“How does a bastard, orphan
son of a whore and a Scotsman
dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Caribbean, by providence
impoverished in squalor
grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”
–from “Alexander Hamilton” lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
It’s a great question, and an even better story. It’s also the subject of one of the most successful Broadway musicals of the modern era, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. The Great Performances special, Hamilton’s America tells this story in various ways, threading together history and art into a cohesive whole that explores a hero of the revolution and a modern revolutionary storyteller.
Hamilton’s America is part historical documentary, part modern confessional. It flips back and forth between the real story of the life of Alexander Hamilton, and the story of Lin-Manuel Miranda, as he writes and produces the musical.
Here is the story of one of the fathers of our country, from his humble beginnings on the Caribbean isle of Nevis, to his coming to America and getting involved in the revolution. His time as a hero of the day, all the way through his contributions as the first secretary of the treasury, culminating in his death in a duel at the hands of Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s story runs parallel, beginning with his inspiration reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton while on vacation after producing the successful Musical In the Heights, at which time he realized that this was a story best told through hip-hop. We see his meetings with his directors as they put together the show, and his own confessionals about the stresses he was experiencing during the process.
The historical documentary portion goes along the way these things do, with artwork and documents displayed and described. Historians and other public figures give commentary and talk about Alexander Hamilton’s impact. A few notables include Jimmy Fallon, Elizabeth Warren, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and President George W. Bush.
If, like me, you’ve enjoyed the Hamilton soundtrack, but haven’t been able to see the actual show, you’ll be glad to know that in addition to the documentary elements, Hamilton’s America also includes pieces of the musical and interviews with its directors and actors. It’s useful in putting names to faces, if nothing else. It also gives you a good sense of the staging of some of its bigger numbers.
Hamilton’s America is the story of a musical, the story of a man, and a story of a young country. It should please anyone interested in history or musical theater, and is a good way to scratch the Hamilton itch for anyone unable to make it to Broadway
Hamilton’s America debuts Friday, Oct 21st at 9:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.