Few could have been surprised that the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama (and $10,000) was awarded to Lin-Manuel Miranda for the musical Hamilton, who after all has already won an astonishing pile-up of awards and prize money — the George Washington Book Prize ($50,000), the Kennedy Award for Drama Inspired by American History ($100,000), the MacArthur “Genius” Grant ($625,000), the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album (which so far has grossed some six million dollars.)
While we’re talking money – which isn’t completely inappropriate, given that the musical is about the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury — Hamilton, which opened in August, has reportedly already grossed more than $60 million at the box office, and provides Miranda, 36, with upwards of $100,000 in royalties per week for writing the book, music, lyrics and arrangements; this doesn’t include his undisclosed weekly salary for starring in the show.
We needn’t catalog the slew of theater awards the show won Off-Broadway, nor predict the avalanche of expected Tony nominations on May 3. Is it too much to add the awards Miranda has racked up for his previous work? (The 2008 Tony he won for In The Heights, the 2014 Emmy he won for the song “Bigger” sung by Neil Patrick Harris on the Tony Awards broadcast)
It has almost reached the point where the awards to Miranda for Hamilton do more to enhance the prestige of the award-giver than the recipient. Jeremy McCarter makes a similar point in Hamilton The Revolution, the ambitious (of course) making-of-the-musical/libretto/souvenir book McCarter co-authors with Miranda, which was published last week and is already (of course) a bestseller. The book ends with an epilogue about a special performance of Hamilton as a Democratic fundraiser, with President Obama as host. As anybody familiar with Hamilton lore knows, it was during a concert for the Obamas at the White House that Miranda performed the first rap of the musical-to-be, in 2009. McCarter observes that “six years after Lin had gotten a boost from his association with the White House, the White House was, improbably, getting a boost from Lin.”
Hamilton has become such a cultural phenomenon – and Miranda has compiled so many accolades — that there has emerged something of a backlash, with critics accusing the musical of not being revolutionary enough, or not being historically accurate enough. This has been followed by a backlash against the backlash, and then by a backlash against the backlash against the backlash.
“I’m sick of hearing about Hamilton,” someone I love (whose identity I’ll protect) said to me recently. I can sympathize, theoretically, but I’d be a hypocrite to agree.
I first reviewed Hamilton when it opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in February, 2015; I called it groundbreaking and breathtaking — and hard to absorb in a single sitting. In an essay a month later, I detailed the five specific ways I thought Hamilton breaks new ground, and then five months later wrote another review of Hamilton when it opened on Broadway. I’ve also interviewed Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, chronicled (blogged, Tweeted, or YouTubed) most every piece of news involving the musical or its star, no matter how small; I even put together a Hamilton quiz (Which character in Hamilton are you?) To my mind, I was giving an ever-increasing pool of Hamilton fans what they wanted.
What has happened, however, with the publication of a libretto that includes Miranda’s extensive annotations, and the release of the cast album, is that I now have the time and the means to absorb the show better than I did at the theater. As a result, I find some numbers more satisfying — such as “Satisfied.” I already was struck by how spectacularly Renee Elise Goldsberry sings this impossibly rapid song. But I had not fully grasped how theatrical it is. It begins and ends as a wedding toast, but it rewinds in time, to show the first encounter between Angelica and Hamilton, full of repartee and double-entendre, ramped up to the speed of sound, but then Angelica witnesses Eliza’s encounter, and her sister’s helplessness, and Angelica realizes in a (rapped) soliloquy the reasons why she should give Hamilton up.
At this point in the libretto, Miranda writes in the margins: “The structure of this song is exactly the form of the Personal Literary Essay I learned in 8th grade English: Introduction, Statement of thesis, three proofs, conclusion. Here come the three proofs.”
He also must have been paying attention to the lesson on metaphors in 10th grade, for he writes in a separate note: “There is all manner of satisfaction – sexual, emotional, financial. It’s also a code word used in dueling – “to demand satisfaction.’ It’s also onomatopoetic—it feels like it sounds, satisfying to sing. We wring every last bit from it.”
Yes, Hamilton has undergone the very American process of hype and hyperbole, but it’s satisfying on enough levels to be deserving of its awards.