Hamilton’s America airs Friday, October 21 at 9PM on KVIE. Here’s the backstory to the show – and the musical that’s taken over Broadway – from WNET senior writer Elisa Lichtenbaum.
It began in 2008. Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation in Mexico, reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton – all 832 pages of it. When he returned to New York, he invited Chernow to see In the Heights, his first Broadway show and winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical. During a backstage visit afterwards, Miranda told the author that as he was reading his book, hip-hop songs started rising off the pages.
“I knew it was my next show,” he says.
Eight years, 11 Tony® Awards, and one Pulitzer Prize later, Hamilton, Miranda’s hit musical, is the hottest ticket on Broadway and a pop culture phenomenon. It’s also the subject of Hamilton’s America, a new documentary from Great Performances airing October 21 on KVIE.
The story of Alexander Hamilton is most remembered for its dramatic conclusion, which saw Hamilton killed in a duel by Vice President Aaron Burr. But the full story of this political genius – a poor immigrant who built himself up from nothing to become the architect of modern finance and one of the nation’s most vital authors – has largely been forgotten by history…until now.
Today, Hamilton’s fan club is vocal and growing, thanks, in no small measure, to Miranda’s revolutionary musical. With its young cast claiming America’s history as its own, Hamilton is redefining how audiences learn about history.
Hamilton’s America, produced by RadicalMedia (Great Performances’s In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams) and directed by Alex Horwitz, offers an intimate look at the creation of the show, revealing Miranda’s process as he adapts Hamilton’s epic story into groundbreaking musical theater. Newly shot footage of the New York production with its original cast and trips to Mt. Vernon, Valley Forge, and other historic locations with Miranda and other cast members further flesh out the story. President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Secretary Hank Paulson, Secretary Timothy Geithner, Questlove, Black Thought, Jimmy Fallon, John Weidman, Nas, and Stephen Sondheim are among the notable interviews.
Highlights of the film include Miranda performing an early version of the musical’s opening number at The White House in 2009 and composing songs in Aaron Burr’s Manhattan bedroom. In Virginia, Christopher Jackson (George Washington in the musical), grapples with our Founders’ legacy of slavery while preparing for the role. Back in New York, Miranda, (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (who won a Tony® Award for his portrayal of Aaron Burr) visit the Museum of American Finance, where they get a deeper understanding of the historical figures they are depicting onstage and learn how to handle authentic 19th-century dueling pistols.
Hamilton’s America shows just how timeless the hot-button issues of today’s America are: immigration, States’ rights, debt, income inequality, and race relations. These were the same fights that defined Hamilton’s time, and they are the driving force of Miranda’s historic work.
The role that storytelling plays in history is a central theme of Hamilton the musical and Hamilton’s America. The musical invites audiences to ponder: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” In the film, Miranda marvels at the way Alexander Hamilton has changed his life – and the way the show has enriched Hamilton’s legacy.
“He reached out of the Chernow book and grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I told his story,” he says.
The Great Performances presentation is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, The LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Rosalind P. Walter, The Agnes Varis Trust, The Starr Foundation, the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Lenore Hecht Foundation, The Abra Prentice Foundation, Jody and John Arnhold, and PBS. Major corporate funding for Hamilton’s America is provided by BNY Mellon, originally the Bank of New York which was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1784.