Hamilton: A Revolutionary Take on History
How does a hip-hop musical about the bastard, orphan, immigrant Founding Father of America become a major success, winning 11 Tony Awards and global acclaim? Well, for starters, it was written by lyrical genius Lin Manuel Miranda, director Tom Kail, and music director Alex Lacamoire.
Hamilton: An American Musical details the life of Alexander Hamilton, who most people would only recognise as the face on the ten dollar bill. The idea the founding fathers using modern language and engaging in rap battles is certainly a novel one, but one that evidently resonated with people all over the world.
Part of what makes Hamilton so revolutionary is the decision to have an almost entirely non-white cast. Miranda's intention was to represent America as it is today, and for a Puerto-Rican American, diversity is extremely important to him. The show gives actors of color a chance to play prominent historical figures in a way that's accessible and relatable to a modern audience.
Hamilton teaches the younger generation about America's history using language and music that they feel connected to. The facts are not 100% accurate, but it's a great entry point into history that is aimed towards millennials but never feels like it's trying too hard to be "cool".
The music consists of 46 tracks, comprised of a mixture of styles including hip-hop, rap, jazz, R&B, dancehall, and ballad, all interspersed with elements of showtune. The soundtrack is a piece of genius in itself - several lead characters have their own musical themes and chord progressions, and each song flows perfectly into the next.
Every lyrics is carefully thought-out, foreshadowing the rest of the show or establishing relationships between characters. Individual characters have their own style of music to match their personalities - from Hamilton's face-paced rapping to Jefferson's slow, jazzy tunes, each character has a distinct presence.
Hamilton takes its audience on an emotional journey that is mostly due to the unexpectedly vulnerable soundtracks. Show-stoppers like "My Shot", "The Schuyler Sisters" and "Non-Stop" get the audience pumped up, while numbers like "Dear Theodosia", "Burn", "It's Quiet Uptown" and "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" reduces them to tears. The soundtrack portrays a full range of human emotions, from truly hilarious numbers to heartbreaking ballads and everything in between.
Even if you're not interested in hip-hop, it's hard to dislike this show. The harmonies and overlapping lines created compelling melodies that are perfectly matched to their poignant lyrics. It's such a carefully constructed piece that takes the laughable concept of a historical hip-hop musical and turns it into a rich and musically diverse piece that breathes new life into centuries-old stories.
Hamilton is more than an amazing soundtrack - it's a visual wonder onstage. Much like its music, each movement is symbolic and purposeful. There's no improvisation from the ensemble and every step is memorised so well, they even perform part of a song in reverse. While the choreography sometimes takes the form of conventional dancing, it's also used to represent marching, battles, duels, and even a play within the performance itself.
The ensemble are incredibly versatile. The costumes of the lead characters are colorful and defined, but the ensemble wear white, and rarely don a full costume. This allows them to represent any character they need, whether it be a soldier, politician, or a member of the public. The amount of energy required in this performance is incredible, but the ensemble members make it look easy. This, combined with their backup vocals, makes them the backbones of Hamilton.
The double-casting of characters in Hamilton is another example of the demands put on the actors, but it's a challenge they overcome brilliantly. Four actors change characters from Act 1 to Act 2 - Hamilton's sweet sister-in-law Peggy Schuyler becomes the seductive Maria Reynolds; the rambunctious Hercules Mulligan transforms into the stern wallflower James Mulligan; French revolutionary Lafayette becomes Hamilton's nemesis, Thomas Jefferson, and Hamilton's closest friend, John Laurens, becomes his son Philip Hamilton. The way these actors manage to play both their characters so distinctly is amazing to watch.
The costumes worn by the lead characters show their development - in the opening number, the entire cast wears white save Aaron Burr, who wears a wine-red coat, symbolising the blood on his hands that he has already foreshadowed. Jefferson's flashy magenta suit alludes to his hubris, and Maria's red dress represents temptation.
Individual characters changing their costumes also hold significance. In the opening number, Hamilton is dressed in white like the rest of the cast, but as the song progresses he is handed his brown coat by the actor playing Eliza Schuyler. This coat represents his status as a poor immigrant when he arrives in America. Later in the show, after he marries into money and becomes a statesman, he trades in his modest attire for a money-green suit, representing his ever-growing need for power. In Act 2, Angelica Schuyler wears a tight and constricting jacket and has her hair tied back, representing the stricter lifestyle she leads as a married woman in London. Hamilton and Burr both wear black as they draw closer to their infamous duel.
Hamilton is a retelling a part of America's history, but it makes its messages relevant today. The show acknowledges that many of the founding fathers were slave owners and makes it clear that this should not be ignored. Angelica Schuyler makes comments on women's rights, while Eliza serves as a remind that these stories would not be remembered now if it weren't for the women of the time.
Hamilton: An American Musical is so much more than the real-life people it portrays. It's a story about legacy and the way we are remembered by others. It's about pride and the dangers that come with it, and whether your ambitions are more important than the people you hurt in order to achieve them. It's about overcoming challenges and beating the odds, but it's also a cautionary tale that warns us to stay grounded and remember what's important.
Hamilton Tickets SF
Hamilton Orpheum Theatre San Francisco
Hamilton: A Revolutionary Take on History
How does a hip-hop musical about the bastard, orphan, immigrant Founding Father of America become a major success, winning 11 Tony Awards and global acclaim? Well, for starters, it was written by lyrical genius Lin Manuel Miranda, dire...