Last week Lucy kindly downloaded for me a free copy (from Amazon Prime) of the original cast album of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show, Hamilton. In between other chores, I have been mowing and listening to it in a haze of delight.
To understand how much I love this, you need to know that when I was eleven years old, I planned to grow up, live in Washington, D.C., and have an office with my title on the door: National Expert on the American Revolution. (I tell my history students this every year and somehow, knowing me now, they have zero trouble imagining my nerdy childhood self.) Almost a half century later, I have an enormous collection of books on the subject and know the cast of characters almost by heart.
Though I’ve read biographies of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and though I teach my 7th graders every year about their duel, I was never particularly interested in them. They were the Brat Packers of the Revolution, the talented teens. I liked the men.
However, Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken all the details so familiar to me and woven a story so exhilarating, funny, and heartbreaking that I have been transfixed. He’s included so many real people, from Hercules Mulligan to Samuel Seabury (he’s very unfair to poor Seabury, portraying the middle-aged loyalist Episcopal bishop of Connecticut as an idiotic young fop, but I excuse it by imagining Hamilton would have been unfair, too). The amount of history Miranda packs into the show is amazing. Who would have guessed someone could write catchy lyrics that included the name of the 1790s political party, “the Democratic-Republicans”? Or have a show-stopping number on the back-room compromise that moved the U.S. capital from New York City to the Potomac?
At one point the story recounts Washington’s appointment of General Charles Lee to command in 1778. Alexander Hamilton sings, “He’s not the choice I would have gone with,” and then Hamilton, John Laurens, and Lafayette chorus: “He shits the bed at the Battle of Monmouth!” I was alone, mowing the south pasture, and laughed out loud. Everyone in the ranks hated Charles Lee — who was court-martialed after Monmouth.
There is a bit of vulgarity in the show, but young men can be vulgar. There is also great insight (Miranda exactly understands ambition, workaholism, and a compulsive writer’s stubborn, misguided belief that he can write himself out of trouble). There is romance, despair, rollicking humor, and a lot of sweetness. I loved it all. To my pleasure, many friends who know very little history have loved it almost as much as I.
The score runs the gamut from rap and hip-hop (I don’t know the difference) to standard Broadway melodies. Whatever it is, it is catchy and often beautiful.
Apparently tickets to this show are selling for up to $1000 each. I won’t see it anytime soon. However, one doesn’t need to see it to enjoy it. Like Jesus Christ Superstar in my childhood, this album tells its own story.
I am already plotting how much I can share with my seventh graders next spring, and thinking that in the fall I might offer an after-school “listening group” for my eighth graders who missed it. If you have the opportunity to see or hear Hamilton, grab it!