What the Fuck is Hamilton?
As the world-famous musical finally opens on the West End, The Skinny’s Theatre Editor has pulled together a handy guide that can help you sound like you know what you’re talking about when someone asks you, “Hey, what the fuck is Hamilton?”
The chances are that you’ve heard that Hamilton: An American Musical, has arrived in London. This award-winning, critically acclaimed production first opened off-Broadway in New York in February 2015, and since then has become one of the hottest tickets in theatre land. But what is it, exactly?
Who or what is Hamilton?
Hamilton: An American Musical (let’s just call it Hamilton from now on) is a Tony Award-winning hip-hop musical (it was nominated for 16 awards, and won a total of 11). The music, lyrics and book of the musical was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who starred as Hamilton in the original run and also wrote the highly acclaimed In the Heights. Hamilton is based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Next time you go to America, check out a $10 bill; that’s his mug on it.
OK, so what did he do to get put on there?
Well, what didn’t he do? Hamilton’s life story is more or less the epitome of what we would call The American Dream. Born on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean, he was, as the musical so eloquently puts it in song form, “a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman." He grew up in poverty, but, despite his beginnings, rose to great power and fortune. He eventually moved to New York, and, over the course of his career, founded the US banking system, the Coast Guard, The New York Post and wrote most of the Federalist Papers; a series of documents which helped ratify the US Constitution.
Ah, so, he’s a pretty big deal, then?
He is, but until the musical’s premiere in February 2015, he’d never been celebrated in musical form before. In fact, Miranda was only inspired to create a hip-hop musical based on his life after reading the biography Alexander Hamilton by the historian Ron Chernow. Miranda read the book and after a quick Google, was shocked that no one had created a musical about this particular Founding Father before.
But what’s so special about the musical?
It puts a figure who was sidelined and never quite broken through to mainstream culture – unlike his contemporaries such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even King George III, all of whom appear in the show – centre stage. It retells a story you might have heard before from a different perspective; the creation of the US as we know it, set against the turmoil of the American War of Independence.
Its message is diversity and inclusiveness and it celebrates – among other things; immigration. Hamilton was an immigrant; Miranda is a first generation immigrant, who was born in New York and his parents hail from Puerto Rico. Additionally, the cast is almost exclusively comprised of people of colour, perhaps to stand up against the whitewashing of history, and it’s a hip-hop musical! The cast sing, speak, and rap about the ins and outs of the life of Hamilton. In fact, the two hour long soundtrack is very popular, and is one of the many reasons for the show’s success.
But what do people think?
Well, lots of good things. One of the best quotes is from the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who said it was, “the best piece of art in any form I have ever seen in my life.” However, the somehow-current President of the United States Donald J Trump, who has never seen the show, dismissed it as “highly overrated” after the cast publically called out Vice President Mike Pence at the curtain call for his views on immigration.
So, should I get a ticket, then?
YES. Good lord, why haven't you got one already?
Hamilton: An American Musical, Victoria Palace Theatre, London, for tickets and information, visit hamiltonmusical.com/london