When I first heard a musical was being produced about our inaugural Secretary of the Treasury, I had the same response most people have had. I laughed. Look who’s laughing now, as its genius author, Lin-Manuel Miranda has secured his artistic fame in producing what will be an enduring classic that we will probably eventually get used to seeing high school productions of, but for now, the only way to see Hamilton in Oregon tonight or the next two weeks is to fork out quite a few Hamiltons while it’s playing at Portland’s Keller Auditorium until April 8th.
My first exposure to this play was not from watching it in New York. Rather, I first listened to its soundtrack in my home office. Around 95% of a mathematically rigorous research project’s time gets spent doing menial computer code writing and data entry, and I often listen to music using my Kindle Prime account during such tedious times. A couple years ago I saw Hamilton was available to Prime members for free streaming. So I gave it a shot. I was blown away by what I heard, a beautiful feat of making America’s founding moment tangibly real not just for history nerds like me that have enjoyed reading Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, but to the broader public, like the many conservatives I’ve interacted with over the years that display a lot of admiration toward America’s Founding Fathers but have little knowledge of them or what they stood for. This musical is also perfect for the many progressives who are critical of these dead white men but display a similarly shallow understanding of the era’s ideas. Hamilton is something this country really needs right now, an ecumenical celebration of authentic patriotism.
Miranda was on vacation reading Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton when he realized the story of New York’s founding father was a quintessentially American story that had timeless qualities of both successes in life and dismal failures. Miranda first wrote a rap song, thinking Hamilton’s life was perfect for the hip-hop genre. He debuted this song with a solo performance in the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word, on May 12, 2009 which can be viewed here:
That ended up becoming the opening number, as the musical is narrated by Aaron Burr. Here are ten minutes of highlights of this amazing production for your delectation:
Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.