What hasn’t been said about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton? Ben Brantley of the New York Times simply states, “Yes, it is that good.”
Which admittedly was a relief to read — since Miranda performed the opening song in 2009 at the White House, there’s been low-key excitement that’s built to a fevered pitch this year. Selfies of the cast with all the Obamas, Meryl Streep and other luminaries bombarded the news. Op-eds discussing the revolutionary idea of racebent casting of the Founding Fathers were published at a fevered pitch, as well as analysis of rap and hip-hop influences on the musical. In other words — the news has been worshipful.
That brings up the question: Does the musical live up to the hype? Brantley thought so, and judging by the reaction online as the cast album dropped digitally on Friday (with a livestream on NPR a few days ahead of time) — it exceeds the hype.
By racebending the cast this cast looks like modern America.
Hamilton brings a relatable, human face to the blah icons that are distant and unblemished from our high school history classes. The entire cast — minus one person — are all people of color, bringing a relatable face for the audience — this cast looks like modern America. Halmiton also reminds us that in politics, much like humanity, nothing really changes — everything old is new again. There’s scheming, angry cabinet meetings (reimagined as rap battles) and sniping at each other via the media. Hell, Alexander Hamilton has the dubious honor of giving America its first publicized Presidential sex scandal.
Manuel’s omnivorous musical tastes — the soundtrack is filled with references to rap, R&B and other musicals — ensure Hamilton is chock-full of musical Easter eggs for people to sift through and decode. But it never feels like getting lectured by some music hipster, instead it’s like a delightful little present that you might not catch the first time, but on the second (or third, or fourth) listening you pick it up and start grinning.
It also helps that the music is just that good. There’s no point in filling something with references unless the product is quality because it degenerates into a group of people quoting Simpsons at each other. Which isn’t bad, but it doesn’t lead to something to worth this praise. The music is layered and rich to match the lyrics filled with little non-sequiturs like “I’M A GENERAL WHEE!” in Stay Alive or the sarcastic “Awesome. Wow.” from King George in What Comes Next? Humor normally isn’t part of our history lessons, so things like this add splashes of color and life.
The cast also deserves major praise for bringing the lyrics to life Renee Elise Goldsberry is a powerhouse as Angelica Schuyler that deserves recognition for her tongue-twisting powers in Satisfied — she brings an ache to the song while at the same time keeping up with the breakneck pace. Phillipa Soo’s performance in Helpless and Burn is a one-two punch in having a crush and getting your heart broken (thankfully it’s not back to back, unless you’re a masochist and play them back to back). Leslie Odom Jr.’s cautious and careful Aaron Burr is a perfect counterpoint to the impetuous Hamilton. Daveed Diggs’ Thomas Jefferson is a colonial Morris Day to antagonize Hamilton in a flashier way than Burr. Chris Jackson as George Washington brings an authority and gravity as perhaps the only person in the room who thinks not about the present, but the future and the shaping of the newborn nation. I could go on and on, to be honest. The cast is just that strong.
While many of us online may never be lucky enough to see the show on Broadway with the original cast, I am anticipating the future of this musical. I can’t wait to see high schools perform this, igniting curiosity in people to maybe dig a little deeper and learn more about our history and finding the common threads from the past and present that paint the picture as to what makes us all uniquely American.