Over the past few months, the hip-hop Broadway musical, Hamilton, has captivated people across the country. The play is predicted to receive many honors at the 2016 Tony Awards, and tickets are sold out for the show until next September. However, many people are still asking: Why has a historical hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton gained so much praise and popularity?
Hamilton tells the story of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, from the start of his political career up until his infamous death in a duel against Aaron Burr. Surprisingly, Hamilton’s life story is quite exciting. From political rivalries and the Revolutionary War to his scandalous love life and family issues, there is no shortage of drama. Alexander Hamilton was truly one of the most interesting and daring founding fathers, and his troubled life makes for a compelling story. Even more interesting and daring, the story is not told in the traditional Broadway fashion. Rather, it features contemporary pop music, including rap, hip-hop, and R&B.
Over this past winter break, I was fortunate enough to be able to see the musical at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. At first, I was cautious and a bit skeptical because of all the hype surrounding the show. It raised several questions in my mind as I waited for the curtain to rise. How did someone come up with the idea to write a historical hip-hop musical and would it really be that spectacular? To answer the first part of that question, let’s look at the creator’s motives for writing the play. Hamilton was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also plays the role of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda has had past success on Broadway and is also a MacArthur Fellow Award winner. He was first inspired when he bought Ron Chernow’s biography about Alexander Hamilton to read while on vacation. After reading the book, he realized that there was more to Hamilton than most people knew. He wanted people’s knowledge of Hamilton to go beyond what they learned in school. Not only was the founding father killed in a duel, but he also started off as a Caribbean immigrant who used his writing to gain passage to America. Furthermore, Miranda immediately saw a connection between Alexander Hamilton’s life and certain principles commonly associated with hip-hop. Hamilton used words to pave a path for himself and was also a poet; he battled almost all the other founding fathers and was ultimately shot by the vice president of the United States. The elements of this story embody the essence of hip-hop culture and music – using words and poetry to escape adversity, challenge rivals, and build a better life for one’s self.
As soon as the production began, all of my doubts and expectations were shattered. Hamilton definitely lived up to the hype. Even though I knew the general story of Alexander Hamilton’s life from my years in Upper Dublin history classes, the musical was still exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. I knew that Burr would ultimately kill Hamilton, yet I found myself anxiously waiting for the final shot and was thoroughly upset when Hamilton died. Miranda brilliantly made history both thrilling and current with his hip-hop influence. I was surprised at how captivated the audience was from the very first moments of the play. When Alexander Hamilton’s name was first sung during the opening number, the crowd erupted. The audience was clearly ecstatic to finally be seeing the musical and became completely invested in the compelling story, creating an electric atmosphere that persisted throughout the nearly 3 hour performance. However, the show’s amazing and unique music was what really made it stand out from other Broadway productions. The hip-hop songs were extremely catchy and remain stuck in my head to this very day. Miranda did an exceptional job with the soundtrack, delivering the lyrics in a rhythmic rap-like fashion. It did take me a few songs to get used to the musical style, but once I did, I was able to interpret the lines and truly appreciate the distinctive way in which the story was told. I found myself laughing at the humorous portions of rap songs, but was also emotionally affected by some of the passionate R&B ballads that the play also includes. Furthermore, the entire musical was sung with melodious perfection and not one single line in the play was spoken. In this way, it was more an opera than a standard musical. Miranda brilliantly told the story using only song, and boy could the performers sing! Renée Elise Goldsberry, a Broadway veteran who plays the role of Angelica Schuyler, and Phillipa Soo, a recent Julliard graduate who plays the role of Eliza Hamilton, have incredible voices and clearly deserve the two leading female parts. Also, all cast members had truly mastered the difficult rhythmic delivery of the complex rap, hip-hop, and R&B songs. I loved the music so much that I actually purchased the soundtrack (which is produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Philadelphia natives and founders of “The Roots”). The songs are perfect to listen to while studying, but are also fast enough that I can listen to them while I am running.
Even though tickets can be very pricy, I would definitely still recommend seeing this groundbreaking musical. You will not be disappointed. Although the show is sold out until September, a great way to buy tickets for earlier dates is through the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation; available tickets are announced at the beginning of each month and are more expensive, but the additional cost of the ticket is donated to cancer research. A limited number of discounted tickets are also available on the day of the show at TKTS and there is a lottery for $10 tickets at the theater before each performance. Cast members sing and dance on the sidewalk in a performance called Ham4Ham before the tickets are awarded.
Seeing Hamilton in New York City was a night that I will never forget and I would pounce on the opportunity to see the show again. It is very clear why this historical hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton has gained so much critical acclaim. The music captures the frenetic rush of the era when our founding fathers were moving to a new beat. Hamilton brilliantly uses modern rhythms to depict the energy of the rebellion. As the curtain falls on this review remember that Hamilton definitely hit a high note. Hamilton exceeded all of the hype and truly is the perfect modern American musical!