Culture

Hamilton: The Revolution might be the closest you could get to the musical

Flip through the Hamiltome and listen to the album. It's very nearly like watching the play.
IMAGE Esquire
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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Hamilton, the Pulitzer prize-winning play which tells the story of one of America’s founding fathers. While that sounds like an attempt to translate a history class into something mildly entertaining, this play uses rap, hip-hop, and R&B to send the message across, and employs black, Latino, and other "minorities" to portray white personalities.

Still, the show's message goes beyond the 1700s, the American statesman, and his death. It even goes beyond the stage. The Hamilton cast recently addressed U.S. Vice President-elect Mike Pence to voice their concerns about the incoming administration and relayed their hope that watching the play would inspire Pence to “uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.” The play has gotten so huge that even Filipinos can't help but use it in our local setting. The hashtag #Ham4Halalan trended during the May 2016 elections and you can be sure that in any rally, you can find at least one Hamilton quote in the mix of placards (quite recently, at an Anti-Marcos protest, a sign that says, "We are not throwing away our shot," was lambasted by detractors for referring to drugs. It is actually a reference to the song "My Shot" in the first act).

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Creator, composer, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda's story-telling about resisting tyranny, how heroes are only human, and how politicians (even those with noble intentions) are unreliable transcends time and geography, lending itself well to current issues. 

Hamilton: The Revolution, also known as the Hamiltome, traces this phenomenon from the play’s development to its cultural impact in the United States. It’s the ultimate fanbook. If you can’t afford to fly to New York and buy Broadway tickets (which range from $250 to $1,048), listening to the cast recording on Spotify while reading this book is the closest you can get to actually watching the play (short of defying Miranda’s wishes by downloading illegal recordings). It contains the full libretto with over 200 annotations by Miranda either explaining his lyrics or recounting what went through his mind as he acted out those scenes. Stunning full-page photos help you imagine what happens onstage. 

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Even for the lucky bastards who’ve seen the play, the book completely immerses you in the world behind the scenes. The real meat of the book is in the essays written by cultural critic Jeremy McCarter, who has witnessed everything from the play’s beginnings as a concept album called The Hamilton Mixtape, to its opening night on Broadway. McCarter artfully structures the book so that the narrative of the play’s creation runs parallel to the narrative of the play itself. His essays, which precede each song, contain interviews with the actors, give insight into the historical characters involved, delve into the hip-hop and R&B influences behind the song and tell the story of the people behind the play, such as director Tommy Kail, producer Jeffrey Seller, orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. The Hamiltome is a testament to the dedication and talent of all the people who brought the play to life.  At P1,980, some might find its price heavy on the pocket, but it’s worth every single peso.

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The book fittingly ends with a moving epilogue about the core values that Hamilton espouses: unity and equality for all, including immigrants and people of all races, the importance of one’s legacy, and the power of stories to transform the world. At its heart, Hamilton is a story about nation-building, and this is why the musical resonates so powerfully with its Filipino fans. To quote the musical, we’re “just like our country, young, scrappy, and hungry,” and just like Hamilton, in the midst of a fractious, dangerous political climate, we’re “not throwing our shot” to make the Philippines a better country.

The Hamiltome is available in major bookstores.

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Angelica Gutierrez
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