A couple of years ago, as my wife and I were on a several-hour car trip, she suggested we listen to a podcast that included an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” the blockbuster production that tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in rap and hip-hop music.
As I am unfortunately sometimes inclined to do, after a few minutes of listening to the podcast that also included short excerpts from some of the songs from the show, I made an immediate judgment that I would not like it, as I am not a fan of either of those musical genres.
I shared this with my sweet wife, and as she is sometimes (if not often) inclined to do in dealing with me lo these many years, she made no reply.
After listening to the podcast, I began to hear more and more about “Hamilton” and heard from virtually everyone who saw it that it was phenomenal, right up there with my all-time favorite “Les Miserables.” It was suggested to me that it would be shortsighted to summarily dismiss it because of a supposed distaste for rap and hip-hop. (I have no doubt this was exactly what my wife was thinking at the time we listened to the podcast and I offered my quick opinion, but she was wise – and kind — enough to refrain from challenging my bullheadedness).
Anyway, over time I warmed toward the idea of seeing it and I confessed to my long-suffering spouse that perhaps I had been a bit hasty in my judgment. For the past year, we’ve been talking about trying to go to one of the cities where it is running and seeing a performance.
In September, when a work conference was scheduled for me the week after Thanksgiving in Chicago, where “Hamilton” has been playing at the CIBC Theatre since September 2016, we decided that would be a good opportunity to try and see it. Happily, it worked out for us to do so.
On the night of November 28, my wife and I, along with our son who lives in northern Indiana, a short train ride away from the windy city, finally attended the play we had heard so much about.
Several weeks before our trip, I decided I would like to read the book on which it is based, titled simply “Alexander Hamilton,” a lengthy tome by Ron Chernow. I downloaded it to my electronic reader and managed to read about 75 percent before we went.
While I will not give a full review of either, I will tell you that both book (which I have now finished) and play are first-rate. And the play, in my opinion, lives up to all the hype.
If, because of the rap and hip-hop, you have any misgivings about seeing it, I encourage you to put those aside. I’m willing to bet you’ll be spellbound, as I was, from start to finish.
Chernow’s book is a full-fledged biography that starts with Hamilton’s birth in the Caribbean, tracing his unlikely journey to America and becoming aide-de-camp to George Washington in the Continental Army, then leading the Federalist Party and becoming the first U.S. Treasury Secretary. His intense rivalry with Thomas Jefferson is featured prominently throughout.
Interwoven with the story of his role as a Founding Father and his post-political life is a poignant narrative about his sometimes tumultuous personal life, including his marriage to Eliza Schuyler, with whom he fathered eight children.
Although I read it electronically, the book weighs in at about 800 pages. So while not for the faint of heart, it’s worth the effort, and was a tremendous help to me in following the past-faced musical version.
Miranda read Chernow’s book during a vacation and began to envision Hamilton’s life as a musical.
He wrote some of the songs in 2009 before writing the complete score and introducing it as an off-Broadway production in 2015, with him playing the role of Alexander Hamilton. It opened on Broadway in July of that year and, after winning numerous awards, continues its run today. (Miranda stopped performing in the Broadway production after about a year).
The cast is mostly non-white, prominently featuring African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Latino actors and singers, a concept Miranda, who is Puerto Rican, has repeatedly defended as a statement of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants, including one of its most prominent Founding Fathers.
He was quoted in the “New York Times” around the time of the Broadway opening as saying the cast “looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional.”
There is also dramatic license taken in the musical, which is understandably a condensed and summarized version of the book. Anyone who has read it, or is a savvy student of history, will note certain historical inaccuracies, including the introduction of Hamilton’s stormy relationship with nemesis Aaron Burr earlier than it actually occurred.
I won’t deny the few inconsistencies bothered me a bit, being three-fourths through the book as I watched the stage version, but not enough to even remotely affect my enjoyment.
I couldn’t leap to my feet fast enough as the final curtain went down on this tremendous production, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Maybe I like rap and hip-hop more than I thought.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.