The musical Hamilton has been getting a lot of buzz lately. The cast recording was just released last weekend, and creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda was just given a MacArthur genius grant. But if you’re not into musicals in general, it may be a little difficult to dive into this one, even if you’d like to know a bit about it. So, as someone who is a part-time musical dork, here are some basics.
Hamilton the musical is based on the biography Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life from his years at King’s College, through the Revolutionary War, to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to tell this story through music that is influenced by hip-hop and rap, and the main cast is almost entirely people of color. The notable exception to this is King George III.
There’s a lot of good songs on the album, so narrowing them is hard. The musical is also almost entirely sung, so you will get the entire story just listening to the songs. According to Miranda himself, the two best songs are “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens” both sung by Aaron Burr played by Leslie Odom Jr.
But if you’re interested in how the musical conveys important information about historical events, then “The World Turned Upside Down” about the Battle of Yorktown would be a great one. As would “Non-Stop” that tells the origins of the Federalist Papers. The two “Cabinet Battles” also take disputes between Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison and turn them into rap battles.
Although some of the songs are just great examples of non-musical genres. “Burn”, sung by Eliza Hamilton after the publication of The Reynolds Pamphlet is a fantastic heartbreak song all on its own.
And if you’re a fan of jaunty songs about incredibly horrific events, then King George’s “You’ll Be Back” and the two reprises are great.
I know some people might hesitate to listen to a musical before they can see it performed, but this is one where you’ll definitely have a great experience even if you can’t see the staging. I’ve been listening to it a lot and have to say that I’ve learned A LOT about the American Revolution and the early days of the United States from the songs, more than I had remembered from high school anyway. And it’s enjoyable! I find myself humming the songs pretty frequently, particularly “Wait For It’, “Burn”, and “You’ll Be Back.” Still, I know some of you won’t be won over by any musicals, no matter how innovative or brilliant, but at least now you know the basics.