We saw Hamilton in Chicago, in its first-touring production. Though we had heard the music and seen excerpts we (or at least I) didn't realize how powerful and immersive it would be.
Hamilton was a long time in the making. The video above was recorded in 2009 when Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to the White House to participate in the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word. Here, before President and Mrs. Obama, Miranda offers one of the first public performances of what was then conceived of as a "concept-album." (This version, unlike many on youtube is in the public domain.)
Hamilton goes a long way from this to the amazingly staged and stunningly original performance we saw in Chicago. So many riches The use of hip-hop with its interior rhymes and puns suggesting the complex identity construction of not only the West Indian Hamilton but also all the many former British subjects who were struggling to identify themselves as American citizens in their new country. The way Hamilton revels in its own history: the many references to the hip-hop and rap tradition within which Hamilton resides, as well as the gestures to the tradition of musical theater with references to South Pacific and HMS Pinafore (among others). Hamilton also pushes its diversity in the racial make up of the cast and the way that diversity is deployed. The hispanic Alexander Hamilton and the black Aaron Burr complicate the story that "history" has told us. .
There are so many reasons to love Hamilton, but one that spoke powerfully to me was the emphasis on how historical narratives are constructed and deconstructed. The refrain "who lives, who dies, who tells your story" echoes through the play. The story of Hamilton is a narrative of a revolution, and the Founding Fathers--including Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, as well as Hamilton and Burr--are not archetypal heroes we have been taught about. Moreover, we hear other voices history has silenced, for example Hercules Mulligan, the spy who saves the battle of Yorktown, Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton's wife who burned the letter she wrote to her husband. Another refrain begun by Hamilton echoes throughout the play: "I'm just like my country/young, scrappy and hungry/and I'm not going to lose my shot." This young, scrappy, hungry Hamilton renarrates America, blurring race, ethnicity and origins. Who is an immigrant? Who is an American? What will America be? Astonishing that a play about the first Secretary of the Treasury could be such a marvel.