Inside “Hamilton” — The Musical That Celebrates the Founding Father Who Was a Financial Whiz
If you didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton before the hit show “Hamilton” took Broadway by storm in 2015, odds are good that you are now quite familiar with the Founding Father who helped create our fiduciary system.
An American political philosopher and the author of the majority of the essays that comprise the Federalist Papers (a series of 85 essays urging the citizens of New York to ratify the new US Constitution), Hamilton was also the first US secretary of the Treasury.
Fast forward to 2016
Hamilton’s financial finesse reverberates in the success of the Broadway show, which according to The Hollywood Reporter, earns $1.5 million weekly in sales ($500,000 of which is profit). As of April 2016, the production had generated more than $62 million.
It’s estimated that the musical could pull in more than $1 billion in New York alone. (For the sake of comparison, “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” generated a little more than $1 billion in worldwide sales, according to the research organization The Numbers.)
Hamilton’s life is surely worthy of being a Broadway hit.
Born and raised in the West Indies, Hamilton came to New York in 1772 at age 17 to study at King’s College, which is now Columbia University. During his esteemed career, Hamilton was a military officer, lawyer, and a member of the US Constitutional Convention.
Hamilton commissioned architect John McComb, Jr., to design his country home, La Grange, which was originally a 32-acre estate in upper Manhattan. The two-story, framed, Federal-style house was completed in 1802 — just two years before Hamilton’s death, which resulted from his infamous duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The day after the duel, Hamilton died from his wounds.
“Hamilton was a genius by most standards,” says Liam Strain, a historian and district ranger for a collection of individually legislated units of the National Park System — including Alexander Hamilton’s New York City home, La Grange, Grant’s Tomb (the General Grant National Memorial), and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
“His talents were recognized very early on in his youth. He came from very humble circumstances. He was born out of wedlock and raised on a small Caribbean island in the West Indies. He was effectively orphaned at about the age of 11 when his mother passed away, and his father had abandoned the family. Normally, someone struggling with those circumstances never would have risen to the heights that he did. But he was determined and able to succeed, because of his skills and tenacity,” Strain says.
The internal force that propelled Hamilton to accomplish so much drove “Hamilton” creator, actor, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (pictured right) to tell the essential story, which he began developing into a musical in 2008.
Even before reading Ron Chernow‘s “Alexander Hamilton,” Miranda discussed the idea for the hip-hop musical with theater critic Jeremy Carter — who in 2011 joined the artistic staff at The Public Theater in New York City and recommended the musical as a potential show.
But in 2008, the show was still just the spark of an idea, which started to crystallize when Miranda was vacationing in Mexico.
After gobbling up the biography by Chernow (pictured below), the actor began writing the rap songs in the sequence as he envisioned them in the show. The following year, he was invited to the White House to perform a rough version of the first song that would eventually open the musical.
It took another few years for the show to come to fruition.
In 2013, Miranda performed the first act and a couple of other songs at a workshop at Vassar. Eventually, the actor pulled in several cast members — Daveed Diggs, Chris Jackson, and Javier Muñoz — to help him perform in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions.
By 2015, investors had put up $12.5 million. The investment turned out to be a great business move. According to Broadway Journal, if the musical hits the expected payday of $1 billion, it will have returned about $300 million in profit.
“Hamilton” seems destined to hit that pinnacle.
Not only is it one of the most coveted tickets on Broadway, it also it won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. and 11 Tony awards, including one for Best Musical. A behind-the-scenes book, “Hamilton: The Revolution was published this year as well.
All this success has made tickets to show a hot commodity: Go to StubHub for the latest bargains.
If you’re lucky enough to be a public school student in New York, City, you may be able to snag a $10 ticket to a Wednesday matinee because of a program run by the Gilder Lehrman Foundation that was funded with a $1.46 million donation from The Rockefeller Foundation. The NYC pilot program is expanding (with another $6 million from The Rockefeller Foundation) to bring the musical to 100,000 school kids throughout the country during its 2017 national tour.
Click here to listen to the hit song from “Hamilton.”
And don’t despair if you can’t get hold of the hottest ticket in New York — you can still learn more about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton in this Q&A by the Grateful American™ Foundation’s David Bruce Smith and Hope Katz Gibbs.