We’re all about to be in the room where it happens – Hamilton will finally be streaming on Disney+ starting July 3rd. The film features a recording of a performance of Hamilton when it was at the height of its popularity, starring the entire original Broadway cast including creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Daveed Diggs and Renée Elise Goldsberry, each of whom won Tony Awards for their spectacular performances. Five years after its initial off-Broadway debut, tickets to Hamilton are still hard to come by, and tickets to the show when the original Broadway cast was on-stage the first year could easily have cost audiences a month of rent, so this film’s debut is an amazing opportunity to make world-class theater accessible for all.
Hamilton garnered nationwide acclaim largely due to its remarkable score that blends the rhythms of hip-hop, rock and even Golden Age Broadway. In a 2015 interview, Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “In Hamilton, you will see just as many love letters to hip-hop as you will to musicals. You’ll see a Rodgers and Hammerstein quote up against a Biggie Smalls quote, up against a Jason Robert Brown reference, up against a Mobb Deep reference. I’m trying to create on-ramps to this weird intersection where I live, for the people who like the same stuff.”
Hamilton fuses American history with current politics, using a soundtrack of American popular music and one of the most inventive librettos ever written. The result is that nearly every song in the show works as a complex historical concert, layering musical pasts with the musical present, just as the historical past mingles with the political present.
If you haven’t seen Hamilton and want to get a feel for what makes the music such a masterpiece, here are some of my favorite songs from the soundtrack.
If the spirit, the energy, the story, and the music of Hamilton could be summed up in one song, it would be ‘My Shot.’ As Hamilton gathers around his new found friends he discloses all of his insecurities, his doubts and his motivations. It’s a beast of a song, coming it at six minutes long, yet it never overstays its welcome. It’s too busy wowing us with every brilliant rhyming couplet, every urgent life or death moment. Miranda said he spent a year writing and perfecting this song and it shows.
There are a lot of emotional moments in this show, but there is nothing quite like the one-two punch of ‘Helpless’ & ‘Satisfied’ We watch Hamilton and Eliza meet and fall in love with each other through Eliza’s perspective in “Helpless” Then immediately after at their wedding, we flash back in time to get a different perspective on that night, told through her sister, Angelica. We realize that Angelica was in love with Hamilton, but knowing her sister also loves him, swallows her feelings and introduces the two, thus starting their love story. The song is gut wrenching. She gave up her happiness for her own sister, and laments that both herself and Hamilton will never be satisfied. The staging of this song is truly masterful, literally rewinding the entire stage to tell the scene from an entirely new perspective.
The Room Where It Happens
‘The Room Where It Happens’ chronicles the Compromise of 1790 as told by Aaron Burr over a snazzy, jazzy beat. This song is a perfect example of how the show explores American politics in the 18th century with messaging that can be equally applied to American politics of today. Burr is frustrated that major political decisions can be made behind closed doors, singing “we want our leaders to save the day, but we don’t get a say in what they trade away.”
The Schuyler Sisters
This song introduces the trio of sisters, Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy, and is the closest the show has to a feminist anthem, featuring the iconic lyrics: “We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal, And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel.”
The American and British troops face off in the ultimate battle for American Independence. The song is a brilliant kaleidoscope of every musical element and thematic device in the show. It’s only about four minutes long but it covers a lot of ground. It showcases Hamilton finally taking command, his friends helping out in their own way to advance the fight for independence, and the timid realization that the war is over. It incredibly and perfectly combines the urgency of the battle with rap lyrics, and the stilted British battle with a raging fiddle.
After the war, both Burr and Hamilton finally take a moment to stop everything and stand still, as they both become dads for the first time. In a musical with epic rap battles, loud duels and a deathly war, this soft sentimental song is a standout.
Wait For It
Burr announces himself as Hamilton’s killer in the first few minutes of the show, and although history has written him to be the villain of this story, the show humanizes him in a way our American History classes never did. While the American revolution is the backdrop of Hamilton, the true story that drives the narrative is the ongoing conflict between Hamilton and Burr. What famously ends in a deadly duel began as a friendly rivalry between two drastically differing personalities, and ‘Wait For It’ communicates the nature of their relationship through some of the best lyrics in the show, blended with a stunning chorus that builds and rises up from the up beat tempo.
Cabinet Battles #1 & #2
Only Lin-Manuel Miranda could think to use a rap battle as the means to showcase Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton debating bills and amendments in Congress. I don’t know how or why it works, but it does.
Every Broadway show needs a classic belt-worthy anthem, and Burn fills that role in Hamilton. Philippa Soo has the most gorgeous voice and captures Eliza’s pain and anguish not only at Hamilton’s betrayal, but also at his inability to understand how his actions could impact his legacy and how history will view him. She burns her letters so she could “Let future historians wonder how Eliza / Reacted when you broke her heart.”
One Last Time
George Washington stepping down after two terms was a pivotal moment in U.S. history, and established a precedent that would be a founding principle for our country’s democratic process. This song depicts Washington’s recognition that in order for America to be a democracy, it can’t have a king, and teaches Hamilton and the nation how to say goodbye. Prepare yourself for absolute chills at the final 20 seconds featuring the incredible vocals of Chris Jackson.
The conclusion of Act I, this song is packed with so much narrative and sets the stage for the second half of the show. In a swift 6 minutes, the song covers Hamilton and Burr’s careers post-revolution, the constitution being written and amended, the drafting of the Federalist Papers, and ultimately concluding with Washington extending Hamilton an invitation to serve in his cabinet as Secretary of Treasury.
You’ll Be Back
King George provides ongoing comedic relief throughout the show, and this song serves as our introduction to his character through a breakup song dedicated to America. Noteworthy lyrics include “Cause when push comes to shove / I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love”