by Sonia Calzaretta ’18
If you’d told me two weeks ago that I would soon be introduced to a musical that would leave me emotionally attached to America’s founding fathers, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Yet, thanks to the brilliance of award-winning writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, this is exactly what happened. His newest hit, “Hamilton,” is the Les Mis of our generation: a two-and-a-half-hour musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and his role in the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States through a mash-up of R&B, rap, and classic Broadway show tunes. Hamilton and the other founding fathers were barely in their twenties when they fought a war to create a nation; Miranda chose to represent this with hip-hop, a music style that comes from the people who are coming of age right now in that very nation. The majority of the cast is non-white, again representing history through the lens of America as it exists today.
“Hamilton” debuted off-Broadway at the Public Theater in NYC in February 2015, but was soon moved to the Richard Rogers theater and began its official Broadway run on Aug. 6. Since then, shows have been sold out three months in advance and celebrities of every kind are flocking to see it. Most recently, Beyoncé herself attended and complimented Jonathan Groff (who plays King George III) on his walk. (Apparently he was so excited that he nearly fainted. I would be, too.) In late August the Original Cast Recording went live on Spotify and history buffs, hip-hop fans and musical theater geeks all around the country lost their collective shit.
The way Miranda has combined music styles is flawless. It’s incredibly difficult to pick out my favorite tracks, because the majority of the songs blend so effortlessly that you sometimes can’t tell when one has ended and another has begun. However, a few of my personal favorites include (in the order they appear in the show):
“The ten-dollar / founding father without a father…”
Talk about starting with a bang! Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show and stars as its eponymous protagonist, originally performed this song at the White House back in 2009. The version that appears in the musical has Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) singing the main part, backed by a chorus with interjections from Hamilton’s other associates as well as Hamilton himself. It’s a prologue to the story, detailing Hamilton’s early life and telling about how he ended up in New York and in the company of such famous historical figures as Aaron Burr, George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and others.
“The Schuyler Sisters.”
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal / and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’ma compel him to include women in the sequel!“
This song is reminiscent of some of Destiny’s Child’s early hits. It features (from left to right) Elizabeth, Angelica, and Peggy Schuyler (Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Jasmine Cephas-Jones), and establishes them not only as undeniable main characters but as a powerful, inseparable trio who would do anything for each other.
“You’ll Be Back.”
“When push comes to shove / I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
The best thing about this song is that it’s basically a passive-agressive breakup letter from King George III (Jonathan Groff) to the colonies who are revolting against him. King George is, in essence, the worst, most possessive boyfriend anyone has ever had. The song is an old-school show tune, diametrically opposed to the modern style of the rest of the singers in the show. (As an meta note, this works in the context of the show to set the king up as an opposition to the colonies. The American rebels are always joined onstage by other characters, but Groff has no backup singers and always stands alone.)
“What’d I Miss?”
“I’ve been in Paris meeting lots of different ladies, I guess I basically missed the late 80s…”
This song is the beginning of the second act, and Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) returns to America after serving as the ambassador to France. Diggs portrays Jefferson as an over-the-top ladies’ man, which isn’t exactly historically accurate–the real Jefferson once suffered a terrible headache for three days after speaking foolishly in front of a girl he fancied–but Diggs is so charismatic and likable that it’s easy to see Jefferson as someone who would totally have a rap battle with Alexander Hamilton over matters of state. (And, in fact, does – twice – in the second act of the musical.)
“The Room Where It Happens.”
“We want out leaders to save the day / but we don’t get a say in what they trade away.”
This song is an all-out, explosive showstopper. Leslie Odom Jr. absolutely kills it (pun intended) as Aaron Burr, recounting all of the political hoops Hamilton had to jump through and the compromises that he had to make in order to get his plan for a new system of national banks on the Congress floor. He also manages to relate not only his own position as someone who is more willing to wait and see which way the wind will blow before acting and the jealousy he feels for the increasingly successful Hamilton. This song also makes it clear that, even though he is the one who kills Hamilton in the end, Burr is not the villain of this story.
“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”
“When you’re gone who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame, who tells your story?”
This song is the very last one in the musical and acts as an epilogue that covers the fifty years that Eliza lives after Alexander is killed in his duel with Aaron Burr. Phillipa Soo has such an amazing voice, and her melody is a medley of the other songs she sings over the course of the musical. The song leaves you just a little bit breathless, and fades away slowly and sweetly enough that you can see in your mind’s eye the way the lights must fade around Eliza as she stands alone onstage, having outlived not only her husband but every other founding father (she died in Washington D.C. at the age of 97).