Hamilton: An American Musical has redefined musical theater and dragged the public eye back toward the 250-year-old human drama of the American Revolution. It’s use of hip-hop to portray the revolution as a musical has led many people with interest in one of those spheres to pay attention to the other two.
Now this groundbreaking production enters an interesting phase as Miranda and others from the original cast move onto other opportunities and a touring production is kicking off as well. This seems like an appropriate time to step back and appreciate the history that fueled Miranda’s creation, and the original cast recording of the songs that propelled it to its immense popularity.
The above is intended to be a portal through which you can explore the lives of historical figures featured in Hamilton: An American Musical and key dates in Alexander Hamilton’s life, the Revolutionary War, and the early years of the Republic. After choosing a keydate, hovering over someone will tell you their birth and death dates, their age at the time of the chosen event (or how long since they died), and the bottom of the page will display a portrait of the historical figure and a picture of their original Broadway representation.
On top of that basic interactivity, clicking on a name will open that person’s Wikipedia page in another tab or window. Lin-Manuel Miranda has done a phenomenal job of dramatizing Hamilton’s life, but there are many fascinating events and facts that simply didn’t fit into one evening’s entertainment. For example:
- Hamilton’s only offspring featured in the play is his son, Phillip, but he and Eliza had seven other children. If you follow Wikipedia links to some of their pages you’ll see that they had many accomplishments themselves, including Alexander Jr. serving as a divorce attorney for Aaron Burr’s ex-wife.
- Aaron Burr’s grandfather was indeed a “fire & brimstone preacher,” perhaps the most infamous one of all, Jonathan Edwards who authored “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“
- John Laurens page is recommended reading top-to-bottom. A book, play, etc. focusing just on Laurens would be fascinating.
Miranda’s omissions of some of these facts and liberties taken for dramatic purposed have come under fire from some historians, but those critics seem to be missing the point. A musical is not and cannot treat a subject in the same way a history book does. The play does shine a light on a fascinating historical period that some had only looked at as a dry topic in history class. Hopefully the above makes it easier for people to see some of the larger trends in these figures’ lives and serves as a portal for deeper investigation.
Fueled by this history, Hamilton’s Original Broadway Cast Recording is engrossing on many other levels:
This Mental Floss article details the facts behind certain song lyrics, and can serve as a bridge between the history and the music of Hamilton.
Click on any of the song titles above will load a 30-second clip of that track from Amazon in a new browser tab or window. For obvious copyright reasons I couldn’t include the full songs in this way, but the link at the bottom of the screen takes you to the soundtrack’s page on Amazon, where you could purchase the soundtrack in full or Amazon Prime member can listen to it for free in its entirety.
Hovering over a track will load an illustration from a project called #Ham4Pamphlet inspired by the track. The project was organized by an artist named Arielle Jovellanos and along with being nice, fun art the illustrations often help those of us who haven’t had a chance to see the play live gain a better understanding of the visual context of the songs.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hyper-literate, polysyllabic rhymes as Hamilton, twisted Britpop romance in Jonathan Groff’s King George tracks, and incorporation of Revolutionary drinking songs are just a few of the fascinating lyrical, musical, and historical elements packed into this music.
I hope the above offers a fraction of the entertainment and insights I’ve gained while creating it and enjoying the soundtrack. This is my love letter to the play and my thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda for creating the play and to Ron Chernow for writing the Hamilton biography that inspired Miranda.
Huge thanks to Jeffrey Shaffer, a true Tableau (the software used to create the above) master, who generously reached out after I tweeted an unspecific gripe about my difficulties in getting the songs to play in the second page. His identification of URLs for the Amazon song samples made that page possible.
All of the key date icons used in the first page come from The Noun Project, a great resource for iconography, free to use so long as the icons creators are credited. I used the following and am very thankful to the artists: white house by Luis Prado, Quill and Ink by Adam Terpening, Guillotine by Anton Gajdosik, Tombstone by Jeanette Clement, dollar by Christopher Beach, Military Rank by NAS, Cannon by Richard Dooley, and Hurricane by Lil Squid.