There’s a million things I haven’t covered in “Come Jam With Sam,” but just you wait. This week, I’m reviewing the soundtrack of the one and only “Hamilton,” Broadway’s latest musical hit courtesy of writer, composer and starring actor Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“Hamilton” tells the story of everyone’s favorite founding father without a father, Alexander Hamilton. But this musical’s storyline isn’t the dry narrative you learned in high school. Miranda uses hip-hop and musical theater to delve deep into Hamilton’s struggles, relationships and personality, basing his historical record off of historian Ron Chernow’s 800-page biography of the American hero himself. Miranda, a Puerto Rican-American who grew up in a poor immigrant family in Manhattan, underscores Hamilton’s rise to fame and success despite every odd he must defy as a poor, orphaned immigrant to Britain’s colonies.
Didn’t know our good ol’ 10-dollar founding father had a tragic backstory? Me neither. Miranda lays it all out in the musical’s opening number, appropriately titled “Alexander Hamilton”: (“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a / Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence / impoverished, in squalor / grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”)
The drama and tragedy doesn’t end there. “Hamilton” takes us through the whirlwind ride of Hamilton’s life, including his prestige in the American Revolution, his messy marriage to Ms. Elizabeth Schuyler and his infamous and dramatic demise at the hand of his dearest frenemy, Sir Aaron Burr. Amazingly, Miranda’s stage play and lyrics contain few factual errors — something crucial to the playwright and lyricist, according to an article from The New York Times. Miranda, who grew up without seeing people of color represented in classic Broadway hits, made the conscious decision to hire a cast almost entirely of people of color to play America’s founding fathers. The sole exception is actor Jonathan Groff, who plays King George III in an ironic and hilarious twist on the token enemy minority trope often found in media.
The soundtrack to “Hamilton” is a poignant thrill of a ride. Songs like “The Story of Tonight” and “History Has Its Eyes On You” capture the conflicting sentiments of excitement and fear our founding fathers felt during their rebellion against the world’s biggest imperial power. “My Shot,” the third song on the recording, depicts Chernow and Miranda’s Hamilton as the ambitious, non-stop scholar and soldier he was, with his determination to “not throw away his shot” often clouding his better judgment. “Wait For It,” Burr’s signature track, positions Burr — also an orphan with passion and ambition abound — as Hamilton’s wealthier and more cautious foil, creating a duality that runs throughout Miranda’s lyrics.
All the while, theatergoers and listeners get a glimpse into the lives of the Schuyler sisters, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy. Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler marries Hamilton, but not without unspoken conflict from Angelica, who harbors her own feelings for our favorite founding father. Songs like “Helpless” and “That Would Be Enough” play with the motif of a narrative, with Eliza wanting more than anything to be part of her husband’s story. When things go sour, Eliza’s solo track, “Burn,” escalates the tension in the best way possible. Eliza strengthens in her moment of crisis … but an unimaginable tragedy brings her character arc full-circle. Peggy takes a backseat role in the Schuyler sisters’ story, but actress Jasmine Cephas-Jones is dual casted as Maria Reynolds, Hamilton’s sultry-voiced mistress. Reynolds has her moment in “Say No To This,” a sexy and heartstopping track.
The soundtrack culminates in a heartbreaking finale … but I won’t spoil the ending, in case you weren’t paying attention in U.S. History. “Hamilton” is a clever, emotional and inventive take on musical theater. There’s nothing else quite like Miranda’s masterpiece. It’s easy to see why “Hamilton” has topped the charts and become Broadway’s biggest hit of the moment.