11 Things 'Hamilton's America' Taught Us About The Musical, The Process, & The Founding Father Himself
Time to take a shot! What was your favorite part of Hamilton's America , the PBS documentary that loosely chronicles the hit musical's rise to immortality, while integrating the history that inspired it all. Was it Lin-Manuel Miranda making googly-eyes at both Stephen Sondheim and Nas, the part where President Obama said "I'm in most of the rooms" where it happens, or the field trips to historical homes that the cast went on to learn more about the characters they play and the world that they lived in? Even the biggest Hamilfans probably learned something during the program.
Now, Hamilton's America is more for the history nerds than the musical theatre nerds — but if this show teaches us anything, it's that we can geek out over multiple disciplines at once. There's a little bit about the writing process, and enough glimpses at moments where the cast realizes how big Hamilton is to give you all the feels. However, it's more of a journey than a behind-the-scenes look.
There's also a lot of footage that those who haven't seen the show, or obsessed over whatever legal bits of taped performance exist on the internet already. You'll see some bits of staging, and technically some spoilers — even though most of this is in the history books. That said, as a quick recap, here were some of my favorite fun facts and takeaways from Hamilton's America that made me love Hamilton all over again.
1. Hamilton Grabbed Hold Of Miranda On Vacation
Just to start with something simple, that many fans already know — the inspiration for Hamilton snuck into its creators mind while he was still doing In The Heights on Broadway and took Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton with him as light reading. What I didn't know is that he then invited Chernow to a production of Heights, and it was there that he told him about his idea to adapt the story using hip hop. Can you imagine?
2. What POTUS Really Thought Of The Idea
Hamilton wasn't originally a full musical. It was conceived as a song cycle, or a handful of songs, called the Hamilton Mixtape. What is now known as the title song was performed at a White House poetry event in 2009. "When you told us, 'I'm gonna do a rap about Alexander Hamilton,'" admitted Obama in the documentary, "we said, 'well, good luck with that.'" Ha! It's true, you can hear the audience laughing six years ago at the idea. Nobody's laughing now.
3. "My Shot" Is Punnier Than You Thought
Unless you've seen the show.... well I certainly didn't realize that they were taking literal shots of alcohol in this song, though now I can't see how I didn't picture that. Talking about chances and foreshadowing future duels — that I got.
4. Why Jeff Is So Jazzy
In case you didn't catch it upon first listen or (lucky) first view, Daveed Diggs explains the reason why Thomas Jefferson enters with jazz rather than rap. He's been in Europe while America moved on. He's behind the times, and the genre of the music reflects that. Of course, it doesn't take him long to catch up and surpass his fellow Founding Fathers, because that's just who Jefferson was.
5. Paul Ryan Loves The Federalist Papers
One of the most impressive parts of the documentary was the roster of politicians who weighed in from both sides of the political spectrum.
6. Lin-Manuel Miranda's Piano Isn't In Tune
The runner or "subplot" in this documentary about Miranda's move to a new place in Washington Heights made me feel so much better about my own hot mess apartment.
7. That "Icarus" Line Is Real
Yup, Angelica Schuyler really did compare Hamilton to Icarus in a letter to Eliza. You can't make that up.
8. The Section On Washington's Farewell Address Is Scarily Relevant
You know, or we could be kept in suspense.
9. Duels Actually Weren't Meant To Be Deadly, Ish
Joane Freeman, a Yale Professor and truly the doc's MVP, explained that while standing in a field and shooting at each other sounds insane to today's audience, duels were really more about facing the possibility of death in front of your opponent as a show of bravery and machismo. That's reflected in the show with the lyric "most disputes die and no one shoots."
10. It's Cool To Admit That The Founding Fathers Weren't Perfect
There's a good discussion towards the end of the documentary about reconciling the good and the bad in people, whether those people are politicians or rappers, or anyone in a position of genius and power.
11. (And Peggy)
Maybe you didn't know that Jasmine Cephas-Jones is Ron Cephas-Jones' daughter. Maybe you didn't know that she plays Peggy and Maria Reynolds. Maybe the documentary made you think again about the women of Hamilton and how the musical brings them into the spotlight in such diverse and incredibly ways. But most importantly, "Peggy" trended on Twitter after Hamilton's America ended, as if the whole world shouted "AND PEGGY" all at once. There's no better way to end such a delightful and informative evening.
Images: Courtesy of Joan Marcus; Giphy (4)