Historians Attend Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical

This post was written by Christopher Minty and Nora Slonimsky, who, many moons ago, woke up early on a Sunday morning to purchase tickets to the opening-night preview performance of Hamilton: An American Musical, which took place on July 13, 2015, at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York CityThis post was originally posted on July 192015It was removed as a courtesy to the show’s creative and promotional teamsIt has been reposted with significant alterations and additions.

hamilton_FBHip-hop is on Broadway, not just in a popular YouTube video. On Monday, July 13, 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit off-Broadway musical, HAMILTON, made its debut on the big stage. On August 6, 2015, rebranded as Hamilton: An American Musical, a much-applauded, diverse cast returned to perform in the official opening of a much larger, hopefully long-running production at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

According to the Times, Hamilton’s popularity transitioned from The Public Theater to Broadway well, at least in its early ticket sales. Michael Paulson reported that, by July 12, over 200,000 tickets had been sold for a total of $27.6 million, making it one of the largest pre-opening totals in history. One worry Paulson has, though, which is shared among many, is the show’s ability to sustain itself in the long-term. Will tourists want to see Hamilton? Will demand dry up?

At this early stage, though, it does not look like Hamilton’s appeal will abate any time soon. Like The Public Theater production, $10 front-row seats are offered to lottery winners.[1] On July 13, over 700 people turned up to participate in the first “Ham4Ham.” Among the first winners was Broadway actor Taylor Louderman (Bring It On: The Musical). And even though most were left disappointed, Miranda said, “[W]e’re probably going to be here a while. So, don’t be disappointed if you don’t win today.”[2]

But for those who saw the original production, how does Hamilton: An American Musical compare? Has Miranda made any significant changes?

Put simply, because the show retained most of its original contents and cast, Hamilton was just as fun. Largely because there are no major changes between The Public’s production and its Broadway successor, the energy level remains high. The cast from The Public retained their roles. Miranda did not cut any musical numbers. In Act I, Hamilton’s story is portrayed from about 1776 until the end of the American Revolution. Among the musical numbers, many are familiar with “Alexander Hamilton.” But among the other numbers, “The Schuyler Sisters,” “You’ll Be Back,” and “Satisfied,” performed individually and collaboratively, are vibrant. Many of the numbers will make you laugh. Others, especially those that involve Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton), are gut-wrenching. Indeed, though Miranda will rightly draw praise for this incredible piece of work, Soo is a starring performer.

Act II begins with a performance of “What Did I Miss” by Daveed Diggs that will seriously change how you picture Thomas Jefferson (think vibrant velour and a perfect coif). Aaron Burr’s description of the politicking that went into Hamilton’s financial plan is humorously but incisively described in one of the show’s highlight performances, “Room Where It Happens.” After the Reynolds affair, the story quickly turns darker, with the retirement of Washington, the ascension of Jefferson, and the death of Hamilton’s eldest son. If Hamilton’s loving relationships are the highlights of Act I—Eliza, Angelica Schuyler Church, John Laurens, George Washington—it is the rivals and conflict that dominate Act II. It is ultimately those who are left behind, Eliza on the one hand and Jefferson and Burr on the other, who are left with the task of answering a lingering question from the Public’s ad campaign: “who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” While the Broadway tagline might be different, this still feels like the central, driving sensation of Miranda’s narrative.

Hamilton is not a replica of its off-Broadway predecessor, though. Minor alterations have been made. On Broadway, songs are often tweaked to perhaps ensure the performance flows, or to emphasize a particular character, idea, or moment. From performance to performance, time constraints might influence content, too. On July 13, 2015, when Miranda came on stage applause echoed around the theater for several minutes. (The energy was incredible.) This might have explained why material relating to the Whiskey Rebellion was removed. It might have been added to subsequent performances.

But, though the show’s content are mostly correct, there are inaccuracies. For example, Samuel Seabury’s pamphlets against the Continental Congress is portrayed as having been published after 1776. This is a temporal slip. Seabury wrote four pamphlets between 1774 and 1775; famously, Hamilton responded. By 1776, he, like many loyalists in and around New York, had been imprisoned in Connecticut. Moreover, contrary to the show’s plot, John Adams did not fire Alexander Hamilton when he became president. There are other, smaller inaccuracies, relating to events being compressed. (Ben Carp mentioned similar inaccuracies in a review of The Public’s performance.)

Yet, these inaccuracies are not detrimental to the production. Far from it in fact. Indeed, Miranda’s contribution to civic discourse and academia must be recognized. Through Hamilton, he is exciting educators, historians, and history enthusiasts all over the world. To be sure, it’s mostly in America. But people are flying into New York to see the show. Others are seeing it on multiple occasions.

Indeed, by putting history back in the public domain, Miranda’s Hamilton is playing an important role in influencing how we remember eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history. Of course, the show, based on Ron Chernow’s biography, celebrates Hamilton’s life. It highlights the lives of other Founding Fathers, too. But it also draws attention to the Eliza Hamilton’s life after her husband’s death. Alongside them, Miranda draws historical attention to the lives of Aaron Burr, James Madison, Hercules Mulligan, King George III, James and Maria Reynolds, Angelica and Peggy Schuyler, and of course George Washington.

As the show gathers momentum in the coming months, Hamilton: An American Musical should bridge the gap between “popular” and “academic” audiences. Miranda realizes that his work should not target one group or the other; his inclusive approach will bring in a range of different people. Above all, teachers and educators will hopefully find a way to utilize everything this show has to offer.[3]

Most important, Hamilton is a powerful reminder that history does not belong exclusively to those who study it for a living. Far from it, in fact. As is shown by a cast of multi-ethnic and -genre performers, history is something which everyone has a right to engage with and interpret for themselves. Awards will surely follow.

But, as the Times noted, Miranda’s main challenge is to bring in people who don’t know who Hamilton was but want to see a Broadway show. And, when coupled alongside expensive secondary market ticket prices, that will be Miranda’s greatest potential obstacle to long-term success on the Great White Way.

Miranda and creative team are not going into it blindly, though. Other historically focused productions faced similar problems. The 2010 production Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was an emo-rock musical that lasted four months on Broadway. Will Miranda’s show meet the same fate? Time will only tell, but to quote James Madison, “it might be nice to have Hamilton on your side.”[4]

Hamilton: An American Musical opened on August 6, 2015.


[1] In February 2015, Chris won tickets to see it at The Public. And it was just fabulous. #YayHamlet. Nora began the process of acquiring her Public tickets in July of 2014.

[2] Chris’s triumphant lottery win came after entering for nearly every showing. #SorryNotSorry because #YayHamlet.

[3] There is also a fantastic, diverse array of merchandise available. There are t-shirts, jerseys, hats which read “A. HAM,” magnets, lapel pins, mugs, and tote bags. Nora, quite rightly, purchased all of the above. Chris settled for a t-shirt and a magnet. And in September 2015, an original cast recording is scheduled to be released, produced by The Roots.

[4] Technically, Okieriete Onaodowan said it, but Nora thinks that Madison would agree, especially after 1812.

13 responses

  1. Just saw “Hamilton,” which is still in previews, Wednesday night. The infectious high energy of the production has found a home on Broadway, and tickets are already sold into January at least (info from friends of friends who are happily waiting their turn). Diggs’s TJ is a great Act II opener, but it’s much more accurate to describe his jacket as purple (not burgundy) — thus the sly allusion to Prince (The Purple One, who also could ask what did I miss of the ’80’s), and sets up Diggs/TJ’s persona as America’s political pop star & crown prince. We did the math & 21 days of performances at the Richard Rodgers Theater will equal the number of people who saw “Hamilton” at the Public in its 3-month run. Such fun and so great to be in a crowd jazzed on American history. And to see a history book as one of the items for sale in the gift concession at a Broadway show!

      • Did folks note the sly and fleeting reference to Sally Hemings in Jefferson’s opening number in Act II? When TJ wants to flourish the letter from GW inviting him to become secretary of state, he asks “Sally” for it and a beaufiful African-American dancer presents him with the letter. Who else could it be?

        One of my favorite aspects of the show (which I saw off-Broadway at the Public in late January) is its portrayal of Jefferson as not being “the god of democracy” but rather a canny, shrewd, and self-admiring politician. Well, yes, indeed.

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  6. Will the tickets prices ever go down,so that everyone can see Hamilton? It seems so unfair that they are so high,everyone can not afford those tickets at these prices! Maybe they should make it into a movie so everyone can enjoy the musical!!

  7. Tremendous & moving show tonight!! Please tell us once again who the historians were that gave such great insight! Credits rolled by way too fast! Thanks for an incredible evening! We loved it!!

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