Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Written and Composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Atlantic Records: 2015
Available at the Croswell Library as a 2 Disk Set (coming soon)
Review by Marty Rheaume
From the opening title track to the tragic end, Miranda uses the allure of music to form a palpable connection with our forefathers and the birth of our country. The fist pounding, foot stomping revolutionary spirit reverberates through every track on Disk 1. Hamilton’s impending doom hangs over Disk 2, creating a reflection on political intrigue and family drama. Taken together, they deliver a cinematic musical experience that demands attention and rewards the astute listener.
“Alexander Hamilton” sets the tone with a rousing introduction to the bastard, orphan, son of a Scotsman who lands in New York to be a new man. It’s sung by Alexander (Miranda) and the rest of the cast, including historical heavyweights George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Marquis de Lafayette, King George the III, and Hamilton’s scheming antagonist, Aaron Burr.
“Aaron Burr, Sir” is a glimpse into the polemical relationship between the idealistic Hamilton and the opportunistic Burr, establishing Burr as the central narrator and villain. It’s followed by “My Shot,” a brash meeting of revolutionaries and a continued refrain throughout the production.
We meet Hamilton’s lovely wife Eliza and her sophisticated sister Anjelica as they tantalize us with the intriguing love triangle that characterizes the relationship between them in “The Schuyler Sisters.” They make repeat appearances throughout the show and never fail to add heart and soul.
“You’ll be Back” provides comic relief as King George III plays the role of the spurned monarch who will send a fully armed battalion to remind us of his love. Meanwhile, General Washington is outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, and out planned so he recruits the young scrappy and hungry Alexander to be his “Right Hand Man.”
The Revolution comes to a victorious end in “Yorktown,” another rebellious fist pumper, as Washington, Lafayette, and Hamilton defeat the British. King George III responds to the cocky upstarts by asking “What Comes Next?” in a petulant send off to his former colony.
Disk 2 commences with Jefferson’s grandiose return from France and flows right into the newly arrived Secretary of State’s “Cabinet Battle #1” with Treasury Secretary Hamilton. The rivals go head to head and toe to toe with ruthless style and mic dropping moments.
When Hamilton is not battling the Virginian duo of Jefferson and Madison, he’s trying to balance the roles of young father and young Founding Father and fails when he’s seduced by the siren song of forbidden desire in “Can’t Say No to This.”
After the fallout from Hamilton’s indiscretion and a catastrophic family tragedy, the album loses the triumphalism of Disk 1 and grapples with the challenge of leadership, the struggle of betrayal, and the emptiness of loss.
It culminates in America’s most infamous duel and the bittersweet ending of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?” For Hamilton, it’s the wounded Eliza poignantly immortalizing her Icarus of a husband with her works and his words.
Hamilton delivers top-notch songwriting and gripping storytelling. Refrains repeated throughout the production contribute to the pacing and cohesiveness of the show while shifting meaning and morphing with the context. Miranda expertly employs them to foreshadow events and recall earlier moments, keeping the audience engaged and aware. The denseness of lyrical content and the melodic hooks were made to listen to on repeat. Hamilton captures the American story in all its messy glory in a way that’s never been done before.