I saw the hat first, ‘A.HAM’ emblazoned on its crown. In the midst of the crowds converging on the campus of the University of Southern California last weekend for the LA Times Festival of Books, a student and her parents were headed to an open house hosted by the School of Dramatic Arts. The black and gold logo was a reminder that the phenomena that is ‘Hamilton’ continues to spark the dreams of the aspiring actor, striving historian, and would-be composer.
First there was Ron Chernow‘s 2004 book, ‘Alexander Hamilton’. Last summer, ‘Hamilton’, the musical debuted on Broadway. In February, the original cast recording won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. This week the ‘Hamiltome’ arrived in bookstores and immediately sold out on Amazon. The Saturday Read is ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.
In 2007 Jeremy McCarter, then drama critic for New York Magazine, reviewed a new play, ‘In The Heights’ and posed the question “Could musicals actually be adapting to a new century’s audience?”
“The most obvious of the show’s many virtues is that it doesn’t sound like the half-assed pseudo-pop that clutters up Broadway. Miranda’s score is rich and kaleidoscopic, as it needs to be.”
In the Introduction to ‘HTR’, Mr. McCarter reflects on his time at New York Magazine and his frustration with lack of interest in the possibilities of hip-hop.
“After many disappointments and false alarms, Heights had made me sit up in my aisle seat: Here’s the guy. Lin’s show about immigration in Upper Manhattan fused salsa, hip-hop, and traditional Broadway ballads to make something old and new, familiar and surprising. Best of all, he made the leap that virtually nobody else had made, using hip-hop to tell a story that had nothing to do with hip-hop – using it as form, not content.”
The writer, director and producer McCarter, who studied history at Harvard connected with the composer, lyricist, actor and Wesleyan alum, Miranda and began a collaboration that resulted in ‘Hamilton The Revolution’.
“It tells the story of two revolutions. There’s the American Revolution of the 18th century, which flares to life in Lin’s libretto, the complete text of which is published here, with his annotations. There’s also the revolution of the show itself: a musical that changes the way that Broadway sounds, and alters who gets to tell the story of our founding, that let’s us glimpse the new, more diverse America rushing our way.”
The book is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the development of a musical. It’s a narrative of the creative process and a roadmap for future generations who will replicate the production on high school and summer stages.
In an interview with CBS This Morning, Mr. McCarter stressed the importance of cataloging the moments from the first rap performance at the White House through the six years to opening night.
We wanted to “tell the story which is not about this historical fact or that historical fact, it’s about the emotional reality that these people were living through…This is not just what happened, but this is how it felt at the time. This is the experience that we all went through…So that ten years from now when kids are doing it they can pick up this book and say ‘Oh, that’s how they did it’, now I understand.”
Where do we find inspiration? It’s the curiosity thing. Mr.Miranda is the master of the inquisitive. And he seems to drawn on every life experience and relationship to connect the dots to his project. Here’s one example from the annotations to ‘You’ll Be Back’.
“I was having a drink with Hugh Laurie, with whom I’d worked on his series ‘House’, and I told him I wanted to write a breakup letter from King George to the colonies. Without blinking, he improv’d at me, “Awwww, you’ll be back,” wagging his finger. I laughed and filed it away. Thanks, Hugh Laurie.”
We learn from the wisdom of others. ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ introduces us to a serious set of theater luminaries and traces each of their stories as the words and music evolve.
@work we casually use the buzz words creativity and innovation interchangeably. We imagine we are all curious, exemplars of transformational thinking. But most of us can’t reimagine our way out of our comfort zone. Creativity is hard work.
‘HTR’ is the story of a musical. Its value, for those who work outside the theater, is to show us where curiosity can lead and what creativity looks like.
“The last song in the show captures the bitter historical truth that every one of Hamilton’s enemies outlived him, and they did all they could to efface his memory. By ending with Hamilton’s afterlife, not his death, the show asks us to think about what we leave behind when we’re gone: It invites us to think about legacies.”
When Ben Brantley reviewed the musical for the New York Times, he wrote “Hamilton” is, among other things, about who owns history, who gets to be in charge of the narrative.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter own ‘HTR’, their story, and leave no doubt about who is in charge of the narrative.
“Who tells your story?”