Alexander Hamilton Chats With John Adams

Actually, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who played Hamilton on Broadway, had a chat with William Daniels, the man who played John Adams in the 1969 musical 1776 (and the 1972 film). I assume that if you are reading this blog you know something about Miranda.  But you may also recognize Daniels for his role as Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere and Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World.

Here is a taste of a Playbill-hosted conversation between the two founding fathers:

Before we get too deeply into ticketing, I want to talk a bit about 1776. Today we think of it as being in the pantheon of great musicals, but in the 1960s, the show was so unconventional that Sherman Edwards had a hard time getting it produced. “Some of the biggest [names] in the theatre,” he recalled, “looked at me and said, ‘What, a costume musical? A costume, historical musical?’” Mr. Daniels, do you remember your initial reaction to the idea?

WD: I read the script with a bunch of people at somebody’s apartment. Sherman Edwards was a former schoolteacher from New Jersey, and he had written not just the songs, but the script. It was a little stiff; I remember thinking, We’re in the middle of Vietnam, for Christ’s sake, and they’re waving the flag?I really had to be talked into doing it. At any rate, when the script came back to me, Peter Stone had taken ahold of it, and he’d gone back to the actual conversations in the Second Continental Congress. He had written them out on little cards and injected them into the script, and it made all the difference in the world. It added humor and conciseness and truth.

LMM: I love that anecdote, because it gets at something that I discovered in writing Hamilton: The truth is invariably more interesting than anything a writer could make up. That Peter Stone went back to the texts written by these guys, who were petty, brilliant, compromised—that’s more interesting than any marble saints or plaster heroes you can create. And the picture you all painted together of John Adams was so powerful; in the opening scene, he calls himself “obnoxious and disliked,” which is a real quote. We don’t have a John Adams in our show, but we can just refer to him, and everyone just pictures you, Mr. Daniels.

WD: Really?

LMM: Yeah. 1776 created such an iconic, indelible image of Adams that we just know who that is now. It’s also, I think, one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theatre, in that you long to see them talk to each other. Which almost never happens in a musical. Most musicals, you’re waiting for the next song to start. That book is so smart, and so engaging.

Read the rest here.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton Exhibit Will Open in Chicago

hamilton

It is scheduled for November.  Here is a taste from Chris Jones’s reporting in the Chicago Tribune:

“Hamilton,” the phenomenally successful musical written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, brought so much posthumous celebrity to Alexander Hamilton that America’s first secretary of the treasury kept his fragile spot on the front of the 10-dollar bill. But Miranda and his producer, Jeffrey Seller, are not yet done giving their man his shot after shot after shot.

Bowing this fall on Chicago’s Northerly Island: “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” an interactive, immersive, one-of-a-kind, only-in-Chicago attraction designed to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America.

“People want to learn more,” said Miranda in an interview Sunday at Tribune Tower. “It seems that two hours and 45 minutes of a musical were just not enough for them. I know from my Twitter account.”

Read the rest here.

*Hamilton* in the *Journal of the Early Republic*

hamilton

Over at Professor Park’s Blog, historian Benjamin Park calls our attention to a historian’s roundtable on Hamilton published in the latest issue of The Journal of the Early Republic.

Joanne Freeman, Andrew Shocket, Heather Nathans, Marvin McAllister, Benjamin Carp, and Nancy Isenberg contributed to the roundtable.

Here is a taste of Park’s post:

But is Hamilton historically accurate? Benjamin Carp says that might be the wrong question to ask. Attendees should know that it’s not accurate history–the characters are breaking out into song and dance, after all. Rather than wondering if it is “good history,” we should rather ask, “is it good for historians?” (292) At its best, the play asks intriguing questions regarding how history and myth are constructed. It is left to historians to take advantage of the doors that are opened.

Nancy Isenberg, as you might expect, is not as optimistic. She worries that by merely celebrating the play, historians are abdicating their duty to hold popular memory accountable. She says the historical errors in Hamilton are not peripheral, but “massive” (296). The play distorts Hamilton’s personality and, especially, his commitment to power structures. (I especially enjoyed her discussion of the “faux-feminism” politics in the play [299].) Hamilton is not helping the promotion of accurate and useful history. “Americans ought to feel uncomfortable about their collective past,” she concludes. “We look foolish otherwise, as cheerleaders of American exceptionalism” (303).

Read the entire post here.

It’s Official: Harriet Tubman Will Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 Bill

Tubman

And Alexander Hamilton will stay on the $10 bill.

Here is a taste of an article from The New York Times:

The Treasury Department will announce on Wednesday afternoon that Harriet Tubman, an African-American who ferried thousands of slaves to freedom, will replace the slaveholding Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 note, according to a Treasury official, while the newly popular Alexander Hamilton will remain on the face of the $10 bill.

Other depictions of women and civil rights leaders will also be part of new currency designs.

The redesigns, from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, would be announced in 2020 in time for the centennial of woman’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. None of the bills, including a new $5 note, would reach circulation until the next decade.

It was unclear whether details of the unexpectedly sweeping changes would mollify some women’s groups, who had excoriated Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew for reneging on his 10-month-old commitment to put a woman on the face of the $10 bill, which is the one currently in line for an anti-counterfeiting makeover.

But in the months of taking public comments on what woman he should pick, Mr. Lew evidently bowed to the Broadway-stoked mania around the $10 bill’s current star, Alexander Hamilton.

Whatever you think about Hamilton staying on the $10 bill, it is worth reiterating that he remains there because of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theater adaptation of Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.  Tubman has made it onto the $20 bill because historians of the enslaved, of abolitionism, and of American women have told her story.

This is public history at its best.  It shows the power of history to shape public debate. Now let’s think about other ways to present history responsibly so that it might lead to more significant changes in society.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Will Give Plenary Address at SHEAR’s 2016 Annual Meeting

Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton,” will give the plenary address at the 2016 meeting of the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic in New Haven.

Here is the announcement from the SHEAR website:

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s SHEAR plenary will feature an interview with Hamilton playwright and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. His schedule unfortunately will not permit him to join us in New Haven, but he has graciously agreed to a filmed interview, which will be shown during the conference plenary, and followed by a panel discussion. This unusual format affords us an opportunity: We invite you to send us questions for the interview. Of course, it is likely that there will be time to pose only a small selection of questions, but we’d like the interview to reflect the interests and thoughts of SHEAR members.

Please send your questions to HamforSHEAR@gmail.com by March 25th.

See you in New Haven this July!

Joanne B. Freeman and Brian Murphy

Joanne Freeman on *Hamilton: The Musical*

Yale’s Joanne Freeman is one of the best scholars of Alexander Hamilton in the business.  Anyone interested in the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel at Weehawkin, New Jersey on July 11, 1804 must read her Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic.  She also edited the writings of Hamilton in the Library of America series.

Freeman recently saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway show Hamilton.  Here is a taste of her review at Slate:


…Miranda has taken some liberties for clarity and flow. Time is condensed and historical events are shifted in time; for example, the presidential election of 1800 didn’t lead to the Burr-Hamilton duel, nor did Hamilton’s son Philip fight a duel before that election. Big-name characters take the place of lesser-knowns: Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison didn’t solicit Hamilton’s 1798 adultery confession. Representatives Frederick Muhlenberg, James Monroe, and Abraham Venable did. Some events are invented: John Adams didn’t fire Treasury Secretary Hamilton, who resigned under Washington in 1795, but this invention handily explains Hamilton’s opposition to fellow Federalist Adams’ bid for re-election as president in the election of 1800, highlighted later in the play.

Such creative license makes sense, particularly given that Hamilton is not a formal work of history. It’s a play centered on one man’s rise and fall, framed to enhance the qualities that made him notable. Even so, Miranda’s telling of that life contains a remarkable amount of historical fact, even concerning policy debates that hardly seem suited to the Broadway stage, let alone a musical. The creation of a national bank, the Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, the “dinner deal” that moved the United States’ capital south: All receive their due in rap battles and ballads. Part of Washington’s Farewell Address is quoted—or rather sung—verbatim. Indeed, quotes from Hamilton’s writings are sprinkled throughout the show. One of the play’s many achievements is its blend of an inclusive present with a historical past that is rooted in fact.
In many ways, Miranda’s Hamilton is also true to life, propelled by the same driving ambitions, rough edges, and loose-cannon character as his historical counterpart. Much like the real Hamilton, he’s a committed nationalist who fears the riotous upset of revolutionary France and strives to give the new nation a market-driven commercial future. Jefferson, in contrast, is depicted as a Virginia-centric slaveholder singing the praises of agrarianism. In Miranda’s telling, Hamilton is forward-looking and Jefferson clings to a pastoral slavery-bound past.
And here is Miranda talking Hamilton on Jimmy Fallon:

Ben Carp Reviews Lin-Manuel Miranda’s "Hamilton"

I have been waiting for this musical ever since I saw (via You Tube) Lin-Manuel Miranda in this performance at The White House:



Hamilton” is now playing at the Public Theater until May 3. Good luck landing a ticket.  All the shows appear to be sold out.  It is coming to Broadway in July.

So for now I am going to have to experience the show vicariously through Brooklyn College historian Ben Carp’s review at Common-Place.  Here is a taste:

The historian’s craft is on full display here.  In “The Room Where It Happens,” James Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson hash out the famous 1790 compromise to locate the capital on the Potomac but have the federal government assume state debts.  Yet as Aaron Burr (in his role as sometime narrator) tells us, we don’t actually know what went down, because no one else was in the room.  Later, Eliza Hamilton burns her letters rather than leave for posterity her opinions about Hamilton’s adultery.  She even sings about leaving the narrative.  Books, letters, and printed pamphlets recur as props, and they are constantly in motion: the characters read news of Laurens’s death, Hamilton’s attack on Adams, and his sordid confessions about Maria Reynolds.  Families try to love one another across distances.  As a historian I’m used to flipping through archival materials, so this dynamism was something of a treat.  On the front of the Playbill, the tagline reads, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” and in a number toward the end, the actors confront the idea that history isn’t static—storytellers might vary, and the differences among them actually matter. Audiences will thrill to Miranda’s interpretation, but they are still offered the idea that different interpretations are possible, and that the historical record leaves gaps for the imagination to fill.  If you’re like David Brooks (who saw the same performance I did), you may fall in love with Hamilton all over again (and is it just me, or does “The Hamilton Experience” remind you of “The Girlfriend Experience”?), but the show leaves room for many other reactions.

Race plays an interesting role in the show.  Ben Brantley found it “appropriate that the ultimate dead white men of American history should be portrayed here by men who are not white.”  In an interview, Leslie Odom, Jr. (who plays Aaron Burr), said, “In the first two minutes of this show, Lin steps forward and introduces himself as Alexander Hamilton, and Chris [Jackson] steps forward and says he’s George Washington, and you never question it again.” And while it’s true that the performances are unquestionably fitting, they also raise interesting questions.  In the show, the only white cast members (as far as I could tell) were either ensemble players (one of whom played the Loyalist minister Samuel Seabury) or Bryan D’Arcy James, who plays King George III to hilarious effect.  (“When push comes to shove / I will kill your friends and family / To remind you of my love.”)  In other words, on stage the whites represent monarchical authority, while the revolutionaries (men and women) are played by people of African, Latino/a, and Asian descent.  This show is, then, about revolutions past and future (and Miranda did acknowledge in the New Yorker that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were on his mind when the cast sang, “Rise up!”)…

…On the subway ride home, I saw a group clutching a Playbill from the show and discussing excitedly whether certain events in it were accurate.  I smiled.  It’s a good thing Hamilton is moving to Broadway for a longer run.  More audiences for this show could well mean a broader audience for other good histories, too.

Respect.