Bookmans Recommends: Hamilton
By C’loni Bailey, Assistant Manager at Bookmans Mesa
It sounds like a ridiculous concept: a hip-hop musical about the life of American Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton (you know, the guy on the $10 bill), performed by an almost entirely non-White cast. Nevertheless Hamilton: An American Musical is one of the most brilliant musicals of recent years and it has taken Broadway by storm.
Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2005 biography, Alexander Hamilton, the musical stars Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton, a “young, scrappy and hungry” orphan who brought himself up from poverty to become one of the most influential people in shaping the United States government and financial system. Miranda, the writer and composer of Hamilton, read Chernow’s biography while on vacation and was galvanized to bring it to the stage as a hip-hop musical, believing the rags to riches story of Alexander Hamilton is an example of the quintessential hip-hop tale of a poor man writing his way out of poverty.
Miranda himself is a genius writer and lyricist, densely packing every second of Hamilton with acrobatically performed language, history and drama. The 2.5-hour long musical is almost completely sung or rapped yet audiences do not have to be fans of hip-hop to enjoy it. History buffs as well as lovers of traditional musical theatre find plenty to love in the show, although those who do enjoy hip-hop find the myriad of hip-hop style references make for enjoyable Easter egg hunting. Miranda clearly knows his music and, more importantly, understands how the various styles can be used to shape character or mood and convey story beyond words. He blends everything from 90s hip-hop, rhythm and blues, and reggae, to Brit pop and classic Broadway show tunes to create a musical every bit as well-rounded and diverse as its cast.
Touted as an example of color-blind casting by media outlets, the casting of actors of color for all the roles except for King George III (the only role performed by a White actor) is a deliberate choice. Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican decent, is determined to tell the story of, “America then as told by America now,” with the cast reflecting the diversity of modern America. This is extraordinary considering that opportunities for actors of color in musical theatre are few and far between, often relegating them to minor background roles. By bringing this essential piece of American history to the forefront through the use of a modern cast and references, Hamilton succeeds at generating a feeling of ownership over a part of American history that many Americans of color do not feel a part of. It gives a fresh look at an old story in a way that makes sense to a modern and diverse world.
Hamilton debuted Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in early 2015 and on Broadway on August 6, 2015 at the Richard Rogers Theatre to critical acclaim and sold out shows. Celebrities have flocked to attend the show, including President Obama (who has seen the show twice), Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and Stephen Colbert.
Although tickets are sold out for months in advance, the “Ham4Ham” ticket lottery is a wonderful way for concert goers to try their luck at winning $10 front row seat tickets. Held outside the theatre at 6 p.m. before every performance, the ticket lottery is often accompanied by an impromptu street show featuring members of the cast, orchestra and even casts from other Broadway shows, performing songs and other entertainment for the audience while they wait to see if their name is drawn. “Ham4Ham” has almost become a secondary show to the musical, drawing about a thousand people every night who come for the street show as much as to try their luck at winning tickets to the hottest show in town.
For those of us who can’t afford tickets or a trip to New York, the Original Cast Recording is available on CD, Spotify and iTunes, and is worth a listen if you are fond of musical theatre, history, hip-hip or all of the above. Heck, even if you don’t like any of those things, give it a listen anyway! You may learn something about the history of America and come away with at least three new wonderful songs stuck in your head for a month.
* Bookmans is your store to explore. If you would like to pick up a copy of the Hamilton cast CD or the Alexander Hamilton biography, give us a call and we will check our shelves. Otherwise, we hope you will come and browse.