For this week’s New Title Tuesday, I’m proudly letting my musical-theater-nerd freak-flag fly. I have not had the opportunity to see the Broadway show, Hamilton, but I have listened to the CD like a crazed, addicted, uber-fan. But it’s just not enough. I finally got my hands on the complete libretto, Hamilton the Revolution: Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical. I had only expected to read those lightening-fast lyrics and glimpse a few pictures to help me better visualize the scenes that weren’t aired on the Tony Awards or the PBS documentary about the making of t
But wait! That’s not all! First, we see Miranda’s interest grow after reading the biography, Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. He explains how he reached out to other artists, and we witness how this initial idea of a mixtape or concept album evolved to the fully staged,
Broadway musical. Miranda not only guided his team to create and make manifest this wacky notion of a hip-hop version about the possibly least known life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, but he showed us ‘how the sausage is made.’
If you’ve ever fancied yourself a writer or composer, Hamilton the Revolution is a revelation. It’s seductive to presume the Hammersteins and Lloyd Webers simply jot down an idea and a magical muse-wand transforms a complex idea (i.e., the interpretive ballet about Laurie’s sexual awakening in Oklahoma) into a seamless live performance that both informs and redefines the character.
But Miranda and the contributing writers generously provide so much more of the process: the years of thinking and collaboration with a wide range of artists and producers, which rappers influenced which lyrics and why, and he also explains how this work is informed by the standard-bearers of American Musical Theater and the forms they established. Be it Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd or Wicked, Miranda shares all of the delicious minutiae about the complex steps that resulted in his spin on an established yet evolving form. To me – and this is a genuine compliment – Hamilton is not so much a brand-spanking-new design but an assimilation of the all the elements (old and new) to create a new work that became an instant hit and energized young people to attend and experience the marvel and intimacy of live theater. Reading how he did this is akin to deciphering the Rosetta stone.
It’s silly to entertain the idea that some of the details in the show are not factual. Hello! It’s a Broadway Musical, not a quotable source for a doctoral thesis. It’s a show that amazingly enchants both people who were predisposed to dislike hip-hop and those who suspected the staid thee-ah-tuh is only patronized by the elite and/or drama nerds.
Learning how an artist creates (not just has a dynamic work given from a generous muse) is invaluable to those who aspire to also tell a story. And since it’s highly unlikely you can get tickets to the New York show, Hamilton the Revolution: Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, With a True Account of its Creation, and concise remarks on hip-hop, the power of stories, and the new America, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter may be the next best thing.
Happy Reading and Listening, Susan C.
Hamilton Sound Recording, original cast recording
Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow
Also by Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway musical: In the Heights