Hamilton’s Cascade of Creativity
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s life has inspired a recent cascade of creativity. First Ron Chernow wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning biography, “Alexander Hamilton,” which begat Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster, “Hamilton: The Musical.”
Since its launch in 2015, the musical was the catalyst for a PBS special, a mixtape, and yet another book, “Hamilton: The Revolution,” a virtual matryoshka doll of stories nesting inside of stories: autobiography, biography and history.
In “Hamilton: The Revolution,” Lin-Manuel and co-author, writer, director and producer, Jeremy McCarter memorialize the revolution’s evolution—from Miranda’s initial spark upon reading the biography, to his 2009 debut performance at the White House Poetry Jam, An Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word, and through the development and birth of the Broadway hit.
‘Unique’ is an often overused (and abused) word—but “Hamilton: The Revolution” truly helps underscore the uniqueness of a hip hop musical set in the Revolutionary War period along with its groundbreaking cast.
The book describes Chernow’s first visit to the rehearsal studio and his surprise to find black and Latino actors cast as the Founding Fathers: “Not being a rap listener, Ron hadn’t given much thought to the fact that the people best able to perform the songs that Lin had been writing might look nothing like their historical counterparts….Within five minutes, Ron was carried away by what he heard. He became what he calls a “militant” defender of the idea that actors of any race could play the Founding Fathers.”
There’s a behind-the-scenes look at the many theatrical facets: casting, rehearsals, costume-design, props, lighting, music, choreography and more. The content is great in any version but the printed hard-copy has an added aesthetic “coffee-tablesque” design, full-paged photos, production scenes, song lyrics, notes, sketches—it’s a work of art itself.
Lin’s side-bar notes give us glimpses into his rapper’s rhapsody and reflections on thoughts, feelings and events that coincided with the writing and production. There’s wordplay fun, “I know every word that rhymes with Burr. It’s a long list. I tried to use all of them in this show…” to the opposite spectrum of emotions, “I wept the whole time I wrote this scene…”.
Throughout the book, the passion, from joy to sorrow, of the musical’s own founding fathers and mothers is almost palpable as the show unfolds. In rehearsing “It’s Quiet Uptown,” a song of grief and healing in the aftermath of the death of Hamilton’s son, Philip, “Actors cried while singing it, the production team cried while listening to it, Andy couldn’t bear to choreograph it.”
It’s tempting (and probably accurate) to see Hamilton, Chernow and Miranda as a trifecta of geniuses. But in doing so, we risk minimizing, the years of dedication and effort in bringing their respective works to life: Hamilton was a life-long prolific writer; Chernow spent five years researching and writing his book; Miranda worked on the musical masterpiece for seven. (It’s not a stretch to say that the trio possesses ingenuity of real-life curious cats who read.)
“Hamilton: The Revolution” helps us celebrate the work and time of the creative journey as much as its final destination.
…”and all on the strength of his writing, I think he embodies the word’s ability to make a difference.” Lin-Manuel Miranda speaking of Alexander Hamilton at the 2009 White House Poetry Jam, An Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word,