‘Hamilton’ is a cast album to remember
Lin-Manuel Miranda seamlessly blends the American past with America of today.
Oct. 14, 2015
On Sept. 25, I first listened to the cast album of “Hamilton”, a new Broadway musical. I haven’t stopped since.
This show is based on the life of the “10-dollar founding father” Alexander Hamilton but is told using the music of today, including rap, R&B and even British pop sung by infamous King George III. People of color play all of the parts (save for the king), from the Marquis de Lafayette to President George Washington.
The combination of the 18th-century setting and current music should clash, but they somehow perfectly intertwine. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the lyricist, composer and title character, manages to completely abolish any distance between the time of the American Revolution and the present day.
In short, this musical and its corresponding cast album are nothing short of revolutionary. The opening track, “Alexander Hamilton,” had me hooked in fewer than 30 seconds. What starts out as various actors rapping clever (and historically accurate) lyrics to mere snaps gradually builds into a massive ensemble piece reminiscent of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” in its mythologizing of the main character.
A mere two songs later is arguably the catchiest song of the album, “My Shot.” This song does a fantastic job of calling attention to Hamilton’s intense ambition and immigrant background, especially in its chorus: “You know I’m just like my country/ I’m young, scrappy and hungry/And I’m not throwing away my shot!”
“The Schuyler Sisters” and “Helpless” provide great examples of the intricate and endless references peppering the entire album. In the former, a love letter to New York City in the late 18th century, Angelica, Peggy and Eliza Schuyler take on the sound of the ’90s R&B group Destiny’s Child.
A few songs later, Eliza, Hamilton’s soon-to-be wife, sings “Helpless” in the style of Beyoncé to tell the story of the courtship between she and Alexander. Hamilton’s lifelong adversary, Aaron Burr, played by Leslie Odom Jr., serves as narrator to the story, and his songs are some of the album’s strongest. “Wait For It,” Burr’s soliloquy, is not only an incredibly intelligent insight into the historical figure’s psyche but also feels comfortably familiar.
In my personal favorite song, “The Room Where It Happens” Burr discusses the frustrations of being excluded from backroom decision-making, using a blend of New Orleans and Dixieland jazz.
Though these compelling and insightful moments could have completely driven the album, Manuel refuses to skimp on the comic relief.
“What’d I Miss,” the hilarious opening of Act II, introduces the character of Thomas Jefferson returning to the colonies after the war. Jefferson is also a key player in both “Cabinet Battles” songs, in which the various secretaries to the President argue the issues of the day in the style of a rap battle, and Hamilton suggests that Jefferson “Turn around/bend over/I’ll show you/Where my shoe fits.”
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots produced the album, and it shows. Each song sounds fantastic, building tension and emotion effortlessly.
Miranda spent nine years of his life researching and writing this musical, so the story is more than historically accurate: It pays incredibly close attention to details usually only studied by historians.
If you have always been skeptical of musical theatre, or have been interested but unsure of where to start, this is the album for you. If you are a fan of music or musical theatre in any form, why haven’t you listened to Hamilton yet?
MOVE gives “Hamilton” five out of five stars.