Hamilton’s America reveals “how the sausage gets made.”
There are times in this must-see documentary about Hamilton, the Broadway musical sensation, when it recounts the story from “the room where it happened, the room where it happened.”
This remarkable program kicks off a new season of the PBS Arts Fall Festival at 8 p.m. Friday.
Hamilton is the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical created by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda. The boundaries-busting show features America’s Founding Fathers as played by a multiethnic cast expressing themselves in a mixture of hip-hop, rap, jazz, soul, R&B and Broadway show tunes.
The musical — which reintroduces theatergoers to Alexander Hamilton, the man who achieved so much more than just being “the dude on the 10 dollar bill” — has earned widespread acclaim for its revolutionary approach to history.
Fittingly, Hamilton’s America will speak to viewers on just as many levels.
In addition to recapping how Miranda created Hamilton and then spent six years developing the musical, the documentary serves as an effective history lesson about the life and times of Hamilton the man.
The doc also provides an enlightening and entertaining diary of a creator at work. It shows Miranda as he follows his moment of inspiration with the requisite perspiration, toiling away for an entire year to perfect Hamilton’s opening song, then pouring the same amount of sweat into the next number.
Meanwhile, the doc simultaneously serves as a travelogue, with Miranda and other original cast members visiting historic American landmarks such as Hamilton Grange National Memorial, Aaron Burr’s bedroom, Mount Vernon and Valley Forge.
It also shares just enough tantalizing excerpts from the musical for TV viewers finally to grasp what the fuss has been about since Hamilton opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in August 2015.
And where else is one going to see President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in unanimous bipartisan agreement about anything except when they’re singing the praises of Miranda’s masterpiece?
That’s a lot of content to wedge into just 90 minutes, but Hamilton’s America pulls it off with panache.
The story of Hamilton begins with Miranda, who was headlining the Tony-winning In the Heights at the time, as he remembers experiencing his eureka moment.
“I grabbed a biography off the shelf of Alexander Hamilton [written by Ron Chernow], because I wanted a big, fat book to read on vacation and I found it really moving and deeply personal when I read it,” Miranda says in the documentary. “It was just such a compelling ride.
“I said, ‘This is Tupac, this is Biggie, this is a hip-hop story — this is my next show!’ ”
The ball really gets rolling when Miranda performs a rough version of the opening number at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word in May 2009. From there, he continues to build a show from the ground up, with every line and every musical motif carefully considered.
Ultimately, the documentary shows the impact that Hamilton has had “beyond the Arts page,” how its success has changed Miranda’s life and how it has redefined an often underappreciated Founding Father.
“I feel like Hamilton chose me,” Miranda says. “He reached out of the Chernow book and grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I told his story.”
- 8 p.m. Friday
- KERA/Channel 13