Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter – Hamilton: The Revolution
22. Hamilton: The Revolution: Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, with a True Account of its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-Hop, the Power of Stories, and the New America by Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter (2015)
Length: 287 pages
Started: 09 June 2016
Finished: 14 June 2014
Where did it come from? Bought from Amazon.
Why do I have it? Eeee, Hamilton!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 June 2016.
Hamiltome! I read
the Alexander Hamil-
tome. AND IT’S SO GOOD.
Summary: I think the subtitle, “Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, with a True Account of its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-Hop, the Power of Stories, and the New America,” sums it up pretty well. It consists of the libretto of the play, annotated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, interspersed between every song or two with short chapters written by Jeremy McCarter (a theater critic and friend of Lin’s) that discuss the process of writing, staging, casting, and performing the show, and peppered with gorgeous full-page photos from the stage production. Because Hamilton was written more-or-less chronologically from front to back (with some exceptions – “The Schuyler Sisters” was added later as a means of introducing the women to the story earlier, for example), the chapters go more or less chronologically as well, from the show’s beginnings as a hip hop concept album, to its off-Broadway preview run, to the Broadway phenomenon it’s become. Each of the show’s starring cast gets a chapter about themselves as well, usually preceding one of their main numbers.
Review: Hamilton is pretty ubiquitous at this point in the cultural conversation, after it’s won a Grammy and basically all the Tonys, after Lin-Manuel Miranda has received a MacArthur Genius Grant, after there are dance remixes of the songs being played on the pop hits station at my gym (I kid you not, it was “The Story of Tonight” set to a dance beat, which was very disconcerting). Initially, I’d been holding off listening to it – hip-hop and rap are not my musical genres of choice, and while I love musical theater, I wanted wait to listen to the music until I’d seen the live show (which, ha ha, you naïve girl, that was super-likely). But then I wound up watching the video of “The Schuyler Sisters” from the MisCast benefit concert, and I was hooked. Not long after that, I downloaded the soundtrack, read a quick guide to the characters, and was off. Not long after *that*, I was listening to the soundtrack on basically constant repeat. For two months. So of course I was going to get and devour the book.
The way I set about devouring the book is this: First, I read the introductory chapter, followed by watching/listening to any relevant media I could find (Lin-Manuel’s first public performance of any of the songs, at the White House in 2009, and Biggie Smalls’ song “Ten Crack Commandments” were two big ones). Next I skimmed through the lyrics of the songs, reading the annotations. Finally, I listened to the song while carefully reading the words, trying to pick up on things I’d missed on my previous six thousand listens, and also paying attention to the stage directions, etc. This took more time than reading the book straight through, of course, but I think that was time well spent.
It’s probably not going to come as a surprise to anyone that I loved this book. Honestly, the people who are going to buy this book are going to be people who already love the musical, and it is just packed with Hamiltonian goodness. I already had a decent handle on the lyrics, which came with the CD, but there were definitely places where I had misheard a word, or didn’t know who was speaking, or the context of what was happening on stage, and the libretto filled that in nicely. Lin-Manuel’s annotations were fascinating, and I wish there’d been more of them. His genius with words and his polymath’s range of inspirations are already apparent from the show itself, but there are more allusions that I didn’t catch but that he points out in the annotations – everything from Shakespeare to Aladdin to Harry Potter to Les Miserables. (One of the annotations for “Satisfied”, which is probably my favorite song, is “Oof. Tryin’ to out-Eponine Eponine up in this piece.” Hee!) The essays were interesting – I enjoyed learning more about the history and production of the show (regarding tech rehersals: “It looked like Mission Control, if NASA’s business was launching rockets full of rapping multiracial actors in colonial garb into space.”), but my favorite chapters were the ones about each of the main cast, accompanied by a photo of them in their dressing room. Also, the book itself as a physical object is just amazing – beautiful heavy leather-feeling covers, rough-edged paper, gorgeous photos, etc. (Although whoever decided to print the pages for “It’s Quiet Uptown” on black paper with white lettering, instead of the cream paper of the rest of the book, is a monster.)
So basically everything about this book was great. My favorite (unexpected) thing that I got out of it was a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like from an actor’s point of view – what characters in the background are whispering to each other while someone else is singing, what it’s like to play “It’s Quiet Uptown” every night, how frequently Lin loses Hamilton’s glasses backstage, etc. The one thing I wish there had been more of is the actual history. This is discussed in some respects, primarily in regards to how it was altered for the play (Angelica married her British gentleman before she’d even met Hamilton, etc.) and there’s some historical documents that are reproduced at least in part in this book, but I wanted more. (For example, the book discusses the “comma sexting” that went on between Angelica and Alexander in their letters that’s referenced in “Take a Break,” but I wanted to see some real examples, damn it!) Oh well, I suppose I’ll have to read the actual biography of Hamilton that inspired the show to get the actual history. But for the history of the cultural phenomenon, this book was pretty great. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Hamilton fans: If you do not already have the Hamiltome, it is well worth the money. If you’re not yet a fan, listen to some of the music – don’t let the rap scare you away, if you’re a musical theater person, and don’t let the musical theater scare you away if you’re a rap person; there’s a good mix of the two – and then, once you are a Hamilton fan, see the first sentence of this recommendation.
Other Reviews: Jenn’s Bookshelves, Sarah Reads Too Much, Smart Bitches Trashy Books and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Late on a hazy night in 2008, Lin-Manuel Miranda told me he wanted to write a hip-hop concept album about the life of Alexander Hamilton. For a second I thought we were sharing a drunken joke. We were probably drunk, but he wasn’t joking.
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