Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Last month my husband was watching SNL hosted by Lin-Manuel Miranda and he didn't know who Lin was. I told him, and my husband, no fan of musicals, was disappointed, as I was enraptured by his singing of "My Shot" in the opening monologue. Finally, I decided to download the soundtrack. Yes, I know, I'm a couple of years late to the game, but I arrived nonetheless.

I wasn't a hater, and I found the concept fascinating. I love American history, I love retellings and seeing stories from alternative perspectives, and I love the minority casting and while I don't love rap, I love the concept of bringing it into musical theater. And wow. I listened to the whole soundtrack a few times through. It easily kept me awake while driving on my last sales appointments of the season. And, I was learning actual history--bonus! Then while on my very last sales call of the season, I mentioned it to the buyer, and she really encouraged me to check out the Chernow biography, even though I know it's huge, and I'd heard recently that Chernow is not as accessible as Isaacson, when it comes to biographies. Still, she said the musical will have prepped me well enough that I'd zip right through it. I looked it up while still on the phone with her and saw right next to it in the library listings, this book, and I reserved them both. And really, which was I going to read first--the dense history, or the one with beautiful photography which explains the thinking behind each of the songs, when the actual history was changed for the sake of story, and how Miranda worked with Chernow on crafting the musical? Duh. Of course I read this one first. (I figured also then I'd be even more primed for the Chernow and have an even better chance at getting through the biography fast.)

Wow. Again. The book is amazing. The production values in it are terrific, I particularly love all the sidebars for the lyrics (heck, wish there were more), I love the storied of the actors interspersed throughout and the story of how this musical came to be--how Miranda came up with the idea, how he approached it, how his sympathy for a character like Burr really humanized the story, how in creating a storyline for Eliza he also made her into a three-dimensional character. In fact, I really think those last two things are what made the musical come together. In lesser hands, Burr would be a pure evil enigma we'd never understand, and Eliza would be a purely good cardboard character of no depth. But by making both of them completely human, they are so identifiable and we can now put ourselves in the shoes of all of them--not just in Hamilton's. That's excellent storytelling.

And yes, the songs are stuck in my head and they will be for quite some time, but that's not a bad thing. They are so layered and diverse and thick with plot, they take multiple listenings to parse out, even with the help of this very cool book. Now, of course, I am thinking of how I can get tickets... for a year or two from now. In the meantime, this is a great book for any big fans or anyone like me who loves to know the machinations behind the story and has no hopes of getting tickets.

I checked this book out of the library.

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