Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter
Audiobook read by Mariska Hargitay, Jeremy McCarter, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Published by Grand Central Publishing on April 12th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Popular Culture, Entertainment & Performing Arts
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical
Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country's origins for a diverse new generation.
HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages--"since before this was even a show," according to Miranda--traces its development from an improbable performance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.
Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sondheim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by President Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don't throw away their shot.
Confession: I was very late to board the Hamilton train.
The Tony Awards are 2 days away. About time I listened to the HAMILTON cast recording, right?
Facebook agreed. Facebook may not know that I have listened to that recording almost daily ever since.
I repent of my earlier resistance, but I own up to its source. I grew up listening to my mother’s records of Broadway classics and watching old-school movie musicals. My concept of musical theater has old-fashioned roots, closely associated with people randomly breaking into dance and singing songs that could be easily plucked out from the show.
That said, by the time I was introduced to musical theater it was already branching out from those roots and traditions. The musicals of my lifetime have incorporated modern musical stylings while looking back to older forms like opera in relying more on the music itself to tell their stories.
That said, what I heard about Hamilton suggested that “non-traditional” was an understatement. I knew enough people who were embracing the show that I was swayed to buy the cast recording, but couldn’t work myself up to listen to it. It made me nervous, frankly.
Confession: Hip-hop and rap are not my favorite musical styles, and I was apprehensive about how I’d respond to a hip-hop musical. I prefer strong melodies to beats. I listen to lyrics, and I like to sing along. I wasn’t sure Hamilton would be “musical” enough to appeal to me, and I put off finding out.
Confession: Hamilton is more than musical enough for me. I’m still kicking myself for procrastinating, but I’m trying to make up for it–hence, the daily soundtrack sessions and “The Hamiltome.”
A few days after I began listening to the Hamilton album, I also started the audio version of the show’s companion book, Hamilton: The Revolution. In collaboration with Hamilton‘s mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter traces the show’s development through conception, composing, casting and choreography, and its journey from workshop to Broadway. The book’s structure follows the show’s, with each chapter built around one of its songs, and I found that very appealing.
Five Facts about HAMILTON The Musical from HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION
Much of the book’s content may be old news to those who’ve been Hamilton fans for longer than I have, but here are five things I learned from Hamilton: The Revolution:
- Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, Miranda began writing Hamilton as a concept album (“The Hamilton Mixtape”) before deciding to develop it as a stage musical. As an album, the entire narrative would have been conveyed through the music. With very little dialogue between numbers, the musical follows that format, and that’s probably one reason people have connected so strongly with a show they’ve heard but never seen.
- For the most part, the songs were written in the order in which they’re performed in the show.
- The show’s narrative was obviously already in place via its source material, but Miranda did take dramatic license with the timing of some events and in the exaggeration (or invention) of a few others.
- Several actors in the cast play one role in the show’s first act and a different character in the second. The creative team felt it was particularly effective for the actors who portray Hamilton’s friends the Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan to return after intermission as his antagonists Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
- Hamilton: The Revolution contains the entire libretto of Hamilton: An American Musical as an appendix. The appendix is included as a PDF file with the audiobook so you can follow along while listening to Miranda read his annotations aloud. And if that appeals to you, you may want to drop into the rabbit hole of annotated Hamilton lyrics at Genius.com. (You can thank–or curse–me later.)
The audiobook was a convenient way to get up to speed on Hamilton, but the physical edition of Hamilton: The Revolution is a gorgeously illustrated keepsake. I will be putting it on my Christmas list.
To the Revolution!
One more thing I learned from Hamilton: The Revolution is that this groundbreaking musical drama is fully aware of Broadway traditions. It’s fully respectful of them even as it proceeds to turn them upside down and reinvent them. I’m sure that hip-hop and rap listeners already knew how well these forms could tell stories, but now Broadway knows too.
The music of Hamilton has obviously resonated with many–musical pun intended. The production’s diverse cast features people of color portraying America’s white founders in a deliberate choice to depict a “then” that looks more like “now,” and audiences have responded to that.
It’s not just Hamilton‘s cast that looks like “now,” though–many of its themes do, too. This is a show that includes
- political intrigue and infighting
- scandals and jockeying for status, and
- conflicts over immigration and what defines an “American”
as reminders that we’ve been waging some battles here for 240 years with no signs of a ceasefire. We repeat our history because we don’t remember it…or we never see it become history because we’re still stuck living in it.
Hamilton is making history with perfect timing. I took too long to join this revolution, but now that I’m in the room where it happens I don’t intend to leave.
(If you’re also planning to stay in the room for awhile, you may enjoy the Pod4Ham podcast, where each episode features a panel taking a deep dive into one Hamilton song. They’re almost done with Act 1, so it’s not too late to get in on this!)
HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION, aka “The Hamiltome”: From the Introduction
“Late on a hazy night in 2008, Lin-Manuel Miranda told me he wanted to write a hip-hop concept album about the life of Alexander Hamilton. For a second I thought we were sharing a drunken joke. We were probably drunk, but he wasn’t joking.
“We had bonded a year earlier over a shared love of hip-hop and theater, though that evening was the first time we were meeting. When Lin’s first show, In the Heights, had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2007, I was the drama critic at New York magazine, where I had repeatedly argued for the enormous but neglected possibilities of hip-hop in the theater. (‘Hip-hop can save the theater,’ began one of those essays. ‘I am not kidding.’) Rap, it seemed to me, wasn’t like rock or jazz or any other kind of pop music: The lyrical density and storytelling ingenuity I heard on my headphones seemed closer to the verbal energy of the great plays of the past than almost anything I saw onstage. This enthusiasm wasn’t widely shared…
“After many disappointments and false starts, Heights had made me sit up in my aisle seat: Here’s the guy…. (H)e made the leap that virtually no one else had made, using hip-hop to tell a story that had nothing to do with hip-hop–using it as form, not content. Lin thought my review grasped what he was trying to do. The show’s publicist fixed us up. Hence the late-night drinks and the long talk about which of our favorite MCs should play Thomas Jefferson.”