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Since its premiere Off-Broadway in 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has become one of the most successful American musicals in history. The show follows the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an orphan, and immigrant who rose to play an essential role in the early years of the United States as a politician and banker. The show, written entirely by Miranda himself, juxtaposes this setting with music heavily inspired by modern pop and R&B.
Hamilton was a smash hit on Broadway for years and has become a cultural icon. The show sold $30 million in advance tickets before its Broadway debut, and in total has grossed about $650 million to date. On July 3rd a filmed version of the show, featuring the original award-winning cast, was released on Disney+. This ease of access to the production, after years of sold-out shows and high ticket prices, has exposed a huge group of new viewers to the historical epic. So, to celebrate, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton:
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#1 ‘Hamilton’ took years to create.
Despite having already found massive success with In the Heights, it took Lin-Manuel Miranda two years to write the show’s first two songs. In 2009 he performed the titular song, “Alexander Hamilton,” in front of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House Evening of Music, Poetry and Spoken Word. It took another full year for him to finish writing another iconic number, “My Shot.” King George’s signature number, “You’ll Be Back,” was even written during Miranda’s honeymoon in 2010! The full show was first staged in 2013 as a workshop production at the Powerhouse Theatre in Poughkeepsie, New York.
#2 Hamilton is not the first Broadway musical to be based on America’s Founding Fathers. 1776, written by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, premiered on Broadway in 1969 and focused on the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The show ironically fails to include Alexander Hamilton in any capacity, focusing instead on John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
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#3 Miranda purposely cast non-Caucasian actors in lead roles, despite the fact that many of the historical figures being portrayed were white. The goal was to portray American history through the more equal and diverse lens of the modern-day. Miranda explained to The New York Times, “This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance—our story should look the way our country looks.” This diversity also allows a wide range of vocal talents to be considered for each role, regardless of appearance.
#4 A political incident once occurred at a performance of Hamilton. On November 18th, 2016, shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton. After the politician was jeered by audience members, cast member Brandon Dixon made a statement on stage after the end of the show. He explained that Americans, particularly minorities, were anxious that the new Presidential administration would not protect them and their rights. CNN reported that Pence was not offended by the incident, but President Donald Trump made a series of social media posts demanding an apology from the show’s cast.
#5 The existence of Hamilton can be attributed to random chance. Lin-Manuel Miranda told Vogue that for his first vacation since the debut of his first Broadway hit, In the Heights, he traveled to Mexico. While waiting in the airport for his flight, Miranda picked up and read a biography on Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow. This biography served as the inspiration for the musical Hamilton, and Chernow served as a consultant on the show to ensure historical accuracy.
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#6 The after-party for Hamilton’s opening night on Broadway was set in a particularly poignant location.
The Chelsea Piers on Manhattan’s West Side, where the party took place, is located on the Hudson River. Not far from the venue is where Alexander Hamilton set sail across the river to Weehawken, New Jersey, to have his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.
#7 Among Hamilton’s millions of fans, many celebrities also showed admiration for the show. Beyoncé once appeared backstage after a performance to compliment the cast, particularly Jonathan Groff’s performance as King George III. Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, and Idina Menzel have also sat among the musical’s captivated audience. The Hamilton Mixtape, which had various artists cover iconic songs from the show, demonstrates how many fellow artists love the musical.
#8 The show’s popularity led to the release of the popular companion book Hamilton: The Revolution. The book, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is nearly 300 pages long and includes plenty of behind-the-scenes content about the show. The show’s early run is detailed, and song lyrics are included with extensive annotations by Miranda.
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#9 As the creator of the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda was faced with many crucial decisions. Casting himself in the show was one of them. Miranda reportedly had trouble deciding whether he should play Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr but eventually decided to go with the titular character. He explained, “I get to be more impulsive than I really am—it’s taking the reins off your id for two and a half hours.”
#10 Tickets to Hamilton were infamously hard to come by once the show exploded in popularity. So, prior to each show a lottery would be held, where fans could win front-row seats to the show. Dubbed Ham4Ham, these pre-show lotteries would also be accompanied by the show’s cast performing short, fun skits to entertain the crowd. Many of these Ham4Ham performances have been preserved by fans through the internet. Unfortunately, the lottery is now done digitally, due to concerns about overcrowding around the theatre, but long-time fans will always look back fondly on these fun and intimate performances from the cast.
#11 Hamilton pays tribute to a number of rap and hip-hop artists whose music was an influence for Miranda.
The first act song “My Shot” references a line from the Mobb Deep song “Shook Ones Part 2,” as well mirroring the way Notorious B.I.G. spells his name in his song “Going Back to Cali.” Meanwhile, the production’s song, “Helpless,” bears resemblance to the musical stylings of rapper Ja Rule. Ja Rule and Ashanti later covered “Helpless” for The Hamilton Mixtape.
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#12 Some of Hamilton’s stars helped raise money for an organization started by Alexander Hamilton’s wife. In 1806, Elizabeth Hamilton co-founded the first private orphanage in New York City. The organization still exists, now called Graham Windham, and continues to help kids in need through foster and adoption services as well as after-school care. According to Observer, Hamilton stars Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo have taken strides to raise awareness for the charity, and the musical’s success has reinvigorated their programs. Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Hamilton in the production, has even spearheaded an arts program with Graham Windham called The Eliza Project.
#13 While Hamilton is rooted in America’s history and modern culture, it has become an international affair. Alongside ongoing shows at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, there are also touring productions that travel throughout North America. Across the pond, there is an ongoing production in London’s West End at the Victoria Palace Theatre, as well as productions apparently planned to open in Hamburg, Germany, and Sydney, Australia in the near future.
#14 Many fans will be shocked to learn that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show is not the first Hamilton to hit Broadway. In 1917, a play with the exact same name and focused on the exact same Founding Father was released. The play, which was not a musical, was written by Mary Hamlin and George Arliss, with Arliss also starring as Alexander Hamilton. A film adaptation of this show, with Arliss reprising the titular role, was released in 1931 under the title Alexander Hamilton.
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#15 The success of Hamilton allowed Lin-Manuel Miranda to enrich a new generation of potential artists. In 2016, he helped launch the EduHam program, which granted heavily discounted tickets to high school students from low-income areas or households. These students were given the chance to attend an interactive matinee performance of Hamilton, as well as participate in a month-long program to help them engage creatively with history. The EduHam program has traveled around the country alongside the touring productions of the musical. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, EduHam is now operating digitally as EduHam at Home.
#16 A documentary about the production, titled Hamilton’s America, was released as part of PBS’s Great Performances documentary series in 2016.
The documentary focuses on original cast members, including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr., as they research the historical figures that they intend to portray.
#17 The success of Hamilton has even had a profound effect on American currency, according to Playbill. In 2015 the United States Treasury planned to remove Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill, replacing him with abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman. However, the success of Miranda’s musical made the Treasury rethink this plan. Eventually, it was decided that Harriet Tubman would instead replace Andrew Jackson, the divisive seventh President of the United States, on the $20 bill.
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#18 The show is a true musical, and thus contains no spoken dialogue outside of musical numbers. There are 47 musical numbers throughout the production, and the fast-paced hip-hop music allows for the very quick communication of speech. The show contains 20,520 words across its nearly three-hour run time, which breaks down to about 144 words per minute. According to FiveThirtyEight, the show would last about six hours if it were sung traditionally.
#19 Lin-Manuel Miranda was able to share a space with some of the characters in his musical. He was given the opportunity to write parts of Hamilton from within the Morris-Jumel Mansion, located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. The mansion, located close to Miranda’s childhood home and the Richard Rodger Theatre, was used as a headquarters by George Washington during the Battle of Harlem Heights.
#20 In 2016, at the 70th Annual Tony Awards, Hamilton set the record for most Tony Award nominations for a single production. Broadway reported that the show was nominated for sixteen awards, and won eleven awards that year. The award wins included Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. The cast put on a live production of multiple songs from the show, including ”History Has Its Eyes on You” and “Yorktown”. However, because the awards ceremony was the day after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, the performance was staged without the use of prop weapons.
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#21 Hamilton has been compared by many to a similar musical titled Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Debuted in 2010, the musical follows the life of the divisive seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. The show, written by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers, is a rock musical that tells the story of Jackson’s political and personal life through the use of emo rock.
#22 The conflict between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is the crux of the play. While the story and songs skillfully illustrate their dueling ideologies, the show’s choreography also plays a role. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler told Entertainment Weekly that he made Hamilton walk-in arcing patterns on stage, while Burr always walks in a proper straight line. This helps illustrate their different ideologies and personalities in a visual and almost subconscious way. Hamilton is ambitious and pragmatic, while Burr is straightforward and reluctant to take risks.
#23 While most of the music in Hamilton is inspired by hip-hop and R&B, there are some notable exceptions. The cast explained to Vogue that the song “You’ll Be Back,” performed by King George III of England, is styled after the English rock band The Beatles. This reflects the character’s foreign nature, as compared to the American main characters. Meanwhile, the song “What’d I Miss,” performed by Thomas Jefferson, is styled after older jazz and soul music. This is intended to reflect Jefferson’s age compared to the rest of the Founding Fathers, as well as his lack of progressive ideals.
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#24 The song “Wait For It” from the first act of Hamilton was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda on a subway. He told The Rachael Ray Show that while taking public transport to a party, he suddenly thought of a line and wrote it down. On the subway ride home after the party, he then wrote the entire song.
#25 The Hamilton cast album fails to include one particular song from the musical. “Tomorrow There’ll Be More of Us,” which is located towards the end of the show’s first act, is an emotional number as Hamilton learns that one of his close friends has died a needless death in a battle after the end of the Revolutionary War. According to Broadway World, Miranda revealed that this song was left off of the show’s cast album due to its emotional nature. He feels that fans should experience this intense sequence in the theatre, rather than through the album.
#26 Before it transformed into a musical, Hamilton began life as a concept album.
Lin-Manuel Miranda told Entertainment Weekly, “I was going to write a concept album called The Hamilton Mixtape, wherein I would write some songs that were like highlights of Hamilton’s life, a la Jesus Christ Superstar or Evita, and then someone would figure out how to stage it later.” Miranda used his imagination to cast his favorite rappers and hip-hop artists as the historical figures in the album. He cast Common as George Washington, Busta Rhymes as Hercules Mulligan, and Eminem as Alexander Hamilton.
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#27 Other than the obvious hip-hop and historical influences, Lin-Manuel Miranda was also inspired by musical theatre classic Les Misérables. That 1980 musical, which was inspired by the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, tells the story of an attempted revolution in France and the people who are swept up in the chaos. Miranda told Grantland, “The things that you can see in Hamilton that are affecting people are also present in Les Mis. One, it’s trying to capture so much of the human experience that even if we fall short, we’ve got a lot of it.”
#28 The progressive nature of Hamilton extends to how the production handles slavery. While other historical shows may brush over the portrayal of slavery, Hamilton addresses the issue head-on by showcasing Thomas Jefferson’s slaves. The third line of the show also directly mentions the topic, saying, “every day, as slaves are being slaughtered…” Miranda explained that Alexander Hamilton fought against slavery, due to his experiences growing up in the Caribbean, and so this allowed the show to point at this injustice directly. He told Billboard, “he was repulsed by the practice and got the importation of slaves banned in New York and co-founded the New York Manumission Society. So he’s morally on the right side of history — in contrast to Washington, and in contrast to Jefferson.”
#29 Lin-Manuel Miranda did extensive research while he was writing Hamilton. He read pieces of Alexander Hamilton’s writing, visited historic locations, and read several novels. H.W. Brands’ novel The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr gave Miranda a glimpse into the vilified figure’s family and humanity, which was useful for writing the show’s narrator and antagonist. Affairs of Honor by Joanne Freeman also gave Miranda insight into the dueling code of the time period. He told The Atlantic, “I just happen to think that with Hamilton’s story, sticking close to the facts helps me. All the most interesting things in the show happened.”
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#30 Hamilton’s set actually evolves throughout the play.
Set designer David Korins told The Washington Post that the whole musical uses only one set, a Colonial-era building under construction to symbolize that America is still being built. Between the first and second acts of the show, the set changes slightly, with the brick walls growing taller to reflect the country growing as well. Rifles and tools are replaced by parchment and pens, to represent the end of the war and the birth of a new nation.
#31 The end of the play is intentionally ambiguous. At the end of every performance of Hamilton, the actress who portrays Eliza Hamilton is led to the edge of the stage by Alexander, and she then looks up and gasps in surprise. Fans argue about why Eliza gasps. Has she died and sees Alexander waiting for her? Is she seeing God? Is she seeing the audience and understanding her family’s legacy? Lin-Manuel Miranda recently told WIRED, “I think it’s different for each Eliza. I’ve had different conversations… I do think that it traverses time in some way.”
#32 The personification of Death itself is actually a character in the play. In the original cast, and the filmed version available on Disney+, a character named The Bullet is portrayed by cast member Ariana DeBose. PopSugar explains that the character appears throughout the show to foreshadow characters’ deaths. The Bullet appears to interact with several characters who die shortly afterward, such as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. She even portrays the fateful bullet that kills Alexander Hamilton during his duel with Aaron Burr.
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