April 27, 2016

Hamilton: The Revolution

It is almost too easy to compare Hamilton, the smash hit Broadway musical, to RENT, the musical that took over Broadway in 1996 and stayed there for 12 years. They are both genre-defying, feeling new and contemporary while still paying homage, in a very considered way, to the great legacy of musicals that came before. The comparison feels too lazy; yet, is apt.

Twenty years ago, RENT showed Broadway patrons that musicals could be edgy, contemporary, and reflect current musical trends while still maintaining a connection to the past. The show was a viral phenomenon in an era when the web was still nascent and vitality was created by other kinds of media. Hamilton occupies that same space today, and rightfully so: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ode to Alexander Hamilton is one of the most innovative and pervasive pieces of popular culture today, so much so that it’s often easy to forget that much of its inspiration is still deeply rooted in the legacy and culture of Broadway.

Jonathan Larson died before RENT debuted at the Nederlander Theatre, and with his death went many of the stories, anecdotes, and inspirations behind the musical. Thankfully, Lin-Manuel Miranda is healthy and very much alive, and is able to share the story and process of creating Hamilton with all of us through his videos, tweets, and interviews. Hamilton: The Revolution is a compendium of those anecdotes and inspirations that will help people understand the making of Hamilton, long after Mr. Miranda is no longer sharing the story himself.

Hamilton: The Revolution is really three books in one: the first is an annotated libretto that captures Mr. Miranda’s often-silly but always-insightful thoughts on the content of the musical itself. He references his hip-hop and Broadway inspirations, Harry Potter, and his family, among other pieces of popular and historical culture. Mr. Miranda’s anecdotes are poignant, sentimental, and funny.

The second is an incredible piece of long-form journalism by Jeremy McCarter, detailing every part of the creation of the show, from its inception of an idea to the first show on the Broadway stage. His wonderful prose includes profiles of actors, producers, and muses, interviews with critics and tastemakers, and a keen understanding of Hamiltons place in contemporary, and historical, culture. Without any offence to the genius of Mr. Miranda, Mr. McCarter’s reporting here is the clear standout part of Hamilton: The Revolution.

The third book hidden in the large tome is a collection of stunning photographs, many of them occupying full two-page spreads, from the musical production. As someone who has not yet had the chance to see the show on Broadway, these photos are a delight, beautifully encapsulating the images behind the songs that I hear on the cast recording.

The annotated libretto, long-form reporting, and photographs are all intertwined together in Hamilton: The Revolution, making the book a delight to read again and again—I have read it cover to cover at least three times by now—especially while listening to the cast recording in the background. This is a book that I am not only proud to keep on my coffee table, but that has also made my enjoyment of Hamiltons music that much more intense.

I only wish Jonathan Larson could have done something similar, so many years ago. His music shall fill that absence, instead.

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