#Hamiltunes Take the Country by Storm

Angela Tricarico

It’s not very often that Billboard has the chance to call the cast recording of a Broadway musical “2015’s best rap album” – in fact, it’s probably never happened before. Hamilton: An American Musical changed that.   You’re probably thinking, rap musical? Hamilton? Your confusion is valid. The concept, at first glance, makes absolutely no sense: a “hip-hopera” about Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury.

The cast of Hamilton  (The New York Times photo)
The cast of Hamilton
(The New York Times photo)

It works, though, and the show has brought viewers like Robert DeNiro, Paul McCartney, Helen Mirren, Tom Hanks, and President Obama to New York City to see the theatrical masterpiece, either during it’s off Broadway run, or its Broadway run (the show opened in August, and is nearly sold out through next September). People are rushing to the Richard Rogers Theater “to be in the room where it happens.”

The mastermind behind the musical is Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Tony winner for his last produced work In The Heights. Miranda wrote both the book and score for Hamilton, after reading Ron Chernow’s biography on the man. Before now, little had been done to profile the life of Hamilton, but the musical is stirring up new interest about him.

The musical has created extreme levels of hype around it, so much so that people are begging to have it filmed, both because tickets are rare at this point, and because it could be an extremely helpful educational tool. Miranda (@lin_manuel) tweeted last week, “I said we WANT to film the show with this cast before the year is out. That’s all I said. There are no plans for anything yet.” He added that when the plans are made, his Twitter followers would be the first ones to know about them. Miranda worked with NPR to have the album released four days early, to stream on NPR’s website, before its initial digital release on Sept. 25.

The first track, “Alexander Hamilton,” had been previously released on the White House’s YouTube page; Miranda had performed the song under the name, “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House Evening of Poetry in 2009.

“Alexander Hamilton,” the first musical number, tells Hamilton’s story, in short, from beginning to end, narrated by Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr), “the damn fool that shot him.” In the first song, John Laurens (Anthony Ramos), Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan), and George Washington (Christopher Jackson) are introduced as members of the company, joining Burr in profiling Hamilton’s life.

Hamilton is revolutionary to American history beyond what is taught in the classroom. The first act introduces Hamilton’s friendships with John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette (also Daveed Diggs) and Hercules Mulligan (also Okieriete Onaodowan), as well as the relationship Hamilton had with his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church (Renee Elise Goldsbury). History classes rarely even go into detail with Hamilton’s life beyond his proposal for a national bank, and the 51 Federalist papers he penned. One figure who is well known from those American history classes is King George III (Jonathan Groff). His three solos are stylized as Brit-pop breakup songs.

Act II of the show is the part that may be more familiar to people who paid attention in history class.

It picks up when Jefferson returns from France, and features two cabinet meetings stylized as rap battles between Jefferson and Hamilton. The second half focuses on Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas-Jones), often regarded to as American politics’ first sex scandal, which was only uncovered when Hamilton published it himself to protect his political legacy after it was threatened. In the penultimate song, the duel of 1804 takes place, and, well, Hamilton’s fate is known at that point. He’s shot by Aaron Burr, even though Hamilton himself shot at the sky.
Hamilton is groundbreaking in more ways than one. The soundtrack has set records on the Billboard charts, and is by far, one of the most brilliant cast recordings in the past few years, full of funny one liners and recurring musical themes.

“This is the story of America then, told by America now,” Miranda told CBS in March. Eight times a week, Miranda’s vision comes to life on stage, and from the looks of it, he’s nothing but humbled and grateful for it.