He's the $10 Founding Father who founded the First Bank of the United States and the Coast Guard. Alexander Hamilton was a visionary. He was a womanizer. And now he's the inspiration for a hit Broadway musical written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony award-winning writer of In the Heights.
If you have an insufferable musical theater nerd in your family or friend group, you're probably starting to feel like Aaron Burr and want to be in the room where it happens. Well, that will require you to make it to New York (or Chicago this fall, or a stop on the just-announced national tour) and cough up a pretty penny for a theater ticket.
Not everyone is flush with as much cash as the First Bank of the United States, so for the rest of us, here's a brief explanation of why the world is so pumped about a Revolutionary War-era musical.
Really? A musical?
Yes, but it is by no means A Chorus Line. Calling it a musical is misleading — it may not be what someone would think of as "musical theater" in the context of high school and touring productions.
It fits within the traditional Broadway musical ideas in that there is singing and dancing on a stage coupled with repeating themes musically and lyrically, but that music and those lyrics are more "Straight Out of Compton" than "La Vie Boheme."
The music of "Hamilton" is unequivocally hip-hop. It even features two cabinet meetings in the form of street-style rap battles.
And while there have been other musicals that make full use of a variety of musical styles, hip hop is still a novelty.
Miranda, who was awarded a MacArthur "genius grant" for his work on Hamilton, explained in an interview with Grantland that hip-hop was the obvious choice for the play because it allows for more syllables per measure than any other genre of music. (If you want to get really nerdy about this, read FiveThirtyEight's data analysis of modern musicals compared with Hamilton.)
He needed each and every syllable he could find to bring the voice and style of Alexander Hamilton to life.
Hamilton was one of the most prolific writers of early American history: In addition to writing newspaper columns and countless correspondence for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, Hamilton penned 51 of 85 installments of the Federalist Papers to promote the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, drafted the first plan for the U.S. Mint and ultimately even published details of his own extramarital affair and blackmailing in the Reynolds Pamphlet to save his legacy.
The Founding Fathers were kind of ... white, right?
Yes, but the cast of Hamilton is anything but a group of old white dudes. Frankly, anyone expecting to see a performance of 1776 should see themselves to the door.
The casting in "Hamilton" is America now, playing America then.
Miranda actively chose to cast a diverse group of incredibly talented performers to play roles that in the past may have been reserved for white men.
The choice to cast actors and actresses of color to play figures like George Washington, Aaron Burr and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton sends a message to audiences not only about the ideals of our nation, but of what they look like when applied to our history.
The entire show is narrated by Aaron Burr. Yes, the same one you remember from your elementary school social-studies class as the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
On top of killer Burr's narration throughout, don't forget to listen for performances by King George III singing a pining love song/threat to America in "You'll Be Back," Thomas Jefferson's spirited return to the United States from France in "What'd I Miss?" and George Washington's farewell to the presidency in "One Last Time."
Is "Hamilton" historically accurate?
Mostly. The musical's inspiration comes from Ron Chernow's nearly 800-page tome on Alexander Hamilton. Miranda picked it up at random at a Borders before a vacation and became immediately enthralled with the story.
The project was planned originally as a mixtape about the life of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda performed an early version of "Alexander Hamilton" for a White House audience in 2009.
Miranda explained before his White House performance that Hamilton's life embodied hip-hop: He was born, fatherless in the British West Indies on St. Croix to a mother who died when he was young; became George Washington's right-hand man; became Treasury Secretary; and caught beef with every other Founding Father before destroying his reputation over a public extramarital affair.
In reading the biography, it is easy to see that very little embellishment is required to make the facts dramatic enough for the Broadway stage.
To ensure that historians would take the musical seriously, Miranda enlisted Chernow as an advisor.
That is not to say zero creative license was taken. For example, Hamilton and his wife had eight children, but only his firstborn son is depicted in the musical. Overall, the creative license is used on relatively small details that do not hurt the overarching accuracy of the story.
In the end, Hamilton may teach you more about American history than you expected.
Where can I experience it?
Performances are in New York City at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
If you don't have the money to shell out for tickets to a performance, the full cast album produced by The Roots is available now. If streaming music is more your style, it is also available on Spotify or Amazon Prime.
All but one scene from the show is sung on the cast album, so you'll be able to understand the plot without the visuals.
(Pro tip: You can make it to Austin from Dallas by listening to the full soundtrack and adding a short phone call to your mother to tell her that she should listen to Hamilton, too.)
It is highly recommended that you listen to the entire cast album from start to finish. But if you're still hesitant, here are five songs to give a first listen: