Hamilton: The Facts Behind the Show
As fans are enjoying the Hamilton movie that emerged from an extremely popular musical, we have reviewed its most surprising details. Let's find out where the show's creator got the idea for a hip-hop musical and what the Royal Family thought about the portrayal of Alexander Hamilton. We also reveal why Disney+ insisted on editing the play. Get started!
INSPIRATION COMES WHEN WE LEAST EXPECT IT
After wrapping up production on The Heights in 2007, composer extraordinaire, Lin-Manuel Miranda spotted Ron Chernow's biography, Alexander Hamilton, while he was at an airport looking for some reading material for a flight to Mexico.
On a whim, he purchased the book and was so blown away that he immediately thought of turning it into a musical, but not just your average song and dance spectacle; Miranda wanted Hamilton to be a hip-hop piece! He thought the hip hop connection was obvious, telling Good Morning America:
“I immediately went to google after finishing the second chapter of the book to see if someone had done this, because it’s a hip-hop story! Washington is totally the Dr Dre to Hamilton’s Eminem”.
Several years and a few songs later in 2015, Hamilton was ready for the stage, with the author of the book that inspired it all employed as the historical consultant. When Miranda was asked in 2016 if he thought the play could work as a movie, he said
“Yeah – but later. I don’t know how much later – I worked for seven years to make this thing a piece of theatre, so I’d love as many people as possible to experience it as a piece of theater first”.
Well, his hard work has certainly paid off, because four years later, it’s happening. Thanks to the wonders of film and streaming, we don’t all need to be cultured theatre-goers to enjoy the story of Hamilton, as it’s now available as a movie.
TIME WAS ALWAYS ON OUR SIDE
Despite his enthusiasm and dedication to the project, Miranda wasn’t able to churn out a hit production overnight. In fact, the first two songs (called Alexander Hamilton, as well as Hamilton’s opening number of My Shot) took two a year each to perfect!
Overall, the play took seven years to evolve from idea to production, and this was likely partially due to Miranda’s hesitancy over the format. Hamilton started with far humbler beginnings than all the awards would have you believe. According to Vox, Miranda initially planned to create a concept album, which he would call The Hamilton Mixtape.
In 2009, he showcased the first completed song at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word, and we like to think that it was so well perceived that he scrapped the idea for the album in favor of the play we’ve come to love.
WE'RE STARTING A REVOLUTION, BABY
Hamilton may be the first musical to combine American history with hip hop, but it’s also the first to do so at such a quick pace. Though the play clocks in at approximately 2 and a half hours, it features an amazing 20 520 words of dialogue.
This means that the average pace of speaking and singing is an astonishing 144 words per minute! In fact, some of the fastest songs (mainly performed by Daveed Diggs) are paced at 200 words a minute. That means that Diggs is able to deliver his lines at a whopping 6 words a second.
These high-paced verbal gymnastics officially earned Hamilton the title of having the fastest-paced lyrics in musical theater history. And in case you were wondering – if Hamilton was performed at the same speed as other musicals, viewers would have their butts in seats for between four and six hours! Talk about a long night!
YOU SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND - LITERALLY
As if having to memorize and deliver a verbal sprint wasn’t enough pressure, the cast had to perform some of their scenes on a literal turntable, sending them spinning across the stage. Two of the songs that entranced audiences – Helpless, and Satisfied – were performed on the turntable.
The cast unanimously agreed that nailing the songs without losing their balance was the hardest part of rehearsing for the show. Thankfully, they all nailed it, just showing us how professional they all are, because – as Anthony Ramos reminds us, musicals are serious business.
THE SHOW HAS BEEN EMBRACED BY THE RAP COMMUNITY
It’s not often that the world of Broadway meets the world of rap, but that’s exactly what happened for the cast of Hamilton, who were invited to perform a cipher at the 2015 BET music awards. When asked about the experience, Miranda explained that there’s normally a segment of people who like only Broadway music, and a small group who just like hip hop,
“and then there’s the rest of us, who just like good shit, and don’t really care what genre it is, as long as it’s good!”
Though Daveed Diggs (who plays Thomas Jefferson) said he was terrified of freestyling, Renée Goldsberry (who plays Angelica) and Okieriete Onaodowan (the man behind Hercules) are great at it. In fact, Renée admits that before Hamilton, she had never even tried to rap. Despite this, she’s a natural.
HAMILTON HAS SOME PRETTY FAMOUS FANS
Rappers aren’t the only ones who love the show. In an interview with Graham Norton, Miranda confirmed that the show has been attended by several celebs throughout the course of its run and because the audience usually contained someone famous it felt like the whole Internet came to the show every night.
“you were scared of getting sick and calling out. I got sick once in the year that I performed and I missed Beyoncé and Jay Z.”
We can’t even imagine how much that hurt! But Queen Bey isn’t the only royal that loves the play. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have also attended the show, which features a character based on King George the third (Harry’s sixth-great grandfather).
Miranda joked that he was grateful that the prince was a fan of the show: “I’m really glad he didn’t take it personally, we do take the piss a bit out of king George the third”. Perhaps because George only has a total of nine minutes of dialogue, he is just as sassy backstage.
A CAST ABOVE THE REST
Though King George’s time on set is limited, the role has actually been played by different actors. Originally performed by Jonathan Goff in the Broadway version, the role was recast for its off-Broadway run, giving Brian D’Arcy James, Andrew Rannells, Rory O’Malley, and Taran Kilim a chance to play the king.
Despite the many casting changes, Goff proved a fan favorite and reprised his role for the movie version. But King George wasn’t the only character to be changed. Okieriete Onaodowan, who played Hercules Mulligan, originally auditioned for the role of George Washington.
However, the casting directors managed to convince him to try for the other part, and he’s never looked back. In a panel discussion with the rest of the cast, he admitted that, like them, he was drawn to the production because of the music.
“The first time I heard it, I just fell in love with the music. The music was so dope that it was just kind of a no-brainer!”
And so having secured a great cast, they were ready to make magic.
THE TRIP FROM BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD
In order to create the film version of Hamilton, the cast was filmed twice, during three different performances, which were later edited into a single, glorious film. Though this meant that the actors were spared the ordeal of rehearsing specifically for the film, it did allow for some epic new filming techniques.
Declain Quinn, the director of photography, filmed via three overhead cameras and six mobile camera operators around the theater, with the help of over 100 microphones across the stage. However, the downside to filming live performances over a couple of days is that the movie features a couple of minor continuity errors.
For example, when Angelica is performing the song ‘satisfied’, the decorative flowers on her dress magically disappear and reappear throughout the song, as the movie switches between different filmed versions. Awkward. Despite Disney screening the movie, they didn’t buy the rights to Hamilton.
This means that the film is pretty much, as Miranda describes it, an independent film, without the involvement and limitations that usually accompany a film adaptation. In an interview with Good Morning America, Miranda admitted that this allowed the film to be really true to the play, and that “now the world can see what it felt like to be in that room with us!”
SPOT THE DIFFERENCES
Other than some pop-up flower issues, there are a few small differences between the film and the theatre production of Hamilton. Besides the movie not showing the cast’s epic backstage dance parties, the screen version had another omission – of some colorful language.
If you’ve seen the play, you’ll know that the cast drops three F-bombs over the two and a half hours. However, because the movie is being released via Disney+ (a family-friendly channel), these had to be cut – so the film is a slightly censored version of the play. No biggie.
Despite this, if you have the patience to sit through the ten minutes of credits, you’ll spot two treats. The first is the music that plays afterwards – a combination of Hamilton songs that didn’t make the film soundtrack, and the second is in the credits themselves.
In the special thanks section, Miranda credits all of the different places in which he wrote the original play. Of course, the main difference between the film and the play is the scale - viewers in theatres are able to see the entire stage, and all the action happening on it at all times.
The film version tends to lose the background details, as viewers can only see what fits on the camera screen. Naturally, this little disappointment means that the opposite is also true.
Small details not visible from the theatre seats are suddenly front and center in the close-up shots of the actors, including King George’s tendency to spit while he shouts, which is as gross as it is authentic. So while the film ensures you won't get spat on, you lose the closeness to the actors, in the telltale intimacy that theatre allows.
A LASTING IMPRESSION
The amazing success of Hamilton has not only allowed Lin-Manuel Miranda to be named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people, but it’s also earned him a Pulitzer prize, 16 tony nominations, and a Grammy win. Despite this, he doesn’t take all the credit, and admitted that:
“It takes a lot of people to put on a show! For every one of our departments to be recognized is a validation of our hard work”.
However, Hamilton has even further-reaching success – it actually affected American currency. Ok, only superficially, but still. In 2015, there were talks of removing Alexander Hamilton’s likeness from the $10 bill.
Luckily, the enormous success of the production actually convinced the powers that be in the Federal Reserve System to continue printing bills featuring Alexander Hamilton. Who said hip hop couldn’t change the world?