18th to 19th Century.

Anyway, eventually I gave into one of my friend’s constant chiding to convince me to listen to the soundtrack; the revolutionary rapper revolutionised my whole perspective on life (okay that was maybe a bit of hyperbole, but it is seriously awesome).

The musical that I’m referring to is obviously “Hamilton: An American Musical” written and starring (well not anymore but hopefully he’ll come open it in London) the brilliant Lin Manuel Miranda.

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My reaction whenever anyone says that they don’t like Hamilton

Small disclaimer: I haven’t actually seen the play in person yet (please buy me tickets), but I’ve dedicated countless hours of my life to internet stalking the marvel that is Lin Manuel, and I’ve probably listened to the soundtrack about 30 times (and subsequently sang it to all my friends and random dogs at parties), so I consider myself a fairly well versed internet spectator.

For those who don’t know the plot I’ll give a brief synopsis (no spoilers though – I’m not a monster): Alexander Hamilton is an orphaned immigrant living in America. His father abandoned him and his mother died, leaving him to work for her landlord. As the opening song says “inside he was longing for something to be a part of” – Hamilton turns to the idea of revolution and American Independence. He is an excellent writer and after fighting on the frontline for a while he becomes a founding father and subsequently works for the treasury office. As with all politics there’s scandal and conflict; the main story is the revolutionary seeking a better life for his children, and the ever changing way in which he seeks this better future. Ultimately it becomes a tale about legacy, and how “you have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story”.

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When squad assembles to tell the world your story

That overview honestly doesn’t do any justice to the magnificence of the story… I honestly can’t advise you enough to get listening to the soundtrack.

For me, the main message of the story is to “not throw away your shot” and the idea that history can be made by anyone. There’s a conflict between Aaron Burr (Jefferson’s vice President) and Alexander Hamilton throughout the whole play, which eventually becomes the reason for its ending. Burr believes that politicians should “talk less” and “smile more”, but Hamilton, as he expresses to Burr, believes that “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”. Fundamentally this makes a statement against figurehead politicians, and seeks out those who are willing to stick their necks out and stand up for what they believe in. This idea is particularly applicable to America’s current political landscape (*cough* *cough* giant cheeto), encouraging people to stand up for themselves and fight for what they believe to be right.

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Alright the portrayal of the Brits makes us out to be less than desirable (all fairness in colonial times we weren’t entirely desirable), but at least Jonathan Groff (depicted above) has a gorgeous voice – seriously, bless those vocal chords.

So far I’ve almost entirely neglected the musical element to the musical. I find it practically impossible to not (attempt to) bust some moves whilst listening to the soundtrack; songs that are particularly good for ‘home alone jamming’ include “My Shot”, “Wait for it” and “The Room Where It Happens”. The hip-hop style and rapping is perfect to jive along to, and the lyrics have innate detail in them that makes the story utterly enthralling.

It’s not just upbeat tunes to hip and hop to that Hamilton offers, for example my go to ‘cry my heart out’ song at the moment is “It’s Quiet Uptown” (to get the full impact of this one it really is vital to be familiar with the whole story). The musical tackles the whole scope of human emotion, from grief, to defiance, to love: the play is the tale of a man’s life and legacy and thus has all the emotions that he has ever felt encapsulated within its words and melodies.

What I find really cool about the composition of the score for the musical is that each character has a different motif tune that we can associate with them; from the perspective of a solely auditory audience member (again – please buy me tickets) this is incredibly helpful as it allows a far easier understanding of what’s going on at each point and who’s involved.

The story despite being history, tackles a lot of contemporary issues…

It would certainly pass the Bechdel test, having some of the strongest and most developed female characters that I’ve seen (this is not to say that aren’t used as romantic devices at times). These female characters impart some incredible wisdom, for example my favourite line: “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, Imma compel him to include women in the sequel.” These women were the pioneers of modern day feminism, perhaps therefore why the idea of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) is quite so grandiose – if not entirely elitist – in America.

Casting in Hamilton is revolutionary in itself; the whole concept was to shed a new perspective on the founding fathers, immigrants, who birthed America. The cast is Hip-Hop singers who are of colour; Lin Manuel Miranda used Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton to create one of the most racially diverse plays to have ever graced the Broadway streets. NB: The cast actually came back onstage after curtain call to deliver a further message about the diversity of America when Mike Pence attended one of the performances back in November 2016.

Furthermore the play talks of moving on, depicting George Washington resignation with the words “we’re gonna teach them how to say goodbye”. Even after hamilton rebuttals this, saying that “Mr President, they will say we’re weak” Washington replies: “no, they will see we’re strong”. This lyric composition is phenomenal, and expresses how politics isn’t always about what the public talks about, but that often it runs far deeper.

There’s a gorgeous clip on youtube of the cast performing this song, “one last time”, at the White House to Obama as he nods along in agreement. As Obama himself says;

“It is rare for a piece of art to remind us of what’s best in ourselves, and that’s what these guys have done, and that is a great gift.”

So why does everyone love Hamilton? It gives us hope that we’ve just got to “wait for it” that as you can “come of age with our young nation” as “this is not a moment. It’s the movement”. A tale of love, fatherhood and revolution sewn together with the strings of equality and expertly crafted words: you’d be a fool to not go listen, watch and fall in love with Hamilton.

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– Ariane Walton