(Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton)
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter’s HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION is the perfect companion for those interested in an in depth look at the development, creation, and performance of the musical, “Hamilton.” At the outset the authors make the cogent point that they believe that what Lin has gifted to the American people is more than just a Broadway show, it reflects two revolutions side by side. The first being the an 18th century revolution that is the foundation of our country and society, and the second, a 21st century revolution for American theater as the musical provides a glimpse into a more diverse America. In 2008, Lin came up with the idea of a hip-hop concept album about Alexander Hamilton. He would employ hip-hop to tell the story that had nothing to do with hip-hop – using its form not content. Lin’s success has gone far beyond whatever he could have imagined and his book co-written with Jeremy McCarter provides the public many important insights about the musical itself, and our country.
The book is both a narrative and oral history of how Lin gave birth to the musical lyrics and overall concept of “Hamilton.” It is important that he does not deify the founders and by creating cast of Latinos and African-Americans to act out our “white” early history provides a unique perspective that audiences would not have experienced with a traditional approach to casting. We are a nation of immigrants and through Hamilton’s own immigrant story it should bring us together and encourage immigration, as opposed to the political rhetoric of our times.
(Elizabeth and Alexander Hamilton)
Lin is a master of character development. A case in point is how in Act II has the actors who portrayed the Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan, friends of Hamilton in Act I, play Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, his enemies. Further, Lin creates lyrics based on his vast research, apart from Ron Chernow’s masterful biography, that augments the historical players and delivers through the lens of artistic license a fairly accurate presentation of history. As a former history educator I drool at the thought of using the musical in a classroom situation. With students role playing and singing their way examining primary documents to learn our history, using a strategy that will make them remember their experience and material without pressure, would have been very rewarding. The outreach of the musical in New York, and with plans to do the same as the production expands across the country, as McCarter points out on any given day hundreds of classes might be studying our early history using “Hamilton” as an excellent educational tool.
The book explores a range of topics that include the biography of Alexander Hamilton, but also the causes of the American Revolution, its outcome, the main characters involved, the political struggle (vicious at times) that ensued, and culminates with the duel that resulted in Hamilton’s death. The reader will gain a greater understanding of the beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, John Adams, and George Washington. Lin explores the partisanship that existed through his lyrics as he does with the most important events of Hamilton’s lifetime. Lin also delves into Hamilton’s family and the portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is important in trying to determine what type of person Hamilton really was. Lin has the ability to convey issues, relationships, and individual personalities in a way that entertains and interprets history in a meaningful way.
The book thoroughly examines each song and places it in its historical context and how Lin went about creating the lyrics. In addition, the book explores the people behind the scenes from the production, choreography, and scene creation in detail. Vignettes abound, as the reader is exposed to information that normally would not be revealed in this type of companion volume. If you did not believe that Lin was a “genius” before; once you read this book and explore songs ranging from the opening number that deals with Hamilton’s early years taking forty pages of Chernow’s biography and condensing it into song, to “Non-Stop,” which details the need for a justification for the new constitution, or the lyrics that go with George III’s three numbers, you will now. Hopefully, all will be able to witness the musical in person at some point, but your viewing will be totally enhanced with the material that Lin and McCarter offer.
(Hamilton and the Schuyler Sisters)