Just when you thought it was impossible to learn any more about Hamilton… The cast and creative team, led by writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, tossed out several revelations at a SiriusXM Town Hall event, hosted by Anderson Cooper.
It was taped on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Times Square, where the show has been selling out for almost a year.
Turns out the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway phenomenon isn’t about the American Revolution, according to director Tom Kail, but about “the power of the impulse of thought.” Here are six other things we learned from Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton:
It’s on. https://t.co/5h5q8Hv7nS
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) May 20, 2016
Hamilton‘s opening lines, sung by Leslie Odom Jr. who plays Aaron Burr, do what every good show should do and perfectly set up proceedings: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman/ dropped in the middle of a Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence/ Impoverished, in squalor/ Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” Just don’t mention the beginning to its creator. “I actually don’t know them anymore,” confessed Lin-Manuel Miranda of the opening lines. “Leslie is the one who does them nightly… I have completely forgotten them!”
“A WHITE GUY SINGING… THANK GOD!”:
One of the most popular songs in Hamilton is “You’ll Be Back” sung by embittered monarch King George III (currently played by Rory O’Malley). The tune is a Beatles-esque number that Lin-Manuel penned on his honeymoon. But it turns out the song was a strategic musical exercise to placate Broadway’s old, white audience who might otherwise have been put off by the inventiveness of the hip-hop that dominates the musical. “It’s extraordinary the response that song gets,” Lin-Manuel said. “For older theatergoers after fifteen minutes of hip-hop and R&B, they go, ‘Oh God! A white guy singing a song center stage. Thank God! Thank Christ!’…but the audience really gets the chance to breathe. It is a first traditional musical comedy hall song.”
Hamilton has become the definitive Broadway go-to destination for celebrities in the Big Apple. But the connection to fame began in 2009 when Lin-Manuel first performed material from what would ultimately become Hamilton at the White House Poetry Jam in front of President Obama. Recalling the event, Miranda said: “It was seven years and four days ago because my Timehop on my Facebook showed up recently and all of my entries…were Lin Manuel-Miranda is in a van with James Earl Jones. ‘What?!’ Lin Manuel-Miranda is meeting Michelle Obama. ‘What?!’…the van ride with James Earl Jones was the highlight of my life thus far.” A-listers attending a performance now equates to normality for Miranda, but at the time he was taken aback: “It was a very surreal room. It was George Stephanopoulos next to Zach Braff, next to Spike Lee. It was like a Mad Libs of the internet so I looked up towards the light fixtures at the end of the hall and then I was OK .”
As well as Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton and 1980s musical blockbusters Les Miserables and Evita, Lin-Manuel Miranda was influenced by Bring It On, the 2012 cheerleading musical he co-wrote that closed after five months. “We actually learned a lot from Bring It On, which was a fully pop score,” he said. “This was the sound of what cheerleaders danced to which are these incredible techno high-energy things. We learned a lot through trial and error and how much you can get away with tracks meshing with a live orchestra. We tried and succeeded and took steps forward and steps back. By the time we were working on Hamilton, we knew what we could pre-record and had worked through a lot of the kinks on how to make this really happen with a live orchestra.”
CIRCLE OF LIFE:
Hamilton‘s Tony-Award winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler revealed that he meticulously planned the musical’s movement so that the character of Burr moves in straight lines, while Hamilton always moves in arcs. “I felt that the show was always revolving and a lot of that had to do with the fact that Hamilton would never stop thinking,” he said. “The options were infinite, the things he wanted to accomplish were infinite. So Hamilton’s movement is always circling throughout the course of the show. As we kept working on it, I realized that audience perceives forward progress or counterclockwise…every new choice that Hamilton makes makes the stage turn counterclockwise. When we’re resisting fate, the action on the stage goes clockwise,” evidenced most notably in Hamilton’s death scene. Cue an interjection from Lin-Manuel: “I’ve done this so many times, and I didn’t know that!”
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Commencement Address at UPenn struck a chord with students and it turns out the feeling is mutual. Miranda said his favorite aspect of the show is the students who watch Hamilton at matinees: “They are the best part of our job, without question. They’re the best audiences. That’s not on some idealistic, ‘I believe the children are our future’ type thing. I mean they are literally the best audiences. They don’t know how to do anything but be honest, so they give us more energy than any other show, they give us more inspiration, and what I think they take away, because they are so extraordinary and vocal. They’re not all gonna become theater majors. They’re not all gonna write musicals but I think what audiences are taking away is, ‘Man, Hamilton lived three lifetimes worth in his short time on this earth.’ “