Welcome to the first post of The Hamilton Reading List.
We begin our exploration with the purest distillation of Hamilton-ness, with Hamilton: The Revolution or as Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s co-author, and the Internet are calling it #Hamiltome. The book consists of the full libretto of the musical, featuring informative and entertaining footnotes by Miranda. Also featured are a series of analytic and informative essays by Hamilton ally and theatrical critic, Jeremy McCarter.
One of the first things that I want to discuss is the book itself which is gorgeous. Leather bound, aged pages and full of stunning pictures of the production and back stage and the size of a text book, I was very glad I picked up the physical book rather than read it digitally. It’s worth it.
One of the things that’s been acutely fascinating as Hamilton exploding is how documented this phenomenon has been, thanks to the internet and the relative youth of it’s creators, so between the amazing early leak on NPR of the cast album, the #Ham4Ham shows, the fan art, the endless pairing of lyrics with other forms of media (#Force4Ham and #Parks4Ham being my favorites, of course.), we get a level of engagement that I only could have dreamed of when I was a dreamy twelve year old playing the London Cast Recording of Les Mis on my discman curled up in a corner of my middle school band room.
The Hamiltome chronicles this, as well as the show’s unique evolution from Miranda’s daydream of “The Hamilton Mixtape” initially meant to be a concept album chronicling the life of the ten dollar founding father to the full blown theatrical phenomenon it is. And it is a journey, an excellent and interesting and tortuous one.
What I love about back stage looks in general is that they demystify the magic of theater. There is magic in it, that spark that ignites is real, but before you can get to that spark there’s hundreds of hours punctuated by sweat, tears and a ton of work and The Revolution gives us those moments in often excruciating detail. It would have been easy to keep Hamilton mythic, birthed like Athena, fully formed from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but that isn’t how theater works, and McCarter makes it clear that Hamilton had many fathers, going in detail about direction and costume design, and set design and choreography and even, bless my heart, what a producer does. (Most people don’t understand this. Hell, I barely understand it and I am a producer.)
The one thing that the book doesn’t get into, or at least not enough, is why this show? I mean as much as you can explore why pop culture phenomenon happen, but I do wonder. We were long overdue for a Broadway block buster and even longer overdue for a mainstream crossover success. Were we primed for it? Young people are hungry for revolution in every generation, but seem particularly vocal about it in the moment. So is that it? Broadway music hasn’t incorporated pop music in a new way since 1996, so is that it? (Well, actually since 2008, but you know, everyone seems determined to ignore In The Heights, so I guess I will too.)
But this is a phenomenon and it’s worth exploring.
Next up on The Hamilton Reading List:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow which is the book that Miranda read that inspired him to write this musical, which then inspired me to write this series of blog posts. So in a way, I’m also a genius who is changing the face of pop culture.