Everything You Need to Know About 'Hamilton,' Debuting on Disney+

The journey of Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash-hit Broadway musical 'Hamilton', which just hit Disney+ on July 3.


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On July 3, Disney+ will debut a live stage video recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway play Hamilton: An American Musical

This is both unprecedented and cool. Broadway musicals are rarely available in such a public format; if you don't see it on Broadway during its run, the best you can do is buy and listen to the soundtrack. On rare occasions, years later, a film studio might greenlight a movie adaptation starring Hollywood actors. These performers may have the right look, but they rarely have the voice to do the musical justice. And sometimes, decades later--after the exclusivity rights expire--you might see an amateur theater troupe perform it at the local high school.

By contrast, Hamilton on Disney+ is the original musical with the original performers. What is it about? What makes it special and different from other Broadway musicals? And how did it get this much hype? Here is everything you need to know about Hamilton, which debuts on Disney+ on July 3.

What is 'Hamilton'?

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Hamilton is a musical currently performing on Broadway. It debuted in 2015 to rave reviews, and it's been playing to sold-out audiences at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York ever since. It is about the life and times of American "Founding Father" Alexander Hamilton. It covers the adult portion of Hamilton's life, from his arrival in New York to his untimely death at the age of 47.

It's been a while since high school. Can you refresh me on who Alexander Hamilton is?

Certainly! Alexander Hamilton was one of America's Founding Fathers, but unlike many of them, who were land-owning gentry or grew up in stable environments, Hamilton struggled during his early years. He was born out of wedlock in the West Indies, and he was orphaned at the age of 11 when his mother died from yellow fever. From there, a cousin took him in. But after the cousin committed suicide, Hamilton was taken in by a wealthy merchant, and he got a job as a trading firm clerk. 

If Hamilton was born in the Caribbean, how did he come to America?

Hamilton was impressive enough that several community leaders sponsored him to get higher education in New York. He enrolled in Kings College (which would later become Columbia University). He joined the American Revolution in 1775.

Did he see any action?

Yes, he did. Among other battles, Hamilton fought in the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton.  He climbed quickly in rank, and eventually served as General George Washington's chief staff aide for four years. He was with Washington during the brutal winter encampment at Valley Forge, and he later commanded battalions at the Battle of Yorktown, widely seen as the key final battle of the Revolutionary War.

What were his major post-war contributions?

He was a part of the Constitutional Convention, where he advocated for a strong, centralized federal government. He signed the Constitution as a delegate from New York, and he authored the bulk of the Federalist Papers, which expounded on the Constitution and advocated for its ratification. He served as the country's first Secretary of the Treasury. He spearheaded the creation of a national bank, and he continued advocating for a strong federal government under the Federalist Party.

Didn't Hamilton die during a duel?

Yes. In 1804, Hamilton dueled Aaron Burr, who was Vice President of the United States(!) under Thomas Jefferson at the time. The duel was over accusations that Hamilton had spoken extremely ill of Burr--both during his Vice Presidency and his campaign for New York governor. Contemporary accounts of the duel indicate that Hamilton "threw away" his shot as an honorable gesture, whereas Burr took careful aim and shot Hamilton in the abdomen. He died a day later.

Can I visit Hamilton's grave?

You can. He's buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery on Wall Street in Manhattan--appropriate, considering his influence on U.S. financial systems. He has a massive tombstone bordering the southern fence that's visible from the street; you can't miss it.

As a nation, we're currently tearing down statues of old white men. Is there anything negative I need to know about Alexander Hamilton before I get on board with him?

Owing to his womanizing, Hamilton had one of the first high-profile sex scandals in American history, which ended any future prospects of becoming President. He was an elitist who initially advocated for the President and Senators to have lifetime appointments, although he relented and ratified the Constitution.

He did not own slaves, although he did facilitate the trading of slaves on behalf of his in-laws. During the Revolutionary War, he supported a plan to grant slaves their freedom if they fought in the Continental Army. Part of his rationalization was that "their natural faculties are probably as good as ours." In his later life, he was a leading member of the Manumission Society, which seeked to end slavery and the slave trade in New York State.

All of which is to say, he was a flawed man who should not be idealized. Whether that's enough to cancel him outright is your prerogative.

It's probably a bad idea to erect statues of people in the first place, considering how our moral standards evolve over time.

I agree.

Does 'Hamilton' the musical address any of these complications?

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It covers the sex scandal, as well as his wife's heartbreak. It covers slavery in a surface manner. It depicts Hamilton as opposed to it, and that is contrasted by Jefferson's support of it. While broadly true, that's an oversimplification; Jefferson wasn't the only slave owner amongst the Founding Fathers. James Madison and George Washington, for example, also owned slaves, as did the Schuyler family that Hamilton married into. And Hamilton was not an abolitionist, although many historians have drawn that conclusion via second-hand accounts.

Liking the musical is not a binary choice. You can enjoy the musical and be aware that it's problematic, at the same time. Or not. Again, it's your call.

For a musical about dead white folks, there are a lot of people of color in this musical.

Yes, and that's what many of its supporters find appealing. The characters were specifically written with POC in mind. The producers said as much in a public statement, defending their casting choices: "It is essential to the storytelling of Hamilton that the principal roles, which were written for non-white characters (excepting King George), be performed by non-white actors.” 

This, of course, sparked the usual calls of "reverse racism" from the All Lives Matter crowd. But the creators' intent was pretty clear from the start, especially since the musical employs hip hop as its primary musical genre.

Wait, the Founding Fathers rap?

Yes. Alexander Hamilton has bars. All the main characters have their own flow and style, which helps characterize them. Political debates are framed as battle raps. And if you listen closely, you can hear subtle lyrical nods to Biggie, Jay-Z, and Grandmaster Flash.

Can we hear a few lines?

Thomas Jefferson: "I'm in the cabinet / I am complicit in watching him grabbing at power and kissing it / If Washington isn't gon' listen to disciplined dissidents / this is the difference: this kid is out."

Do any mainstream rappers co-sign this musical?

Talib Kweli spoke glowingly about the musical. Eminem saw the musical and posed for a backstage selfie, as did Andre 3000, Kanye West, Beyoncé, and Rick Rubin.

Who wrote the musical?

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The musical is wholly the brainchild of Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics to the show. He also originated and performed the role of Alexander Hamilton.

You've probably heard his music before. Miranda previously composed music and lyrics for the Broadway musical In The Heights. He composed songs for Disney's animated feature Moana, and he will be composing new songs for the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

How popular did this musical become?

Hamilton won 11 Tonys (out of a record 16 nominations), was universally acclaimed by critics, and won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Since its Broadway debut in 2015, Hamilton has consistently sold out all its shows, although Broadway shows are currently canceled due to COVID-19.  

But even when the lockdown lifts, purchasing tickets through Ticketmaster is typically impossible. The best way to see the play for a decent price is to enter the Hamilton lottery, which gives away a limited number of seats to the Broadway and touring productions of the show for $10 each. Even so, the number of people who enter this lottery means you could be waiting months—even years—to see the musical.

On the resale market, tickets typically sell for $400 or higher apiece.

But on July 3, I can see this musical for the price of a Disney+ subscription?

Exactly! This is a rare opportunity. This is a live recording of the original musical, which is still running on Broadway. And get this: the original lead theater performers—none of who are currently performing in the Broadway production—perform their respective roles. Miranda, for example, performs as Hamilton. That means you will experience the closest thing possible to the award-winning stage experience, from the comfort of your living room.

When does it launch on the service?

Hamilton will go live on Disney+ on July 3, at 3 a.m. EST / 12 a.m. PST. You should give it a shot.

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