Review: Hamilton: The Revolution

26200563Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Genre: Non-fiction, Play
Maturity Rating: 5
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country’s origins for a diverse new generation.

Hamilton: The Revolution gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages–“since before this was even a show,” according to Miranda–trace its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 40 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don’t throw away their shot.

I was given this book as a Christmas gift, and expected it to be basically a coffee table book. I’ve had Broadway collectors’ books like this in the past, and they’ve always been basically scripts/librettos with a bunch of really high quality pictures. Occasionally they might have a note about the costumes or actor bios or something, but usually just song lyrics. So I picked this one up Christmas evening expecting to just kind of flip through and look at the pictures.

Boy was I wrong.

In addition to the libretto, which is heavily noted on by Lin-Manuel Miranda (FASCINATING notes), there is essentially a documentary making-of kept up by Jeremy McCarter, walking the reader through the entire process of creating the musical. Each short “chapter” focused on a different topic: the inspiration, lyric writing, choreography, an actor, collaboration with Ron Chernow, things like that.

I was sucked in. I found myself picking it up in every spare moment. Lin’s notes would have me laughing out loud, shaking my head, and talking to him. Yes, talking to Lin. Jeremy’s sections, on the other hand, would find me silent in concentration, trying to imagine the events and people he was describing, aided by the beautiful photographs. The process of creating a musical is one I’m moderately familiar with, but this book left me feeling like I know nothing about it. More goes into production alone than I could possibly imagine, never mind song-writing and story-telling.

The people in the book were so dynamic and unique that sometimes it was hard to remember that they’re real actual people, not fictional characters. While the documentary sections were too short to allow me to really get to know the people involved, it left me desperate to read their biographies. Which probably don’t exist yet…

But, as I said, my favorite part was reading Lin’s notes on his lyrics. While each and every hip-hop reference flew way over my head, I felt proud that I hadn’t missed a single historical one. “You’re going to have to rap a lot faster than that if you want me to miss a reference to The Boston Tea Party, Lin,” I remember saying out loud. The musical explanations were my favorite, because I hadn’t noticed most on my own, but I am a proficient enough musician to understand them, and I have a MUCH deeper appreciation for the music I’m listening to.

And I mentioned the photographs, right? Like, 3 or 4 times? Exactly what you would expect from a book like this. Beautiful, artistic, mood-setting. Perfection.

My only criticism is that toward the end of the book, Jeremy McCarter took his story in a sort of political direction. While he attempted to say that Hamilton isn’t just for democrats or republicans, everything else he said indicated otherwise. I mean, I guess I can’t be surprised, none of the people involved keep their political affiliations a secret, and the Obama administration used Hamilton as a democratic party fundraiser. But it just isn’t what I wanted to read about. I wanted to read about musical theater.

On the other hand, Jeremy’s notes left me feeling a lot more optimistic about being American. Maybe we aren’t the “best country in the world” like we’re brainwashed to believe as children, but there is something special about a country where an orphan immigrant can have his picture on the $10 bill.

One of the great things about this addition to my library is that it’s a book I can pick up again and again just to look at a section or two. I don’t have to read the whole thing to enjoy it. So I guess in that way it is sort of a coffee table book, just an intense one! I highly recommend to anyone who loves Hamilton, or even if you don’t and you just love musicals.

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