How 'Hamilton's America' could make us feel better about the America we're living in
Couldn't score (or afford) tickets to Broadway's Hamilton before the original cast started leaving? Join the club. PBS ushers us past the ticket booths on Friday, when it kicks off its eight-week Fall Arts Festival - hosted by Hamilton composer, writer, and star Lin-Manuel Miranda - with Great Performances: Hamilton's America.
Couldn't score (or afford) tickets to Broadway's Hamilton before the original cast started leaving?
Join the club.
PBS ushers us past the ticket booths on Friday, when it kicks off its eight-week Fall Arts Festival - hosted by Hamilton composer, writer, and star Lin-Manuel Miranda - with Great Performances: Hamilton's America.
An exhilarating 90-minute documentary on the making of the Tony-winning musical, it features performances by the original cast, including Philadelphia's Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, and may be as close as many of us will get to orchestra seats in the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Anyone who cares about the creative process should thrill to the sight and sound of Miranda at work on the blending of hip-hop and history that's become a cultural phenomenon, and the performances are reason enough to watch.
But you don't have to be a theater geek to appreciate the perspective Hamilton's America offers. The story of Alexander Hamilton - in Miranda's words, "the dude on the 10 [dollar bill], the best-looking Founding Father" - could remind a divided country, exhausted by a bitterly fought presidential campaign, that:
America has survived worse. Including the killing of Hamilton, a former secretary of the Treasury, by Burr, a sitting vice president.
That imperfect men (and women) permeate our history.
That our country was founded as much on compromise as on fixed principles.
That labels like "conservative" and "liberal" aren't so simple.
Born illegitimate, an orphaned immigrant from the Caribbean who went from struggling circumstances to helping to create capitalism as we know it, Hamilton can be claimed by people from many points on the political spectrum.
And so Hamilton's America brings us both President Obama, whose White House was the setting for Miranda's 2009 introduction of a song from what wasn't yet a show, and former President George W. Bush, who explains how Hamilton helped "facilitate the movement of capital."
It's Bush who notes, drily, that "that's the way history works - sometimes it takes a while for people to give you credit."
Also among the documentary's unlikely mix of talking heads: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren; House Speaker Paul Ryan; the rapper and producer Nas; former first lady Laura Bush; Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon; Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson from the Roots; Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo; Miranda's Puerto Rico-born father, Luis; composer Stephen Sondheim; and Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow.
As members of Hamilton's multicultural cast visit sites such as Valley Forge and Mount Vernon, we see American history coming alive for the actors.
Miranda, as charmingly enthusiastic here as he was hosting NBC's Saturday Night Live this month, is a potent ambassador for a Broadway smash written in the language of rap.
Says Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, who, "without blushing or apologizing," likens Miranda to Shakespeare: "He is bringing out what is noble about the common tongue."
Not to mention illuminating the complicated history we all have in common.