Inside the Score of Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’

Brandeis University

Gil Harel is a musicologist and music theorist who lectures widely at Brandeis University and additional venues on topics ranging from renaissance motets to atonal opera. A piano accompanist and vocal coach, Professor Harel’s musical interests range from western classical repertoire to musical theater and jazz. Previously, he has served on the faculty at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and at CUNY Baruch College, where he was awarded the prestigious “Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.”

 

Overview

January 12, 2023, 4:00 pm

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton premiered Off-Broadway in early 2015 and quickly became one of the most celebrated and influential musicals of the 21st century. Based on Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton, the show began (as did Hadestown and other highly successful stage works) as a concept album before developing into a musical that would make waves in the theater scene and beyond. The libretto is incisive and humorous (Miranda’s indebtedness to Sondheim is salient throughout), and the heterogeneous score includes substantial rap and hip-hop mixed with R&B, a smattering of jazz, and more traditional musical theater idioms. The result is a show peppered with infectious songs and lyrics that have burrowed into the ear of many a theatergoer. During this program, we will delve into the genesis of Hamilton, aspects of casting and performance, critical reception, and consider what the legacy of this remarkable show might end up being.

 

Recommended Reading:

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow

Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton, by Tilar J. Mazzeo

 

Discussion Questions:

1) How does Miranda’s libretto differ from the source material (i.e., Chernow’s biography) – specifically, where does Miranda take liberties with the historicity of Hamilton in order to weave together a compelling musical?

2) Miranda seems to put special thought into song titles. What are some examples of this, and how do they convey complex ideas such as irony or humor?

3) How does the concept of the musical “Leitmotif” work in Hamilton? What are some examples of important leitmotifs in the musical, and how are they used to help tell the story?

4) Eliza Hamilton ends the musical with a memorable line: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” What is meant by this line, and how does it convey what is arguably the central message of the show?

 

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