Review: Hamilton’s take on a classic American story

This is the poster for the new musical, Hamilton.
Music has many different genres, and one genre that means a lot to me is musical theater. I know, I’ve heard it all before.  “Musical theater is boring,” “It’s for girls,” “I just don’t like it.” Well, I have the perfect match for any of these skeptics:  Hamilton.

Photo by: Joan Marcus

This is probably the most popular musical this season on Broadway, and when you hear what it’s about, it may seem strange. But trust me, it’s not.
Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton, the founding father without a father. His story is more interesting than you may think, and it is told through rap and hip hop music, a defining feature. Most importantly, what sets this show in history is the fact that it’s told by people of color, in a story about old white men. It’s the story of America then told by America now; one that has moved on from these prejudices and to music that some don’t even consider music.

Photo by: Joan Marcus

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the book and lyrics, composed the show, and is starring in it now as Alexander Hamilton. Basically, Miranda created the entire show.
But Miranda has done this before. He wrote the music and book for his 2008 musical In The Heights as well. He also played the lead then. He won a Tony for the music in that show, and I can guarantee that he will win another Tony or five for Hamilton. He also wrote some of the music for one of the worlds most popular movies today, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The music he wrote for this show is a masterpiece. The story seems a little odd at first, but it isn’t at all. It all blends together into one coherent piece of art.
One of the songs that stands out to me is My Shot. This song took Miranda a year to write. It is a show stopping number, and defines how the show is seen to me. It is the third song in the show, and it tells the story of how Hamilton won’t be throwing away his shot at greatness and a legacy.
A line in this number I like is, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” Death loomed in front of Alexander, and it feels more like it’s already happened than it will happen. It really defines who Alexander is and what he stands for this entire show.
The Schuyler Sisters show how the modern ideals we have today are worked into this show. The Schuyler sisters are Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy, and their father is a rich man in New York. Eliza marries Alexander, even though Angelica loves him but won’t tell Eliza because she cares so much for her. They are all role models in their own way, both the characters and the actresses.
Angelica, the oldest Schuyler sister, was born in a time she doesn’t belong in. Angelica is a proud feminist, and she isn’t afraid to call out unjust behavior. Her character stands out in the show for her having these ideals, but Angelica is also the only female character to rap during the show. She is smart, quick witted, and loved by all. Satisfied is Angelica’s main song in the show, the one that defines her character. She shows how quick witted a person she is, and how she is selfless when it comes to her family. She loves Hamilton, but gives it up for her sister. The song stands out to all who listen to the show because it is a powerhouse performance from Renee Elise Goldsberry, who plays Angelica. This is a definite must hear.

Photo by: Joan Marcus

Eliza is another amazing female character. She is trusting and kind, in the words of Angelica, who loves her more than anything else on the earth. When she sees Hamilton for the first time, she is head over heels. Helpless is her first song in the show, and it sets her place in the show. She is a hopeless romantic, and she just wants to live a happy life. What else could she ask for? She’s helpless for Hamilton, and finally gets her chance to have the spotlight. Helpless sets Eliza’s place in the show as the love interest and lead female character.
Burn shows a whole other side to this character. This song happens after Alexander publishes a pamphlet telling the details of an affair he had, in their house, while Eliza was on vacation with Angelica and their children. Eliza has aged, and her heart was broken. It shows how much stronger Eliza is than we thought all along. She’s just as independent as Angelica, and she “burns” her memories of their relationship. This song has Eliza belting the words out, as does Helpless, except it is a power ballad. The character has grown up, she’s not that young girl anymore. She’s a mother, a wife, and a woman who can take care of herself. And she shows she can be much more than others see in her.
The character has a full story arc by the end of the show, when she writes herself back into the narrative of Hamilton’s life to tell his story after his tragic death in a duel with Aaron Burr. She proved herself, once again, to be stronger than we saw her as at the beginning of the show. She lived 50 more years, raised money for the Washington monument, interviewed all the soldiers who fought with Hamilton, and most importantly, started the first private orphanage in New York City. It’s still around today, and has maintained her legacy. She made sure Hamilton’s story lived on, and the last song leaves you wondering, is the show called Hamilton because of Alexander, or is it just as equally the story of his wife?
There are so many more things I can say about this show and how beautiful it is, but this is what I leave you with: history watching you is a big message in the show, and the characters are always thinking about it. Hamilton wants to leave a legacy, Burr wants to make his mark on history, and Eliza wants Hamilton’s story to live on positively. That is one thing we can all learn from this show, even if you don’t listen to the whole thing or any at all. So, what mark will you leave on the world?

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