‘Hamilton’ is a pop cultural phenomenon. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s multi-award-winning musical about America’s founding fathers can count Barack and Michelle Obama among its many famous fans, not to mention the countless rap superstars who jostled for a spot on an album of reboots and remixes, The Hamilton Mixtape: Busta Rymes, Alicia Keys, Usher and many more besides.
But how did a Broadway musical become a big hit with presidents and hip-hop heavies alike? Hamilton is, after all, an improbable thing: a three-hour history lesson imparted through rap. For the most part, the answer lies with its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. A prodigious lyricist, composer and actor, he pulled Hamilton together and then played the main part himself.
Alexander Hamilton is the man on the $? bill, arguably the highest achiever in American history. In Miranda’s hands, he becomes a towering figure, a political genius, tainted only by his tendency for hubris. Hamliton follows him from his revolutionary student days, fighting for America’s independence from British rule in the late 18th century, through his exhaustive efforts to configure a constitution for this new nation.
Politically, Hamilton felt particularly resonant: here was America’s origin myths, its core history, couched in the culture of people of colour with each founding father played by an African-American. On Broadway, its presence has felt outright potent – never more so than when the original cast delivered a curtain call speech protesting directly to Vice-President Mike Pence.
Artistically, however, Hamilton’s a masterpiece. It’s plot pits powerplay against high romance, hanging everything off its hero’s character and supplying a strong supporting cast of political heavyweights: General George Washington, built like a brick wall; a fancypants Thomas Jefferson, the coolest cat in the new country; Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s envious, estimable rival.
But it’s Miranda’s tongue-twisting, layered lyrics, pock-marked with hip-hop references and musical theatre nods, that really blow us all away and a cast spitting rhythms and spinning rhymes in constitutional rap battles makes Hamilton the most thrilling theatrical event of the century so far.