By Sarah Hayes, A&E editor
“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?”
This opens the first act of “Hamilton,” the off-Broadway turned Broadway hip-hop musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, written, composed, and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. Having a rap-based musical is not entirely revolutionary—Miranda himself wrote “In The Heights,” a 2008 musical based in his home neighborhood of Washington Heights—but the fact that none of the main cast, bar King George, are played by white actors is. As Smithsonian Magazine described it when President Barack Obama came to see the show for himself, “our first black president stepped inside to see our first president, black.”
The creator of the United States’ first national bank and our original secretary of the treasury does not sound like the ideal subject for the spitfire raps that come out of Miranda’s mouth during the show, but “Hamilton” is proving to be the most explosive history lesson to ever cross a Broadway stage. Alexander Hamilton was a man who spoke loudly, decisively, and at great length. He was also no stranger to fighting, got into many a duel during his time (his most famous with Aaron Burr being the one that would end his life), and had a reputation for womanizing that destroyed his political career.
Then again, if you are one of the thousands of people who have either seen “Hamilton” live on stage or purchased the original Broadway cast recording, you do not need me to recollect the saucy details of the Reynolds affair, or the release of the Reynolds pamphlet, or how Hamilton was making off with not one but two Schuyler sisters at the same time. You certainly would not need me to summarize the legendary duel between Hamilton and Burr that caps off the second act of the play, or any of the events between them that led up to that particular meeting at dawn in a remote section of New Jersey.
If you are like me, you cannot afford to fly out to New York City to see Miranda and his team perform live. Luckily, the OBR is such a full narrative from start to finish that the connecting visuals and narrations of the stage show are not entirely necessary. The appeal of the “Hamilton” OBR is that it is a complete story; it is the rise and fall of a public figure, our “ten dollar Founding Father without a father” who creates his success out of the literal ruins of his childhood, rises through the ranks to become a crucial member of President George Washington’s cabinet, only to watch his legacy crumble due to political machinations and his own inability to keep his trousers tightly buckled around attractive women. Alongside him is a cast of characters including Eliza Schuyler, his wife and confidant through all the chaos, Eliza’s sister Angelica, who continues to have a relationship with Hamilton after he is already married, Aaron Burr, the original frenemy of early America, and George Washington, Hamilton’s idol and mentor.
Then there is the ‘revolutionary set’ who led Hamilton to join the American Revolution in the first place—John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan—who get to have not only all the best drinking songs on the album but are a major component of one of the top tracks overall, “My Shot,” which took Miranda an entire year to write, pointing to how crucial it was to the character of Hamilton and the play as a whole. Every song is a blast, but “My Shot” is the rallying cry of the entire show. It is Hamilton proclaiming his life’s goals in the span of a few minutes, and it is also an earworm of a song.
Every song on the “Hamilton” OBR is a gem, whether it’s Eliza’s anti-torch song “Burn” after learning her husband has been having an affair, Aaron Burr’s “Wait For It,” which successfully humanizes an unerring villainized historical figure, or “Cabinet Battle #1,” the first showdown between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson which easily turns from cabinet meeting to an epic rap battle of American history. Even though Hamilton did not get the approval from Congress that he wanted in that meeting, the fact that he got to tell Jefferson “turn around, bend over, I’ll show you where my shoe fits” makes ol’ Alex the true winner of that bout.
It is almost impossible to write about the near-universal appeal of “Hamilton” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics without simply playing the entire album start to finish. It is continuously attracting fans who are not into rap or history, much less a combination of the two. It succeeds as both a musical and a rap album and it might be the coolest biography of Alexander Hamilton to hit the streets in this decade. Considering how hard “Hamilton” fever is hitting America, now is the best time to let the fever take you over as well—do not waste your shot in listening to the most revolutionary LP of 2015.