The story of Alexander Hamilton has captivated the nation since the soundtrack for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’ dropped in August 2015. The hip-hop Broadway musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton won 11 Tony Awards and tickets are going for hundreds or thousands of dollars, even though much of the original cast has already taken their last bows on the stage of the Richard Rogers Theater in New York City. Fans wait overnight in the cancellation line hoping for their chance to snag last-minute tickets at face value, but unless you’ve got the means to pay for it, you better be willing to wait for it.
That’s where the PBS documentary, Hamilton’s America, comes in. Premiering on Friday, October 21st, 2016, the documentary tells the story of Miranda’s hit musical and how it came to be. Hamilton’s America takes you behind the scenes of Hamilton, from when the idea hit Lin-Manuel Miranda when he was on vacation to performing an early version of a song at the White House in 2009, from writing lyrics and figuring things out to opening on Broadway and the Tony Awards. It was filmed by Alex Horwitz throughout the entire creation and development process
Hamilton’s America successfully intertwines the story of the musical’s creation with the story of Alexander Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. We hear from scholars – including Ron Chernow – about Hamilton’s life story: an immigrant who came to America for an education and managed to rise to the top. We see the development of the musical, from when the idea took root through the process of collaboration, tweaking, and meeting deadlines. We get glimpses of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s life over the 5+ years it takes him to finish Hamilton: Lin’s success with In The Heights, settling into a new apartment as rehearsals for Hamilton begin, the birth of his son, and the whirlwind that Hamilton’s success takes him on. There’s footage of Miranda writing lyrics, trying to figure out details of how it all fits together, and glimpses of the finished product, juxtaposed with Hamilton’s own home and writing spaces. The non-stop pace of the documentary mimics that of Alexander Hamilton’s life, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s experiences, and the hit musical that resulted from the combination of the two.
As the exploration of Hamilton’s story goes from young man eager to fight to becoming Washington’s right hand man, the documentary delves further into the relationships Hamilton had with others: his contentious relationship with fellow politician Aaron Burr, his marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, his battles with Thomas Jefferson, and more. The documentary follows some of the original cast members – Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Philippa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr. – as they visit historical spots: Valley Forge, Mount Vernon, Wall Street, and the neighborhood where Alexander and Eliza first met. Interviews with the cast demonstrate the amount of thought and research that has gone into the creation and portrayal of these characters – after all, the musical is based on history vital to the founding and sustainability of this nation.
That’s one of the things that Hamilton’s America gets across best about the musical: the fact that it’s based upon history that has been turned into a piece of art. Miranda and the other creators emphasize that what they wanted to get across in the musical is not just the heroic qualities of these people that tend to be remembered, but also the fact that these people had flaws. A very poignant moment shows Christopher Jackson (George Washington) visiting the slave quarters at Mount Vernon and explaining his thoughts as he tries to reconcile all of the great things Washington did with the fact that he wasn’t perfect by any means. Daveed Diggs brings up a similar point about Thomas Jefferson, and Lin-Manuel Miranda highlights Hamilton’s womanizing tendencies with the Reynolds scandal.
Throughout the documentary, we hear about Hamilton and his lasting political influence from people like Ron Chernow, President George W. Bush, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Hamilton’s America also talks to some of the people who inspired Miranda and stood by him throughout the process of creation: Thomas Kail (Director of Hamilton: An American Musical), Alex Lacamoire (Music Director), Tariq Trotter and Ahmir Thompson (of The Roots), and Stephen Sondheim, among others. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon all speak of the show’s life-changing artistry. The appeal of Hamilton: An American Musical to people of all backgrounds is not lost.
In ninety minutes, Hamilton’s America cuts to the heart of the sensation that is Hamilton: An American Musical: the people, the history, the music, and the emotional impact. Hamilfans will be satisfied with the behind-the-scenes coverage, new footage of performances by the original cast, and profound conversations with those involved in all steps of production, especially resident genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. Whether you’re hearing it for the first time or the hundredth, the story of Alexander Hamilton is emotional, inspirational, entertaining, and one that won’t be forgotten any time soon. From fun facts about the creation of the hit musical – Miranda wrote lyrics in Aaron Burr’s bedroom! – to the history of Hamilton himself, Hamilton’s America depicts the reality behind the phenomenon.
How can you be in the Room Where it Happens? Hamilton’s America premieres Friday, October 21, 2016, 9:00–10:30 p.m. ET as part of the 2016 PBS Arts Fall Festival. Just be prepared – you may need tissues!