Hamilton: The Revolution

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Hamilton: the Revolution is the story of two revolutions. There is the story of Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution, as told through the libretto (text of the sung and spoken words). Then there is the story of a musical that is truly revolutionary: one in which Hamilton is presented with a hip-hop sound and sensibility, and a mostly non-white cast play the Founding Fathers.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and original star of the show, and Jeremy McCarter, cultural critic and former director and producer at Public Theater, set out to describe these historical and musical revolutions side by side. The book begins with a description of Miranda rapping the opening number to what he was then calling “The Hamilton Mixtape,” at a 2009 White House event hosted by the newly-elected President Obama. That is followed by the text of the song he performed, and continues in that fashion, introducing us to actors, producers, historians, and others, with discussions on storytelling, hip-hop culture and racism in America–all interspersed with the lyrics of the musical.

It’s an unusual approach. When I pick up a book about a popular Broadway hit (think Wicked or Book of Mormon), I skip to the libretto (usually relegated to the back of the book), pop in the CD, and start reading along with the music. With Hamilton: The Revolution, I set out to do the same, but soon learned that much of the detail about the songs was in the accompanying chapters.

On the lyrics pages, Miranda provides lots of juicy and insightful annotations—on his attempts (and occasional creative license) to achieve historical accuracy, on his shout-outs to Grandmaster Flash, Busta Rhymes and other hip-hop artists, and, despite it being a hip-hop influenced musical, on the strong connections with A Chorus Line, Stephen Sondheim, and the canon of musical theater.

The book is a joy to hold and look at. Everything about it is designed to create the feeling you are reading an historical book, from the bleached photographs to the stiff, thick paper that gives it a handmade look.  The archaic style of the titles harken back to Hamilton’s age, which is evident as soon as you read the subtitle: Being the complete libretto of the Broadway musical with a true account of its creation and concise remarks on Hip-Hop, the power of stories, and the new America.

And when you’re done with the libretto, the library has much more to explore.  There is Ron Chernow’s book (print or audio) that forms the basis of the musical. If the CDs for Hamilton or In the Heights (Miranda’s first musical) are checked out, you can stream them and many other musicals anytime through Hoopla. Or check out the music score (the printed music).

Whether you glance at the pictures, read the articles, or dive deeply into the lyrics and notes, Hamilton: The Revolution is a great introduction to the hottest show on the planet.

 

Hamilton: The Revolution

Libretto, history and photographs of the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”