By Emma Gordon
How does a Broadway cast recording made from an eight hundred-page biography of a forgotten Founding Father turn out to be a crossover chart-topping hit?
This album, chronicling “the ten-dollar Founding Father’s” life is none other than Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton,” and it’s slamming through music barriers and emotional walls much like its namesake when he began to make a name for himself the New York political scene.
Released first by NPR, it hit iTunes on September 21st and immediately reached the top of the charts. Not only did it reach number one for cast albums, but also third on rap albums, five on digital and nine on top album sales. Along with these many accolades, composer, lyricist and star of the show, Lin Manuel-Miranda, has earned a McArthur genius grant for his accomplishment.
From all the buzz the show has been generating since its off-Broadway run at The Public, it is no surprise that there was a mad dash to finally purchase the cast album in order finally get a taste of the hardest ticket on Broadway, but the pure genius of this score is what has made this listener absolutely addicted.
Much like Miranda’s previous shows “In the Heights” and “Bring it On,” the score combines a variety of music from hip-hop and rap to the more traditional musical theater canon. In the forty-six minute two-disc album, you are taken through the entire life of Alexander Hamilton. One has to listen carefully though, because the incredibly talented cast has managed to squeeze 20,520 words into just under two and a half hours. According to Leah Libresco of FiveThirtyEight, they’re managing out 200 words per minute and if Hamilton was brought to a normal musical pace, it would last about twelve hours long. The show’s opener alone manages to capture the first four hundred pages of the biography, bringing the audience up to speed on how Hamilton arrived in New York along with a foreshadowing of all of the important players throughout Hamilton’s life in less than four minutes. The show continues through the American Revolution, the birth of the Constitution and, eventually, the fateful duel.
Fast paced and full of hysterical and heart wrenching details, at every turn this is a soundtrack that even those dead set against show tunes will enjoy. Miranda has managed to capture this man’s life in a way that relates to everyone listening, and aligns perfectly with what we’re facing today. Here is the story of an immigrant who came to find a better life in American and fought tooth and nail to the top as best he could.
Unlike other historic musicals such as “1776” with a light pedantic score, “Hamilton” drives its cast album with a constant irresistible beat. The songs take listeners through the revolution and capture the energy so fully that you feel as if you’re fighting with them. Through ‘Right Hand Man’ and ‘Stay Alive’ the electrifying beat shifts from rap to a more classical feel to hip-hop to quick monologues, which keep a listener on the edge of whatever seat their currently occupying.
This listener can’t truly put into words the immense emotional roller coaster on which that this soundtrack takes you. It’s perfect for inner history geek in all of us; it can be argued that one can learn just as much about Alexander Hamilton, the inner workings of the Revolution and the writing of the Constitution than in a history class. For the music nerd within us all, it spans the great span of the music spectrum and blends them in a way that almost makes it a genre all its own. One moment you’re listening to a rap cabinet battle and the next a whimsical musical number sung by none other than George III.
When one has listened to it enough to start to understand (and recite) every line of the show, one can truly hear just how similar “Hamilton’s” story is to American’s today. His life and the messages his comrades and enemies present within the two-disc download are ones we can carry into our 21st century lives.
Emma Gordon is a Contributing Writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org