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Review: Hamilton, and Its Historical Background

Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a Broadway musical following the life and legacy of Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton remains one of the most prominent musicals of the 21st Century, boasting multiple accolades to prove it. Earning 16 Tony Award nominations in 2016, the musical brought home 11 awards, including Best Musical. The list of honors continues, including multiple Emmys, Grammy’s, and even a Pulitzer Prize. At the roots of this captivating musical is the story of an immigrant, who came from the worst of childhoods all the way to becoming one of our country’s most influential historical figures. Hamilton takes us from his childhood to his final moments, as it tells the story of not only him, but those around him as they influenced his success, and misfortune. I strongly recommend this musical to anyone, whether you are a history nerd, you have heard about it before, or if you’re just looking for some new music to listen to. This will not disappoint. Before I dive into a review of my favorite songs, I will give an outline of the songs that present the major storyline of the show. These are songs that, if you were to only listen to them, you would at least know what the musical’s plot is about. First, Alexander Hamilton introduces the story. Next, My Shot presents an important thread that is tied throughout the musical. To round out Act 1 are The Schuyler Sisters, Satisfied, Yorktown, and Non-Stop. Cabinet Battle #1 then begins to get into the political side of things, while Say No to This introduces a suggestive sub-plot. Finally, The Room Where it Happens, The Election of 1800, The World Was Wide Enough, and Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story bring you from the realm of political ambition all the way to Hamilton’s death.

My Top 15 Ranking:

It was hard to limit this list to 15, with so many worthy songs, but these encapsulate what I love about Hamilton. Please note that this is a biased list, and it will greatly differ from others, and maybe your opinion. I try my best not to spoil too much of the story, but be aware of some spoilers.

15. Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)

Yorktown is a patriotic end to Act 1, wrapping up the plot of the Revolutionary War, and fittingly ushering in the line “the world turned upside down.” It brings closure to the stories of a few characters as they leave the show, and begins to transition to Act 2.

14. The World Was Wide Enough

The World Was Wide Enough recounts Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr. The pair’s political rivalry culminates in this suspenseful, yet reflective, number. As the bullet - a keen symbol of the show - approaches Hamilton, Hamilton rewinds his life, repeating many of the central lines of the show.

13. Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton serves as a great intro to the musical. The number employs the entirety of the cast, introducing the character of Hamilton and his story. There are some great lines in this piece, including some that serve as threads throughout the musical.

12. The Room Where It Happens

One of the best vocal and stage performances of the show, The Room Where it Happens is one of the top songs overall. Lin-Manuel Miranda himself admits that it is one of the best songs he’s ever written. As Burr is left out of a closed-door meeting that will change the country's political landscape, he declares that he wants to be in “the room where it happens.” This song is the turning point for Burr’s political career, as he becomes more ambitious than ever, illustrating this with intense emotion.

11. Hurricane

Hurricane is one of the more emotional songs in the show, as Hamilton goes deeper into the story of his early life. He explains how he has written himself out of numerous situations in life, in the face of adversity. It comes after he reveals his affair to Jefferson, Madison, and Burr, deciding he will write his way out of the situation.

10. The Story of Tonight

This is a very short song, but a powerful one. It features the four friends of the first act - Hamilton, John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan. The song itself is about freedom and sheds light on the future impact of their fight for freedom. The song's harmonies make it a very touching one.

9. Say No to This

This piece introduces another sub-plot of the second act, his affair. This song goes through how the affair began, as Hamilton falls to Maria Reynold's pleas for help following her mistreatment by her husband. The focal point of this song for me is the performance by Jasmine Cephas Jones, who fits the role perfectly. She has an incredibly powerful voice, and this role is much better than her role in Act One - the forgotten Schuyler sister, Peggy.

8. Non-Stop

This serves as an important transition into the second act. It’s a long one, so it's a bit hard to stay with, but if you can get to the last 2 minutes, you won’t regret it. The song starts to show Hamilton's determined side after the war, as he begins to work in the U.S government in its early years. Hamilton is working a lot, in fact - non-stop - as he transitions from his work as a lawyer to building up support for The Constitution. It illustrates an early test of the constitutional republic that the founding fathers are building. The second half features many powerful lines, as Hamilton's peers combat his endless need to work and get things done.

7. History Has Its Eyes on You

Following another great song, Guns and Ships, this one leads into the Battle of Yorktown, with a heartfelt moment between Washington and Hamilton. It shows the close relationship between the two, kind of like a father and son bond. It has great lines which bring out the emotion Washington shows.

6. Guns and Ships

Guns and Ships is one of the more popular songs in the musical, as it formally introduces one of the most fun characters in the musical, albeit late, Marquis de Lafayette. This song features an impressive rap from Lafayette, as he persuades Washington to bring Hamilton back into the war. It features my favorite set of lines in the show, sung by George Washington at the end of the song.

5. Wait For It

Wait for It is a trademark Leslie Odom Jr number in Hamilton, as his character Aaron Burr reflects on his life struggles in a spectacular soliloquy. He is relinquishing his thoughts and emotions on everything from his love life to his political struggles. As the title suggests, Burr is willing to “wait for it” - that is, for whatever he desires in life.

4. It’s Quiet Uptown

The next few rankings represent the most emotional songs of the musical, beginning with It’s Quiet Uptown. Any Hamilton fan will tell you how heart-wrenching this song is. From the distress in Hamilton’s voice to its telling lyrics, you will surely be mourning with his family during this number.

2. Dear Theodosia (tie)

A touching tribute from Hamilton and Burr to their kids, Dear Theodosia is a beautiful duet between the two characters. The song features the two singing to their kids, looking ahead to their lives. As they enter the new journey of raising them, they want to provide more than anyone was able to provide for them. The song is perfectly crafted, and the performances are spot on, but an unfortunate irony rings on, as both their kids perish at a young age.

2. Burn (tie)

A close second along with Dear Theodosia, Burn comes at a very tumultuous point in the story. Phillipa Soo gives an incredibly powerful performance as she lashes out at Hamilton and his adulterous behavior. The emotion in this song is unmatched, finally allowing Eliza to show her true colors.

1. One Last Time

Note: As my number one spot on my list, One Last Time deserves a more in-depth summary. Please be aware of spoilers ahead.

This is quite possibly one of the most underrated songs in the musical but it is phenomenal. It’s the culmination of George Washington’s fatherly character, not only to Hamilton but to the entire revolution and the young country. They have built a free country, and Washington is steering the country, as well as the office of the presidency in the best fit direction, as he leaves office. George is leaving the job up to Hamilton, to the new generation of Americans, to lead the country into its new age. In the end, the public comes out for George, as he receives his final sendoff, taking center stage. If you watch the filmed version of Hamilton, this is one performance you do not want to miss. To cap this off, Christopher Jackson rocks this part, as he does with the rest of his, stretching his voice to give one of the most powerful performances in the musical.

As brilliant as the musical Hamilton is, the storyline does present some historical inaccuracies. While this article does not directly acknowledge those inaccuracies, here is a brief historical background to Alexander Hamilton, and his story, written by writers Mary Herman and Atticus Tyler.

A man, driven, brilliant, and shadowed by scandal, Alexander Hamilton built the foundation of the United States’ banking system. Hamilton’s indelible mark of brilliance is clear to this day. Throughout his diverse life, his genius endeared and estranged many. Hamilton’s hunger for recognition and respect drove him far, giving him the motivation he needed to climb high. Hamilton scrambled out of his poor, corrupt Caribbean island home and to the American Colonies. His dedication served him well, as he ground away at his education until the American Revolution presented an opportunity for him to make a mark on the world.

Hamilton grew quickly in his position as an artillery captain, commanding a small force and realizing the harsh, foul side of war. Alexander’s determination brought him far, attracting the attention of none other than George Washington. In a respectable job as Washington’s aide, he was kept out of many battles. Hamilton’s work as an aide was broken up by various social events, including a ball where he first met his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler.

Elizabeth Schuyler, the second daughter of Philip Schuyler, was a Continental Army General during the Revolution. Eliza (or Betsey as she was also called) was a socialite, philanthropist, wife to Alexander Hamilton (a founding father), and mother to eight children. When her late husband died, she defended his life's work and co-founded Graham Windham, the first private orphanage in New York City. Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler first met in the fall of 1777, when Hamilton paused to visit while being sent north on a military errand. Three years later, they met again at the Continental Army’s balls (there were three balls hosted during the harsh months in Jockey Hallow where the Continental army had camped) and Eliza had always chosen Hamilton as her dance partner. When Alexander was away on military business, Eliza would send him letters and Hamilton would send some back to her. He then returned to Morristown where Elizabeth's father had also arrived in his capacity as representative of the Continental Congress. By early April, Alexander and Eliza were happily engaged. They held their marriage ceremony at the Schuyler Mansion, in upstate New York. After a short honeymoon to the Pastures, Eliza's childhood home, Hamilton returned to military service in early January 1781.

During the Revolution, Hamilton was named George Washington’s right-hand man and was ordered to write Washington’s most critical orders to Congress and Union generals. Hamilton’s writing and military skills helped him thrive as Washington’s assistant. In 1781, Hamilton left the army and Washington’s staff but came back shortly after, being called to assist in the Battle of Yorktown, where Hamilton led a successful assault against the British. Appointed by George Washington in 1781 to command a light infantry battalion in Marquis de Lafayette’s Division, Hamilton helped lead the attack at the Battle of Yorktown which would become the war’s last major land battle. The fight lasted from September 28 to October 19, 1781, with the French attacking one British fort and Hamilton with his assault attacking another fort simultaneously. This strategized attack led to the surrender of the British. Once the war was over, he left the military and decided to lead a political life as a lawyer.

His accomplishments began when he started working on Washington’s journal during the Revolutionary War. Once he came back to the war after leaving, his accomplishments began to stack up. He was a war hero; he played a large role in the Battle of Yorktown, ambushing and stealing cannons from the British. After the war, Hamilton decided to pursue law; he noticed how divided the people of America were and pointed out that the Articles of Confederation, written by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, were to blame for the lack of unity in the nation. In 1787, Hamilton was elected by the New York State Legislature as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He then drafted the federalist papers (a series of essays written to grow support for the US Constitution) with John Jay and James Madison, who had shared his idea for the future of the US economy, mainly the principles of economic prosperity. He argued, for example, that a strong union would benefit American commerce. When the US Constitution was ratified, George Washington was elected as the first president and asked Hamilton to be his Treasury Secretary. Many great accomplishments occurred under his watch, for example, he established the country’s first national bank, tariffs were introduced on imported goods, and interest-bearing bonds were issued to pay off government debt.

Alexander Hamilton had one rivalry during this time, famous to us today. He and his former friend, Aaron Burr, long antagonized each other as they maneuvered in politics. The pair's long-held resentment of each other erupted in a final, fatal exchange of letters. Hamilton’s command of words finally provoked Burr to the point of no return. “The interview at Weehawken” marked the end of the long-held Hamilton-Burr rivalry. carried across the Hudson River in rowboats, and accompanied by trusted helpers, the politicians each faced their former friend, uncertain. Hamilton decided before to spare Burr. Secretive Burr is thought to have been indecisive, but an unfortunate event hardened his decision to shoot: Hamilton put on his glasses. Why? No one is certain, but it indicated to Burr, Hamilton’s resolve to kill. While historical accounts differ on the precise actions of the men, the duel itself was a simple affair. The men separated a distance of twenty paces. Following a brief countdown, Hamilton shot at Burr but missed (accounts differ). Immediately after, Burr shot Hamilton in the abdomen. Burr’s shot struck and sent shrapnel into Hamilton’s organs, killing him. The news of the death immediately made Aaron Burr infamous, and never again was he clean to the American public. The duel marked the end of a contentious rivalry and a life well-lived.

Passionate from his humble origins to his dramatic finish, Alexander Hamilton keenly pursued fame. He constantly worked, never content with his current status. In the ultimate rags-to-riches story, Hamilton clawed at life, determined to get out what he could. The work ethic and drive of Alexander Hamilton shaped much of our country as we know it. Today, the United States of America is indebted to the great work of Alexander Hamilton.

Danny McCartney, Co-Editor in Chief

Atticus Tyler, Writer

Mary Herman, Writer

Works Cited

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Head of Zeus, Apollo, 2020.

Ellis, Joseph. “Chapter 1.” Founding Brothers, Knop, N.Y.N.Y, 2002.


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