At the start of the month, Disney+ added a recording of the Broadway musical Hamilton to its online library. Given how, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the show had been consistently sold out, subscribers were gladdened to see that the Mouse House had given them a chance to experience something they might have otherwise never gotten to check out before.
Based on the biography of America’s least-known yet arguably most-influential founding father, Hamilton tells the slightly embellished story of Alexander Hamilton, a man who came to the New World an immigrant and through diligence and passion fought his way to the top of the US government.
The musical was already popular as it was, but now that Disney has made it available to audiences worldwide, the hype around this production has never been greater. Recently, the streaming service cashed in on this by uploading the documentary Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes On You, which chronicles creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creative trials and tribulations, which culminated in his having to write the final song.
The song accompanies a duel between Hamilton and his long-term political rival, Aaron Burr. In the documentary, Miranda reflects on how he braved the daunting challenge of summing up a man’s entire life into a few lines of song, and reveals where he ultimately found the inspiration necessary to do so.
“I think my collaborators will tell you the hardest one was probably Hamilton’s final moments. We were in tech, a few days away from our first audience, and I still hadn’t written it. It was, how do you sum up someone’s final moments on a dueling ground? And it probably underwent the most revision because I don’t know what that’s like and it takes a real imaginative leap. I kept writing songs for the moment and all the songs felt wrong. And then I woke up New Year’s Day 2015 and my son, who was about a month and a half old, was asleep on my chest. My dog was asleep between my legs, and my wife was asleep next to me. And it was quiet, and I realized ‘Oh, quiet.’ I haven’t used quiet for the whole two hours and 30 minutes of this show. That’s the one move left.”
For all the praise that Hamilton has received, however, the musical has also been subjected to a fair amount of criticism. While Miranda consciously employed race-blind casting to tell this old story in a contemporary way, some continue to find the production problematic because it romanticizes a nation that was founded on human slavery.
Although sympathetic towards these accusations, Miranda and his fellow cast members stick by the play. Most recently, star Phillipa Soo acknowledged the idealization in the story, but proposed that such an approach could still serve a social purpose insofar as it shows people what America could be like at its best, and thus gives them a sense of hope.