Bay Area rapper Daveed Diggs had never seen a Broadway show before he was cast as Hamilton nemesis Thomas Jefferson. “I knew Fiddler on the Roof, because my mom really liked that and we always had the album around the house growing up, and that was about it,” Diggs says. “But I was totally intrigued the second I heard the demos of the songs in Hamilton and read through the music. The rapping is good – that’s what really got me.”
“When you’re developing your voice as a rapper, you figure out your cadence – your swag – and that’s how you write,” Diggs says. “Lin managed to figure that out for all of these different characters – everyone has their own swag, and it feels germane to them. And that’s really impressive. Hercules Mulligan [a Hamilton pal who spied on the loyalists during the American Revolution] raps exactly like a dude named Hercules Mulligan!”
Even more radical than the catholic musical approach is Hamilton’s reckoning with our country’s creation myth. There’s an almost indescribable power in seeing the Founders, in an otherwise historically rigorous production, portrayed by a young, multiracial cast. “It is quite literally taking the history that someone has tried to exclude us from and reclaiming it,” says Leslie Odom Jr., who comes close to stealing the show with his turn as Hamilton killer Aaron Burr. “We are saying we have the right to tell it too.” If every presidential administration gets at least one mass-cultural moment it deserves, then Hamilton has become the Obama era’s Wall Street, its 24, its Spice World – even more so, perhaps, because the show has actually managed to fulfill candidate Obama’s promise to bridge the divide between Red and Blue America. Fans of Hamilton include Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Dick Cheney and the president himself.
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton’s towering George Washington, has known Miranda the longest of any of the major cast members, having previously starred in In the Heights. “Lin told me about his idea for Hamilton a few days after that fateful vacation,” Jackson recalls. “We were actually onstage doing Heights. He said, 'I’ve got the next thing. It’s about the Treasury secretary!’ And then he paused, and before I could say, 'What?!’ the music started and we had to do '96,000.’ When Ron Chernow came to see Heights, I had never seen Lin that nervous. He said, 'Ron Chernow’s here!’ I said, 'What does that mean?’ And he said, 'The show needs to go well today.’”
Odom first saw a workshop version of Hamilton at Vassar and found himself responding, almost viscerally, to “The Story of Tonight,” an early number in which Hamilton and three friends (Mulligan, the Marquis de Lafayette and John Laurens) boisterously drink together in a tavern on the eve of the Revolution. “That’s the one that made me a puddle, because it was four men of color onstage singing a song about friendship and brotherhood and love, and I had never seen that in a musical,” Odom says. “I had seen white guys do it, in Jersey Boys, in Les Miz. Never seen a black guy. So I was a mess, and from that point, I was along for the ride.”
Phillipa Soo, who makes her Broadway debut as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, says that she had to figure out her relationship to her stage husband, to answer questions like, “Who is this man to me, and why do I love him?” In the end, she realized her “research was already here for me. It became less about finding facts about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton and more about just watching Lin. I remember him coming into the rehearsal room in his slippers, because he’d been across the street writing. And I was like, 'Oh, my God, this guy is nonstop!’ Kind of like Hamilton.”