Hamilton

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Atlantic, 2015

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/28/2018

“It was simply, as I tell everybody, the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life,” said Michelle Obama. “Easily the best show I have ever seen,” said Conan O’Brien. “What a thrilling experience to be in the presence of such genius! Brilliance!” said Oprah Winfrey.

By now you’ve heard all the praise for Hamilton: An American Musical, from actors, politicians, critics, and anyone else lucky enough to score a ticket. From Barack Obama to Dick Cheney, Rick Rubin to Reese Witherspoon, the charm, brilliance, and power of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s opus seems to have captivated every corner of our divided nation. By setting American history to hip-hop, Miranda brought the earliest days of the American experiment into the 21st century and revolutionized the idea of what a Broadway musical could be.

So when presented as a soundtrack—no costumes, no choreography, no staging – does Hamilton still work? Um, did the British wear red?

The opener “Alexander Hamilton,” a rough draft of which Miranda famously performed at the White House in 2009, establishes what you’re about to listen to: a masterclass in wordplay, history, and musical dexterity. “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” asks narrator Aaron Burr, played by jazz sensation Leslie Odom Jr., in the opening lines. The remainder of the musical answers that question, brilliantly weaving together musical and lyrical themes about ambition, legacy, love, and freedom.

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Stretching from Alexander Hamilton’s days as an immigrant soldier looking to make a name for himself to his death at the hands of rival (and Vice President) Aaron Burr in a duel, Hamilton is a biographical musical that never loses track of its main character or the supporting figures who walked the stage of American history alongside him. With the first act covering Hamilton’s role in the Revolutionary War and the second act dwelling on his time as Treasury Secretary, the musical manages to find drama not only on the battlefield, but also in the “room where it happens,” the archetypal smoke-filled room where our laws and our history are often really made. It is a tribute to Miranda’s genius that even a subject as dry as America’s national debt is somehow not only explained but made entertaining in “Cabinet Battle #2,” a cabinet meeting turned rap battle. That’s Hamilton in a nutshell – educational, clever, and powerful.

Hip-hop fans will get the most out of the soundtrack, which pays homage to the genre with the occasional lyrical or musical sample, most notably in “Ten Duel Commandments,” which owes a debt to the Notorious B.I.G. But fans of other genres are far from left out. Jazz gets its moment when Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson opens the second act with “What’d I Miss,” and even British pop is brilliantly adopted for three appearances by Jonathan Groff’s King George III in “You’ll Be Back,” “What Comes Next,” and “I Know Him.” Make no mistake, hip-hop is at the forefront of this musical, but this soundtrack is far from just a collection of raps – Hamilton does it all.

The voice talent of the original Broadway cast is already legendary and too numerous to list, so let me just give special attention to Christopher Jackson, who soars as George Washington, especially in “One Last Time,” and Renée Elise Goldsberry, who nearly steals an already stunning show as Angelica Schuyler in “Satisfied.” With all of the original cast having moved on to other projects, the soundtrack is now your only way to return to the days when all this talent strode the same stage night after night.

And if that’s what you’re wanting – to get as close as you can to hearing Miranda as Hamilton and Jackson as Washington one last time – then you can do no better than listen to this cast album. Since Hamilton is a sung-through musical, when you listen to the soundtrack you are listening to every line in the show. There are no gaps that need to be filled in, no story happening between songs. If you can imagine in your mind’s eye what you’re hearing, the soundtrack is the best way to ‘see’ Hamilton for that part of the nation that can’t make it to Broadway.

All things considered, this is the easiest grade I’ve ever assigned to a music review. Even if you’re not usually a fan of hip-hop, or musicals, or history, it doesn’t matter. You will find something – if not everything – to love in Hamilton. I know there’s a lot of hype, but yes, it really is that good.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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