The amount of spirit of life that pours through Lin-Manuel Miranda's epic HAMILTON is a shower of the democratic impulse. Listening to the soundtrack along America's 21st century backroads and through small and drying up towns, something about this work resonates.
I don't know a whole lot about the creation of HAMILTON, but I think it is inspired, at least in part, by Ron Chernow's biography of the founding father. The musical derives its narrative tension from Hamilton's personal struggle to overcome an unusual and untitled background as well as his stormy, ultimately fatal relations with Aaron Burr. Among the other major characters are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton's wife Eliza, and Lafayette.
Each of these characters – and so many others from their time – are singular for their accomplishments and contributions to the framing and establishment of our early republic, each one a distillation and living embodiment of the tensions we live with today. HAMILTON brings ambitions and rivalries, lusts and fears into stark relief in an absolutely dizzying, contemporized retelling of several founding myths – most important, the death of a central Federalist.
What I find compelling about HAMILTON is that Lin-Manuel Miranda embraces these founding fathers, with all of their flaws and shortcomings, as human beings and as legends. In a time of fierce scrutiny and intense multicultural reflection, it is invigorating to experience these characters from our history books as alive, laden with meaning and accomplishment – in all of their imperfection.
A takeaway for me is the idea of taking a stand; knowing what your principles are and how to negotiate them in times of complex forces that challenge their fundamental basis. "If you don't know where you stand, what will you fall for" Hamilton asks Burr at one point.
Photo courtesy of Zions Bank Broadway at The Eccles
The story of the United States is the story of courageous public leaders and anonymous private actions that drive us toward an ever more perfect union. HAMILTON is propelled by a multicultural mashup that is analogous to the streams of thought that fed our founders' appetites - as enlightenment thinkers, as entrepreneurs, as fathers and husbands, and as politicians.
Driving across the country, through thriving cities and drained small towns and the expansive plains, prairies and forest carpet, one idea sticks with me: it is the power of the American landscape to inspire loyalties as much as revolutionary vision. The west has compelled fortune seekers and pioneers, religious zealots and frontier prospectors. Along the way we have spun out numerous experiments and patterns of community life. Some have failed and others endured. From trailer parks to New Urbanism, planned residential communities and mixed use developments, that experimentalism endures, and is perhaps the defining legacy of our founders – and the core message of HAMILTON, which is that we are all responsible for this experiment. It is our birthright as Americans new or long-standing to contribute to this restless effort to create a more perfect union.