Hamilton: History, Hip-Hop & the Hype

The story of Hamilton the musical actually starts with Alexander Hamilton the book. At the time of publication, Ron Chernow's 2004 biography about the aforementioned founding father was praised for its comprehensive scope and fresh perspective, giving us a more personal understanding of Hamilton himself, but also connecting his political legacy to the success and resilience of our nation today.  Lots of history nerds read this fresh take on Hamilton and loved it.  Lin Manuel Miranda read it and heard something even fresher; the biography wasn’t just an American story, it was the American story.  And what better to tell the American story than the American genre of Hip-Hop?! GENIUS!  

Miranda brings the stoic faced, long dead founding fathers out of our history books and back to life.  He took the energy and plotline of the American Revolution and translated it into modern vernacular.  Simultaneously appreciating the past, his rendition of history encourages reflection on the present as we forge into the future.  He first introduced his lively and impassioned interpretation by performing the song “Alexander Hamilton” at the White House in 2009.  What started out as music for a themed album, became the Grammy, Tony and Pulitzer prize winning musical now playing Broadway, Chicago, and London. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs "Alexander Hamilton" at The White House May 2009

Hamilton combines two of my greatest loves; American history and Hip-Hop.  

I remember when my dad sent me the Times review of a revolutionary musical playing the Public Theater that “forges democracy through rap”.  We immediately agreed to see it and joked about finally finding a way for him to appreciate Hip-Hop.  THEN we saw how hard it was to get tickets.  Once it hit Broadway, the prices put seeing Hamilton even farther out of reach.  In the meantime, I fell in love with the music.  I often incorporate the soundtrack into my tours, especially with student groups. There is no better way to explain the location of our Nation’s capital to a group of 8thgraders than playing “The Room Where It happened”!  All this to say that I have literally been waiting YEARS to see this musical.  A few months back a guide friend hooked me up with the opportunity to FINALLY experience Hamilton live, and I’ve been counting the days leading up to the date since.  


As the date got closer, I began to worry that when I saw it I might feel nostalgic for the original cast (even though I never actually saw it, I’m used to their voices).  I worried I’d feel a little disappointment if the live experience didn’t live up to my grandiose expectations, which were presumably quite inflated by the sheer anticipation of it all.  I’m such a Daveed Diggs fan I wondered if I could appreciate the new Lafayette as much.  The worry was completely misplaced.  There was NOTHING disappointing about this show.  It blew my mind even though I knew what was coming next.  I loved every moment, and instead of becoming a check mark on my bucket list, seeing Hamilton on Broadway is now on my permanent to-do list…I want to go AGAIN!  

In addition to the groundbreaking nature of the music itself, we have to talk about the casting. Black actors play white Americans. Without a drop of shoe polish, they manage to convey the full character of individuals they don’t look like.  It’s honestly disgusting that this is considered some remarkable feat in 2019; but here we are.  

There are so many take-aways from Hamilton.  So many political, social and historical conversations it inspires.  In my mind, it absolutely lives up to the hype.  The music and the acting were phenomenal, it is fast-paced and high energy.  The story itself is gripping, littered with drama and humanity; I laughed out loud and cried real tears.

Hamilton was everything I imagined it would be.  I will admit though; this Broadway hit may not be for everyone.  If you’re an English language learner, the pace of delivery sometimes makes it hard to follow compared to other musicals.  Or, if English is your first language but you’ve tried rap and you just don’t like it; this may not be your cup of tea. The price point is still a little high for me to be very convincing saying “just try it, you’ll see”. But please, if you have the opportunity to experience this remarkable work of art— its well worth a trip outside of your comfort zone.