The Rise of Hamilton

If you haven’t heard about the little show about a Founding Father that started out as a hip-hop mixtape and became a Broadway sensation, then you’ve been holed up in the library for too long.

Hamilton: An American Musical first hit the stage at the Public Theatre in New York City in 2015, a dream made reality through a group of immensely talented and dedicated writers, actors, directors, musicians, and more, led by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book based on Ron Chernow’s doorstop of a biography about the ten dollar Founding Father most famously known for being killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.

The show’s raging success is attributed to many things: its diverse cast and crew, its ability to make the story of our country’s history more palatable and relatable for modern audiences of all ages and backgrounds, and its efforts to inexpensively bring thousands of schoolchildren to the show that might not otherwise see it (and who are now are writing their own raps based on history and current events). Of course, it helps that Miranda and many other original cast members performed at the White House more than once, and that notables like the President and First Lady, Beyoncé, and other celebrities have raved about the show, making it a must-see and yet hard-to-see performance, thanks to ticket prices in the thousands and sold out dates into 2017.

Hamilton has racked up its fair share of awards, including 11 Tonys, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer. But perhaps what is one of the most authentic aspects of the whole Hamilton mania is Miranda’s pure love of the written word, as evidenced in his meticulous libretto, Hamilton: The Revolution, where he provides annotations and stories about each of the original songs, and about Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, and other real life characters of history. Miranda pulled inspiration not only from hip-hop and rap artists, but also from beloved musical theatre greats, like Stephen Sondheim, Oscar Hammerstein, and Andrew Lloyd Weber, for a unique blend of styles which illustrate Miranda’s own impeccable sense of syntax and rhythm.

What’s more is that Miranda has deep respect and admiration for Hamilton’s own writing, from his dozens of love letters to his wife Elizabeth Schuyler and his contributions to The Federalist Papers, to the many more thousands of words penned by our first Secretary of the Treasury, founder of the New York Post, and founder of the U.S. Coast Guard. The song “Non-Stop” is just one number that references Hamilton’s prolificacy: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time? / Write day and night like you’re running out of time?”

Hamilton is a great example of how history, art, language, and music can be combined for extraordinary cultural impact, revitalizing someone’s words long after they are gone. Chernow’s biography and The Federalist Papers are once again bestsellers, and the man who fought to leave a legacy through his pen would be happy to know that history has its eyes on him.

-Jenna Sauber

Hamilton:An American Musical opens for previews in Chicago today, September 27. Tell us about your Hamilton experience in the comments.

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