Top positive review
A companion book that soothes some of the pain of never being able to see the show
Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2016
A few days back, I wrote a piece on my blog to try to explain how much I love Lin-Manuel Miranda's astonishing musical Hamilton, despite the fact that I've never seen it, and only enjoyed the amazing soundtrack. It's not a love that's died down over the past few weeks - indeed, it's only continued to grow - so it's no surprise that I picked up Hamilton: A Revolution, which tells the story of the writing of the musical, as well as providing Miranda's annotations for all of the show's songs and lyrics.
Hamilton: A Revolution is unabashedly a book that's written to capitalize on the show's popularity, as well as the difficulty in seeing it. Filled with pictures of the production, the cast, the props, and more, the book provides a bit of soothing balm for those of us out in the rest of America who probably won't ever get to see the show on Broadway, and definitely not while Miranda is still playing the lead role. The fact that the book alternates between short essays and songs from the show allows the pictures to nicely complement the text at all times, giving the reader a sense of how the show might play out, and giving us the chance to pair images with the songs that so many of us already know by heart. More than that, though, they give you a sense of the care that went into the staging of the show; from the set to the costuming, from the insanely detailed props to the intricate stage layout, the book conveys the fact that the show is every bit as carefully crafted and intricately constructed as the album and the songs.
The essays only serve to back this up, too. By and large, the essays serve as a chronological tracking of the birth of the show, beginning with Miranda's initial songs, moving through the famous White House performance, and following the story all the way through the premiere and beyond. Meanwhile, the book's structure - the aforementioned alternating between songs and essays - allows some essays to pair more directly with certain songs, focusing on key roles, casting decisions, historical craft, and more. It all comes together to make something more than your usual "behind the scenes" book, instead giving you a rich portrait of the show, the history, the key players, and more.
But let's be clear: the main draw for many people (myself included) are the lyrics and annotations by Miranda. Even with all the time I've spent on Genius reading the show's annotations can't replace the glee of reading the lyrics in a beautifully made book, and getting to savor all of Miranda's wonderful prose - the wordplay, the historical allusions, the shout-outs to old school rap and Broadway staples, all of it. And better still are Miranda's annotations, which eschew the things I already knew in favor of personal commentary, silly asides, mentions of his favorite parts of the show, and more. Rather than just being a director's commentary sort of thing, the annotations feel more personal and engaging, giving me the sense once again that Miranda isn't just unfairly brilliant; he's also funny, engaging, thoughtful, and incredibly personable.
I could also mention how beautiful the book is - not just the pictures, but the beautiful cover, the intentionally "ancient" feel that makes it feel like a Revolutionary War tome - but really, here's the thing. Do you love Hamilton? If the answer is "yes," then you'll really love this. If the answer is "no"...well, what's wrong with you, then? (Acceptable answers include "I haven't heard it" and...well, that's about it.)