Music

Reviewing every Hamilton song until March 2021: ‘Alexander Hamilton’

Settle in. You’re in for a wild ride.

With 13 months remaining until Hamilton arrives in Sydney, I’m passing the time by reviewing every song that will soon be brought to life on an Australian stage. Here are my thoughts on all 46 Hamilton tracks — 2 hours and 22 minutes of pure joy (except for the last part of Act 2 because, you know, things turn really sad really quickly right about there). 

Track One: ‘Alexander Hamilton’

Here’s the thing about an opening number: it’s a dealbreaker. When I read a book, I judge the opening sentence (I shouldn’t, but I do). When someone drops a new album, the first track sets the tone. When it comes to a musical, the opening song is an introduction of epic proportions. You meet the characters, you learn the story, you see what you’ll be in for during the next two hours of theatrical magic. 

It’s a tall ask and one that walks a fine line. How much to give, how much to hold back; which characters you allow to take part, which ones remain backstage, biding their time. How a writer even begins to condense the heart of their story into one song is beyond me. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda condensed it into one phrase.

“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?”

So few words were needed to summarise a man of multitudes, the perfect introduction to be built upon over the next 3 minutes and 56 seconds — and dissected, torn apart and turned on its head for the remainder of the show. The lyrics go on to explain how this “ten dollar founding father” made his way to America. They tell the story of a boy who lost his family, of a man who was looking to make his mark on the world. The song pulls you in from the beginning with the kind of lyrical ease and eloquence that has become synonymous with Miranda’s writing.

For me, and for many, the standout section of this track arrives early, courtesy of Aaron Burr:

Well, the word got around, they said, ‘This kid is insane, man!’

Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland

Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came. And the world’s gonna know your name.

What’s your name, man?”

The way this builds gives me goosebumps every time. The slam dunk moment follows immediately after when what rose instead falls to a subdued response: “Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton,” building to deliver the line to end all lines, “And there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait. Just you wait.”

We’re introduced to the vocal trickery that runs rampant throughout the Hamilton soundtrack soon after:

There would’ve been nothing left to do for someone less astute,

he would’ve been dead and destitute without a cent of restitution.”

These words fall over each other like water over ice. Nothing clashes, nothing sounds forced. The whole thing is smooth and complementary, which is no easy feat to achieve. It’s a theme that is upheld in the remaining 45 songs and one that takes an immense talent not only to write, but to deliver. These performers rise to that challenge without hesitation. 

As the song nears its conclusion, we’re graced with the following lyric:

The ship is in the harbour now, see if you can spot him

Another immigrant coming up from the bottom.”

Highlighting the fact that this founding father was an immigrant is something that is integral to Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton worked harder, wrote more, and raised the bar higher because he knew hardship and the price of freedom. It’s an attitude that is historically inherent in immigrant communities — and one that is too often overlooked in the face of rising prejudices stoked by political agendas and ill-informed messages. To experience Hamilton is to set aside any preconceptions, to open your mind and see people for who they are, not who propaganda wants them to be. It’s this insight that adds to the lasting impact of the show, one that will surely continue to fight the good fight for years to come.

‘Alexander Hamilton’ closes with supporting characters voicing their connections with the leading man: “We fought with him,” “I died for him,” “I trusted him,” “I loved him,” and the bookend to the whole affair, Burr’s admission that he’s “the damn fool who shot him.” 

There are no spoilers when a show is based on events from the late 1700s. Including the cause of Hamilton’s demise in the opening track is a bold move and one that, in terms of establishing a storytelling arc, is nothing short of genius. With the narrative in place, we’re offered one final reminder of why we’re here:

“There’s a million things I haven’t done,

but just you wait.

What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton.”

Settle in. You’re in for a wild ride. 

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