As everyone knows by now, Hamilton: An American Musical is the smash hit Broadway show about a scrappy immigrant who became one of our nation’s founding fathers and whose face graces our ten-dollar bill. Not only has the show been sold out for months, but the cast album had the highest debut of a Broadway album since 1963, selling 50,000 copies the first week.
One would think that a retelling of the life of the first Treasury Secretary might be as boring as a dusty history book, but in the hands of composer, playwright and rap artist Lin-Manuel Miranda, the material has become relevant to audiences today, even — and especially — teenagers.
My teen, like many of her peers, is obsessed with the musical. She watches Hamilton YouTube videos, follows Miranda on social media and listens to the cast album incessantly. Why does she find it so compelling? “The music and choreography are cool and it’s a fresh take on events that still affect us today,” she says. And it’s not only American teens who enjoy Hamilton. Teens from around the world are downloading it in droves.
These young superfans even have a nickname, Hamilteens, and the vast majority have never seen the show. No matter. Because the musical has almost no dialogue, you can get the whole story by listening to the rap-rich cast album. The speed of the rapping is a huge attraction — in one of the numbers, Daveed Diggs, the actor who portrays Lafayette, raps 19 words in three seconds in a French accent. Who but a teen can catch all that?
Hamilteens and many, many others are feverishly anticipating the premiere of Hamilton’s America, a documentary premiering on PBS on Friday, Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. about the making of the musical, including footage of shows in New York with the original cast, scenes of Miranda composing, scenes of cast members visiting historical places and interviews with prominent personalities from Steven Sondheim to President Obama. The documentary will also examine how issues in Hamilton’s day still resonate today: immigration, debt, states’ rights and racial and income inequality.
To whet your appetite, here are nine of the best video clips about the Broadway musical to share with your Hamilteen, and extraordinary facts about the show (or, if your kid has already seen everything related to Hamilton and Miranda, you can catch up).
1. Miranda performs the song “Alexander Hamilton” at White House, six years before the musical was staged
2. News story on the show, plus interview with Miranda
3. Trailer for Hamilton
4. Tony Awards 2016 closing number
5. The cast performs “Wait for It” a capella at an Aids benefit
6. Ham4Ham: street performance by Miranda and his costars
7. Miranda raps freestyle after being given three random words by Jimmy Fallon
8. Carpool karaoke with Miranda and several other Broadway stars
9. “One Last Time” performance
Fun facts about Hamilton
1. Miranda wanted fans who couldn't get their hands on a Hamilton ticket to get a taste of Broadway, so he started #Ham4Ham, in which he or other Broadway performers did street performances for the crowd twice a week.
2. Miranda originally intended to produce a concept album about Alexander Hamilton, not a musical.
3. Hamilton the Cast Album hit number one on the Rap Album chart in November 2015, the first Broadway Cast Album to do so.
4. Christopher Jackson, the African-American actor who played George Washington, struggled with how he could get “into the skin” and play the role of George Washington, who owned slaves.
5. President Obama famously said “Hamilton, I’m pretty sure, is the only thing Dick Cheney and I agree on.”
6. Hamilton was written specifically for racially diverse actors to play the roles of the Caucasian Founding Fathers. When asked about the controversy caused by a casting call asking for non-whites, Miranda responded. “Authorial intent wins. Period.”
7. When the Treasury Department considered taking Hamilton’s portrait off of the ten-dollar bill, Hamilton musical fans lobbied to keep him on. In April the Treasury Secretary announced that Hamilton’s picture will stay right where it is.
8. #EduHam is a program that allows kids to see Hamilton for just $10. (Miranda calls this “a Ham for a Ham.”) That means lots of kids will see it before you do!
9. History teachers are riding the wave of the popularity of Hamilton and using the cast album as a teaching aide.