Hamilton: A Primer

Hamilton: An American Musical comes to the Civic Center for 24 performances over the next few weeks, an estimated 65,000 people will take in this masterpiece. 

It's a show using hip hop music to tell the story of the American Revolution and beginning of our country through the eyes of Alexander Hamilton. 

The use of hip hop can be intimidating to some who aren't familiar with the genre, so here's a primer with videos to help explain the show and give you an idea of what you're in for if you're lucky enough to attend. 

Here is a good overview of the show, an introduction to Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator, and a good chance to see how the show looks on stage. It's a feature from CBS Morning News

 

This whole journey started when Lin Manuel Miranda was invited to the White House in 2009 for a poetry jam. He debuted hat was then a rap song but would become the opening number to the play. This is a bit different from the actual open, which I'll include in a later video, but it's fun to see the origins: 

 

To see how this took shape into the opening number of the show, here's a video from a performance at the 2016 Grammy's. This video can't be embedded so follow THIS LINK to watch. 

Many of the best available videos came from another trip to the White House, after the show had reached fame, when the entire cast was invited by the Obamas. 

Here's the first big song of the show, Hamilton's real introduction, and a song that Lin worked for over a year on. It's the third song of the musical and it sets the stage for much of the first act and establishes the budding rivalry between Hamilton and Burr. 

One thing that may go over the head of people less familiar with hip hop is how Lin uses musical styles to show changing times. For example King George doesn't rap, he sings Brit-Pop inspired songs. The first time we meet Thomas Jefferson (beginning of Act 2) he's singing Jazz, because he's been in France for a long time and missed the new, hip-hop America (he catches on quickly). It happens in this song, too. 

Notice at the beginning the other characters are rapping in a very old school way, simple rhyme schemes, etc. Then Hamilton comes in and blows them away with lyricism unlike anything they'd ever heard. Just another layer to the show, a way Lin tells us that Hamilton was ahead of his time. This is "My Shot"

 

Of course, it's not just men in the show. Here's the introduction of the most prominent women, they Schulyer Sisters. Again, a nice play on musical styles here as this resembles R&B songs of the 90's and 2000's, like Destiny's Child. This is from the Tony Awards, the end of the show:

 

This is a clip from the same song, also in the White House, but features all of the women in the cast:

 

From the same Tonys, here's their big number, a big point at the end of the first act, winning the war. This version isn't great because it's recorded off a TV, but it gives you a good feel for how the show will look, and it's also a great song:

 

Here's a portion of one of my favorite songs in the show. Leslie Odom Jr is so fantastic, this is his big song. Think of it as his version of "My Shot", where he lays out his thought process and way of living, in direct opposition to Hamilton's. This video is interesting because you can actually move it as it's playing to see the entire ensemble singing. Leslie Odom Jr is a powerful singer, and even though it's only the last half of this song, you get the gist: 

 

This is from Act 2, after the war, while setting up the government. Hamilton is Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Jefferson is Secretary of State, James Madison is on Jefferson's side, and President George Washington moderates the discussion. Notice Jefferson is played by the same actor who played Marquis de Lafayette in the first act.

This is a cool scene because it plays out like a rap battle, where two rappers go head to head rhyming against each other. In this version, they talk more than rap, so it's pretty easy to follow. This is the first of two "Cabinet Rap Battles" in the show, and it's fantastic: 

 

This is one of my wife's favorite parts of the show, because it takes a beautifully written speech and uses it word for word. It's George Washington stepping down after two terms as President, setting that precedent, and showing the world that we don't have a king, we are a self governed and self led people. The original speech is incredible, and actor Chris Jackson (Washington) is really good: 

 

There are likely more videos out there, and I would highly recommend spending some time with the soundtrack, but this gives you a good idea of what you're in for if you are lucky enough to see this show here in Des Moines or anywhere. 

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