Musical of the Month: Hamilton

Julia Stanski, Editor

PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE AUG. 16, 2015. -- Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role of the musical "Hamilton" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, July 11, 2015. Hip-hop and musical theater seemingly have little overlap, but that is the space in which Miranda lives, the space that birthed ?Hamilton,? which opened last week to some of the strongest reviews in years. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

If you follow the theatre world at all, this month’s choice will come as no surprise; the hottest thing on Broadway and one of the biggest cultural events of the year was the Broadway opening of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap-infused musical about American founding father Alexander Hamilton.

This groundbreaking show is the story of America then told by America now, as its creator and star describes it. Set around the American Revolution of 1775, it follows the rise of a penniless orphan from the Caribbean into one of the most influential men of his time. The fast-paced libretto includes musical influences as diverse as the Beatles and Destiny’s Child, but never stops being essentially a musical, driven equally by an intensely intelligent script and relentlessly engaging score.

If you don’t think you like show tunes, this show might make you think again. Hip-hop and rap music is assumed to be the vernacular of the revolution, appropriated by the  young rebels who want independence for the colonies. As Miranda says, Hamilton wrote his way out of poverty just as modern hip-hop artists have done, rising from a dead-end childhood through determination, brains, work ethic and luck.

The piece traces his incredible career as a revolutionary, soldier, orator, writer, politician, lawyer, husband and father, as well as those around him who shaped his life.  Smart, funny and emotionally wrenching, this show is a game-changer in every sense.

The production is written almost exclusively for actors of colour, and features equal representation of female performers and characters in a narrative usually dominated by white men. Miranda, himself of Puerto Rican descent, focuses on America as a nation of immigrants, as he did in his 2008 Pulitzer-nominated musical “In the Heights”.

“Hamilton” has earned unanimous rave reviews, sold-out houses from August of 2015 until at least May of 2016 and acclamation from basically every celebrity who frequents the theatre; the Obamas, Beyoncé, Bernadette Peters, Oprah, Stephen Sondheim and Emma Watson are only a few of the stars who have loved it.

If you’re going to listen to any cast recording, listen to this one (it’s available on Spotify).  Brilliant, powerful and exhilarating, it will challenge your idea of what musical theatre can be.


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