Fads take time to filter into Kansas from the coasts, so that’s my excuse for being late to the raucous block party that is the Broadway show Hamilton. I’d heard about it, of course, but sometimes when I hear a lot of people gushing about the “new great thing” I avoid that thing just to be contrary.
We’ve all been burned before, jumping onto a passing bandwagon only to find out the movie or book or album doesn’t live up to the hype. I mean, I was friends with a lot of theater nerds in high school. I was more a choir nerd myself, but I was what you might call theater-adjacent. And those theater friends would go nuts periodically over new Broadway hits (Rent, Avenue Q, Wicked, just to name a few), and while I always enjoyed those shows when I finally got around to seeing them when they toured through my town, none of them changed my life, you know? They were fun diversions, but my interest ended at the close of the final curtain.*
So it wasn’t until my sister-in-law Belinda told me the Hamilton cast album was available free on Amazon Prime streaming that I finally caved and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Free, after all, is a risk I can afford to take.
I was totally blown away.
(Of course. Like everyone.)
Hamilton is unlike anything I have ever heard before. That’s why it’s brilliant, and that’s why it’s such a success. It starts with a great story (love triangles! intrigue! politics! duels!) and puts it over the top with killer songwriting. Lin-Manuel Miranda is, without doubt, a creative genius, and I love few things more than watching talented people do what they do best. So of course I love Hamilton and daydream about the day when it goes on a national tour. (I’m too much of a realist to even entertain the thought of getting tickets to see it on Broadway. Not gonna happen.)
Since I’m not able to see the show just yet, I had to channel my enthusiasm some other way, so I decided to read the 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow that inspired Miranda to write the musical. I was feeling optimistic, so I decided to listen to the audio version—all 37 hours of it. It took just over three weeks, and I loved every minute of it.
Chernow’s biography is a meticulously researched scholarly analysis that reads as addictively as a supermarket tabloid. Part of that is due to Hamilton himself and his fascinating life, but credit is also due to Chernow for his ability to tell Hamilton’s story in a consistently clear and propulsive way. You’ll know from the outset that Hamilton was killed in a duel by his sometime-friend and rival Aaron Burr, but the scene when the fateful meeting takes place is as breathless and compelling as fiction. Hamilton also got into some hot water in his personal life that makes for delightfully gossipy reading, which I always love. It’s easy to see why Miranda was engrossed enough by Hamilton’s life story to write a musical about it.
I never thought I’d say this, but 37 hours of audio book just wasn’t enough for me—I needed more Hamilton in my life. So I ordered a copy of Hamilton: The Revolution by LMM himself—in print this time, because I wanted to see the photos. Although don’t think I haven’t considered buying the audio version too, so I can hear him read it in his own voice. (I know I’m fangirling so hard, but I can’t help it. If loving Hamilton is wrong, I don’t want to be right!)
Hamilton: The Revolution, which tells the story of the musical from its inception through its current Broadway run, has just the kind of fun, conversational tone I was hoping for. It makes you feel like an insider, which is exactly what fans like me who aren't going to get within a thousand miles of New York City are clamoring for. You want to feel like Hamilton is your musical, too, even though you're limited to blasting the cast album and binging on #Ham4Ham videos on YouTube.
I also loved learning the inspiration behind each song. Listening to them after reading the book was like a brand-new experience. I had no idea the show was so full of Easter eggs for both hip-hop and musical theater fans. LMM is clearly a man of diverse tastes and talents, and he brought it all to the table when he wrote Hamilton. Everything is relevant, everything fits in. It's magic.
So if you've resisted Hamilton fever so far, it's time to give in. Give the cast album a listen. I promise, you'll be sold by the time the last battle of the Revolution is won. (And that's before intermission.)
*I must admit, I may have been too quick to dismiss Rent and its influence on me, because I watched the #Ham4Ham video of LMM singing “What You Own” and when the camera panned over after the first verse and Adam Pascal started singing, I had what I can only describe as “a moment.” I've watched that video several times, and it gives me a lot of feelings to see the worlds of those two shows colliding.