Hamilton’s America, the long anticipated documentary from Alex Horwitz and RadicalMedia, will make its world premiere this Friday on PBS stations as part of the Great Performances series. It focuses on the development of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit, Hamilton. Until now, enthusiasts who haven’t attended the Broadway show have only been able to enjoy snippets of footage and listen to the soundtrack. Hamilton’s America, therefore, is a huge deal because it enables viewers to see a large portion of many of the musical numbers.
Hamilton is a Pulitzer-Prize and Tony Award-winning musical that follows the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. He leaves his humble roots in St. Croix to rise as a formidable statesman in the newly formed United States. In essence, as Miranda acknowledges, it’s a “quintessential immigrant story.” Until recently, perhaps we remember Hamilton as a member of George Washington’s cabinet and as the fellow that was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. We see him every day on the $10 bill if we still use cash.
Miranda’s take on the life of Hamilton has caused an explosion of Hamilton fever that can’t be ignored. Horwitz does an excellent job at putting the spotlight on the novelty of the diverse cast and the dynamic rap music. Those elements comprise the key to enlivening the political and social discourse from the American Revolution and early days of the republic. The language of the time, that many of us might have considered as archaic and dull, is now immediate, energized, and even urgent in the messages from the stage.
Horowitz nicely weaves together the mood and events of the 18th century with Miranda’s own journey to opening night of Hamilton. There are also interviews with individuals such as Hamilton biographer Ron Churnow, President Barack Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former President George W. Bush, composer Stephen Sondheim, and rapper Nas. Miranda participates as an interviewer, further taking the viewer into his approach in crafting Hamilton.
However, the remarks from the Hamilton cast are the most poignant and amusing throughout the documentary. Viewers will love seeing the cast on their excursions to Hamilton’s house, the Hamilton-Schuyler house, Valley Forge, Mount Vernon, and the New York Stock Exchange. Aside from the humorous banter, these are great moments for seeing how these places and the rich history informed and shaped these Broadway performances.
One of my favorite parts of the documentary is the focus on the rap styles that Miranda incorporates into the musical numbers. It’s fascinating how he used rap and even jazz music to capture the personalities and development of his characters. I would have liked to have seen more about evolution of the musical score and the lyrics from Miranda’s planning process. For instance, what are some alternate lyrics on certain tracks?
Hamilton’s America is a documentary that is sure to please devoted and new Hamilton fans alike. It’s a program that can be watched more than once because it explores the Broadway hit from many different angles. The documentary reminds us that issues on many of our minds today – immigration, debt, race, women’s rights, and more – were fiercely debated questions even back in Hamilton’s time. I imagine that when the final credits roll on Friday evening (or whenever you stream the program), the most common question will be, “How can I get tickets to Hamilton?”