A hip-hop-inspired Broadway musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton seems as unlikely as Hamilton’s own historic rise. Born out of wedlock and orphaned as a young child, he struggled out of poverty and became one of our nation’s most powerful political leaders. “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry,” Hamilton sings in “Hamilton: An American Musical,” created by Lin-Manuel Miranda (composer, writer, lyricist, actor and all-around genius). This show is a smash hit, with even terrible seats going for hundreds of dollars. And just a couple of weeks ago President Obama hosted local students and the cast of “Hamilton” for a daylong celebration of the arts in America.
I came a little late to the “Hamilton” party, but once I heard the soundtrack this spring, I couldn’t stop listening. Or singing. Or rapping. I randomly shout “Lafayette!” or “I am not throwing away my shot!” at my kids, and they grin and dance around because, of course, they’ve heard the soundtrack multiple times by now. Mama cannot get enough. If you haven’t listened to “Hamilton” yet, and you live in Boone or Callaway County and have a library card, you can stream or download the whole thing through Hoopla. Right now! So, go ahead and take a listen. I’ll wait.
You back? Amazing, right? If you want to read the book that inspired this phenomenon, check out the biography “Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, which is as much a story of the birth of our nation as it is an in-depth look at George Washington’s right-hand man, author of the majority of The Federalist Papers and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.
If an 800-page book is a little more than you want to commit to, how about learning more about Hamilton’s friend and Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette? Miranda has Lafayette rapping at about 100 miles an hour – in a French accent – in his musical, but Sarah Vowell makes him just as entertaining in “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.” With her signature voice and wit, Vowell discusses Lafayette’s nonpartisan influence on a fledgling United States, his relationships with the Founding Fathers and his contributions during the contentious 1824 presidential election.
If your Hamilton fever has given you the history bug, Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph J. Ellis has authored a number of lyrically written books that explore the birth of America. “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” analyzes the intertwined careers of the founders of the American republic and documents the lives of John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington. The text doesn’t rhyme, though. Sorry. “American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic,” and “His Excellency: George Washington” (“Here Comes the General!”) are other works by Ellis worth exploring.
If all of this revolutionary reading only has you more excited about the musical, starting in September a travelling company will perform the show in Chicago. Road trip?