To say Hamilton: An American Musical is a phenomenon is an understatement. It has captured the zeitgeist of American history and culture in a succinct package that challenges and mirrors our own modern lives. The work of art has touched the world and has singularly elevated a humble public servant to celebrity status. And it is sold out on Broadway and in Chicago and will undoubtedly sell out its future residences in San Francisco and London’s West End. But if you’re not one of the lucky ones who’ve had a ticket in your hands, fear not! Hamilton’s America is your easiest (and free!!) opportunity to see the groundbreaking performance.
Take a Peek a Hamilton’s America:
In this new Great Performances special, which kicks off this season of PBS’ Arts Fall Festival, Lin-Manuel Miranda takes viewers inside his creative process and behind the scenes of the Broadway sensation. He had the foresight to allow filmmaker Alex Horwitz to record the genesis of the landmark musical, showing him as he wrote lyrics in places including Hamilton’s home and in the bedroom of Aaron Burr. We have the benefit of hindsight and know that Miranda was capturing lightning in a bottle, but when first started out on the project, he was merely interested in writing a song or two about a forgotten founding father.
The documentary explains how in 2009, President Obama invited Miranda (then earning praise for his Tony-winning play In the Heights) to the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word to perform a piece about “The American Experience.” Manuel performed a few stanzas of what would eventually become the song, “Alexander Hamilton,” and the reaction from POTUS, FLOTUS and the gathered audience, let Miranda know that he was onto something big.
The special answered all of my burning questions: the Who, the What and most importantly, the Why of the man and the show. Miranda shares the influences and emotions that went into creating and performing many of the musical’s songs, and we get insight from the actors like Leslie Odom Jr., Christopher Jackson and Phillipa Soo, who brought those roles to life. Celebrities, politicians and historians — including Presidents Obama and G.W. Bush, Jimmy Fallon and Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo — also appear to talk about the landmark status of the play and to set up Revolutionary War America, and explain the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton. If you don’t have the fortitude to attack the 800+page biography by Ron Chernow (I tried, and I failed), consider this your very entertaining Cliff’s Notes.
The musical doesn’t shy away from some of the ugly truths of the characters it portrays: infidelity, jealousy and competition are as paramount to the show as aspiration and revolution. “There’s no saints in this show,” explains Miranda. “Not a one.” And there’s dueling!
Some of the biggest praise for Hamilton: An American Musical comes from Miranda’s ability to turn a man who lived hundreds of years ago into a relevant public figure. One example is Miranda use of rap-battles to mirror the tension of Jefferson and Hamilton as they debated America’s post-Revolutionary War debt plan. This historical moment of diametric opposition comes alive when set to a hip-hop beat. Is poignant and dramatic, and makes history accessible to everyone. And Hamilton’s America brings that access right into our living rooms. To borrow a line from Hamilton: An American Musical, we get to be in “the room where it happens.”
Hamilton’s America: A Documentary Film > PBS > Friday, Oct. 21 at 9pm
Check local listings for PBS times in your area.
Update!: PBS will also live stream Hamilton’s America on the Great Performances Facebook Page at the time of the broadcast, Friday, October 21 at 9pm. This is the first time the long-running series has live streamed one of its productions.