Since I saw Hamilton at the Alexandra Palace and posted my review, I’ve been having many and various fun arguments with friends and fellow musical theatre lovers as to why this is probably one of the greatest musicals in the last twenty years.
I’ve seen some amazing new musicals like Groundhog Day and Matilda, but none have broken out of the traditional West End productions like Hamilton has. But for me, it’s the intelligence of the writing which really got me. From the complex themes, to the more playful aspects, it just blew me away.
Hamilton is very aware it’s telling a story, even within the musical itself. Both Aaron Burr and Eliza Hamilton are cast as the storytellers. Aaron Burr mostly sings the plot, driving forward the action so you’re left with the uncomfortable feeling that we’re seeing this all through his eyes – Hamilton’s friend, nemesis and killer.
In ‘Burn’, Eliza actually says:
I’m erasing myself from the narrative
Let future historians wonder how Eliza
Reacted when you broke her heart
In fact, the only time the narrative is clearly from Hamilton’s perspective is in ‘Say No to this’ where Burr introduces the song with, “There’s trouble in the air, you can smell it / And Alexander’s by himself. I’ll let him tell it.”
We’re constantly reminded that we’re looking at events through the eyes of Burr, or Eliza, or even from the far-off perspective of future generations. Washington’s song ‘History has its eyes on you’ only emphasises this point. The musical is aware it’s telling you a story of a man, for all his faults, after his death and in retrospect.
We see this through Burr’s constant referring to Hamilton as a “bastard, orphan son of a whore and a scotsman,” and other variations on this description throughout the musical. It’s a recurring musical theme, yes, which usually brings us into a new aspect of Hamilton’s story. But it neatly serves two other purposes; it emphasizes how far Hamilton has come but it also shows that no matter how far he gets, these superficial labels will forever define him.
There are hundreds of little nods and playful lyrics throughout the musical. How about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s little shout out to Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The West Wing’ with Angelica’s lyric “I’m looking for a mind at work.” The Gilbert and Sullivan illusion when Washington announces he’s the “model of a modern major general”. Or how we can forgive King George rhyming ‘subject’ with ‘subject’ when it so beautifully encapsulates the two meanings with a very cheeky delivery. And again with Hamilton’s line “Then I remember my Eliza’s expecting me… Not only that, my Eliza’s expecting.”
And to think that Hamilton was the creation of one man is both incredible and reassuring. So much of what we see now is written and created by committee and aimed to be just new enough to be interesting but also appeal to the broadest range of people because therein lies the money. I’m sure when Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “hey, picture this – the story of one of our founding fathers… but hip-hop,” people must have thought he’d lost it. And yet, he’s made it into a formidable piece of art.
Hamilton is genius because it’s exceptional. Because we’ve not seen anything like it on Broadway or the West End. Because it ticks every box from choreography, to music, to acting and because it doesn’t rely on us indulging in nostalgia. It’s the Les Misérable or Phantom of the Opera of our time.
If you’ve never read the lyrics or looked up the history of Hamilton, I would encourage you to go and have a look because there’s so much hidden in there.