A Star-Spangled Success - WSJ

February 19, 2015 10:45 PM

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A Star-Spangled Success - WSJ

“Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop chronicle of the rise and fall of the man on the $10 bill, is the most exciting and significant musical of the past decade. Even though it’s an 18th-century costume drama, “Hamilton” sounds as up-to-date as a Nicki Minaj single. Nor is its surging immediacy merely a function of Mr. Miranda’s decision to tell Alexander Hamilton’s story in the blunt language of rap, for “Hamilton” is as theatrically vital as it is musically fresh. Yes, it’s been staged with down-and-dirty flair, and director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler are at least as responsible for its effectiveness as is Mr. Miranda. Nevertheless, this is Mr. Miranda’s show—not only did he write the words and music, but he plays Hamilton—and so he deserves the bulk of the credit for its success. And if you’re wondering whether a multiracial musical about one of the founding fathers could possibly amount to anything more than a knee-jerk piece of progressive sermonizing, get ready for the biggest surprise of all, which is that this show is at bottom as optimistic about America as “1776.” American exceptionalism meets hip-hop: That’s “Hamilton.”

To be sure, “Hamilton” does have an ideological message, which is that America should take pride in its immigrant heritage. Ours, after all, is a land in which it was possible for a lowborn bastard from the West Indies to become George Washington’s right-hand man, a point that Mr. Miranda makes clea...

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