REVIEW: ‘Hamilton’s America’ pulls back the curtain on Broadway hit
Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks the birth (and brilliant life) of his musical “Hamilton” in the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America.”
It’s a pretty thorough look at the creative process but it’s also a travelogue to some of the real places where Alexander Hamilton and company actually lived and worked.
While much of the hoopla is shown (the “Hamilton” cast apparently celebrated at every juncture of their journey), it’s the creative stuff that interests. Even though you may not have gotten to see the original cast, there are enough clips to let you taste the originality and savor the lyrics.
Miranda details his inspiration (he read Ron Chernow’s book while on vacation from “In the Heights”), the encouragement (he sang one of the songs at a White House event) and the impact (come on, it was the hottest ticket on Broadway in years) while showing glimpses of the real characters’ lives. Christopher Jackson (who plays George Washington) and Leslie Odom Jr. (who plays Aaron Burr) visit sites important to the plot, making this a history lesson, too. Think: Ken Burns meets Kanye West.
“All of us are more than one thing,” Odom says, trying to make Burr seem more than just the story’s villain. Others are equally protective, talking about the people they played on Broadway. To push the authenticity, Odom and Miranda even brandish 19th-century dueling pistols at one point.
The surprising parts come when President Obama, former President George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Sen. Elizabeth Warren weigh in.
If “Hamilton” were legislation, it’d pass without incident.
While Jimmy Fallon hardly seems like a legitimate critic (he likes everything), he’s here, too, offering another take on the show. More interesting: rapper Nas, who confirms “Hamilton’s” hip-hop cred.
Moving into a new apartment when the documentary begins, Miranda can chart the musical’s growth along with that of his son, who was born at the start of the project.
Moments at the Public Theater (where, apparently, the pub’s bar is used as a stage for speakers) show the excitement that enveloped “Hamilton” during those early days.
Director Alex Horwitz doesn’t show the whole production, but he does let the creative collaboration shine through. Yes, Miranda wrote it. But it’s also a big achievement for director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who gave it form.
“Hamilton’s America” doesn’t go into the producers’ battle for profits (cast members felt they were entitled to a piece of the action – which they got) but it does let fans see how it resulted from many working together, not one man divinely handing his work over to others.
For those who’ve seen the show, select numbers help recall plenty. For those who haven’t, it’s one more incentive to get out there and take that shot.
It’s the object of a lot of worship but, in the end, it’s worth it. Because it’s so dense, “Hamilton” isn’t like most musicals. “Hamilton’s America” makes that abundantly clear.
“Hamilton’s America” airs at 8 p.m. Oct. 21 on PBS, as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.