Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Hamilton’

I’m not saying Drunk History should pack it’s bags and wish us well, but the most recent episode of the hilarious show where comedians drunkenly recall historical events that are later reenacted, flubs and all, felt like an unspoken completion of whatever weird journey Derek Waters and company started not so long ago.

If you’ll recall, in the long-long-ago of 2007, Drunk History began as roughly five minute shorts for the website Funny or Die. The first of those shorts featured actor Mark Gagliardi drunkenly recounting the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Reenacting this masterfully inebriated tale were Michael Cera as Hamilton, Jake Johnson as Burr, and Ashley Johnson as Elizabeth Schuyler-Hamilton.

 

 

The video was charming and hilarious at the time and remains so, but it really highlights how far Drunk History has come since its web series/YouTube days. The camera quality, set design, and the costuming are the epitome of a home movie production. Most likely this was out of necessity, though one could argue strongly for the intentional use of a low budget aesthetic simply because it’s funnier. Regardless, the videos became popular and because of the viral nature of the internet it became clear to the decision-making people at Comedy Central that there was something in Drunk History worth developing.86133-8

Fast forward almost a decade and Drunk History has now devoted an entire episode to Alexander Hamilton as recalled by the adorkable writer, lyricist, and former lead of the Tony award winning Broadway musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Recorded while Miranda was performing in the show (his hair is still long), the episode spans Hamilton’s life and eventual death in the infamous duel. There are a few new tidbits of information such as the ship bringing Hamilton to America catching fire, which gave me my favorite quote of the episode (“Sick ass Hamilton on a flaming ship!”), but for anyone familiar with the musical and its additional material it’s a very by-the-book half an hour of television. The draw of the episode is, obviously, drunk Lin-Manuel Miranda and the reenactment.

I can say, without question, that Alia Shawkat and Audrey Plaza killed it as Hamilton and Burr respectively. Both play up the arrogance and swagger of their historical analogs, but the hilarity comes from how much fun they’re having miming Miranda’s stories for the camera. Filling out the cast are Bokeem Woodbine as George Washington, Tony Hale as James Monroe, David Wain as Thomas Jefferson, and Dave Grohl as a guy who happens to be there. Hey, Dave Grohl!

 

 

Again, it’s a staggering comparison between the original video and the show as it is now; full on battlefield engagements filmed like mini-movies, sets that look like they might have attempted filming in Independence Hall, and costumes that come from a bigger budget and production value rather than a Halloween costume store. I did like that they made a callback to the first video by mirroring the exchange of letters between Hamilton and Burr, but overall the episode is bigger, brighter, bolder, and other b-word adjectives!

Lin-Manuel Miranda has been having a banner couple of years and the future only seems to be getting brighter for him. The core of his character, however, remains genuinely sincere, passionate, and extremely humble. He’s also adorkable to the nth degree, which makes him and the episode that much more endearing to watch. The special appearances by the Roots’ Questlove and Chris Jackson (original George Washington in Hamilton) on FaceTime, including a West Wing quote from Miranda to Jackson, speak to the man’s indefatigable joy and unrelenting humor. The affection he has for his friends, music, and the stories he’s become custodian to make the boozy interview yet another bullet point on the “List of Reasons Lin-Manuel and I Would Be Best Friends” we’ve all been making in our heads…or writing on random notepads with little hearts, stars, and Lisa Frank stickers everywhere.

 

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This has been the week of announcements surrounding Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not only will he be co-starring in Disney’s Mary Poppins sequel/continuation/re-imagining alongside Emily Blunt, but his first Broadway hit In The Heights will be coming to the silver screen courtesy of the Weinstein Company. Sadly, this means he’ll be leaving his Pulitzer Prize and assuredly Tony award winning musical when his contract expires in July in order to pursue said projects as well as a other creative ventures. Miranda isn’t going anywhere if our collective fandoms are concerned, so I wanted to focus on one of many avenues in which Hamilton has inspired people creatively: animatics.lin

If, like me, you watched a lot of behind the scenes or making of featurettes for animated movies, then you’re probably aware of what an animatic is. For those who don’t know, animatics are basically animated storyboards that can be utilized for anything from pre-visualization to timing out musical sequences. Thanks to the internet, a lot of people experimenting with animation, whether for school projects or as part of their career, put their work on YouTube, which means I end up spending a lot of time going down the animatic rabbit hole.

Unsurprisingly, Hamilton has inspired quite a few artists to storyboard and animate snippets and/or full songs from the musical. The contemporary vibe of Hamilton’s hip-hop origins lends itself to animation, but what makes these animatics stand out are the variety of visual translations. It isn’t hard to find video of Hamilton performances, so the aesthetics of the costumes and the performers’ faces are used at the discretion of the artist, but the animation adds a distinctive layer of scope and scale that the musical can’t achieve. Live performers and a stage present physical limitations on what the actors can do and how the story can be told, but with animatics artists can blend the music with dynamic shots that match its energy or reinterpret how aspects of the song can be visualized.

I’m certain that there will come a point where all of Hamilton’s 46 songs will have some animated flair attached to them, but for now here are the pieces that caught my eye during my latest rabbit hole session. Some are rougher than others in terms of animation, but I think they find the essence of the song while remaining visually captivating.

“Satisfied” Animatic by Jade Butler

It starts around the middle of the song, but I dig the Disney-esque style. I especially love the vision Angelica has in her champagne of the scenario in which she and Hamilton are together and Eliza steps aside.

“Non-Stop” Animatic by lifewhatisthat

One of many vignettes in the song, I think the lighting effect with the purple coloring is great. I’m also a sucker for great expressions and this video has some great ones for both Hamilton and Burr.

“Burn” Animatic by Xena Achilleos

It’s a gut punch of a song that breaks my heart every time thanks to Phillipa Soo’s amazing voice. The video really captures Eliza’s emotional status with the large, gloomy, and empty room emphasizing her betrayal and heartache.

“Farmer Refuted” Animatic by Von Muren

This has some great crowd art and camera angles. I love the opening shot melding into the crowd. Where this video really shines is in Hamilton’s interaction with the crowd and Samuel Seabury, circling the man like a predator as they debate.

“Congratulations” Animatic by coma

This is actually a cut song from the musical, though a few pieces were cannibalized for “The Reynold’s Pamphlet.” It’s a shame because Angelica really lays into Hamilton about how he’s monumentally screwed up and Renée Elise Goldsberry kills it. The animation is fantastic with the character expressions selling the moment of confrontation and the conflicting emotions of Angelica and Hamilton.

“Your Obedient Servant” Animatic by Soleildiddle

This artist has a whole bunch of Hamilton animatics, which I recommend watching, but this one is my favorite because it turns the letters of Hamilton and Burr building up to their duel as a dance with each man taking the lead when it’s his turn to respond.

“Aaron Burr, Sir” Animatic by Erin Shin

The style of this piece reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons, in a good way. It’s fitting since this is the song right after the opening number, so Hamilton is still full of optimism and delusions of grandeur when he encounter Burr for the first time. I love the contrasting expressions as well; Burr is calm and amused while Hamilton is frenetic and intense.

“The World Was Wide Enough” Animatic by NMS Video

I love, love, LOVE this animatic because it perfectly encapsulates how storytelling changes based on the medium. Hamilton is seeing his life flash before his eyes and, via the stirring and frantic singing of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the animation pulls us through each moment and interaction significant to him. My favorite transition is young Hamilton laying in his mother’s lap only for his young hand to grip the soil as he rises up into his days as a soldier. It works so seamlessly.

These are only a small sample of what’s out there and hopefully there will be more to share in the future. Until that time, I want to thank Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton for being so inspirational that people are bringing more amazing art into the world everyday.

 

 

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Intro and Outro music: “Doctor Who Theme” by the Doubleclicks

Check out Jackie’s latest album, This Will Make an Excellent Horcrux

I may not be able to see the musical for a good year or so, but my God if it was possible to marry a soundtrack, I’d be the first in line. Seriously, I haven’t been this obsessed with a musical since I was twelve watching the Les Misérables 10th Anniversary show on PBS. But if you told me ten, five, even one year ago that one of my favorite albums ever would be the cast recording of a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton I probably would’ve laughed in your hamilton-musicalface. Really hard. Like, rolling on the floor, gut-busting laughs that leave you breathless.

Don’t get me wrong, I find the Revolutionary era of American history fascinating, but that’s because I studied and specialized in the subject. The further we move away from the United States’ beginnings the harder it becomes to make the Founding Fathers relatable as flesh and blood men of their time. Instead, we venerate and idolize them for their virtues and great accomplishments while not-so-subtly sweeping their flaws and mistakes under the rug. We forget that for all their eloquence and statesmanship these were men subject to the same trappings of ambition, pride, lust, greed, and paranoia as the rest of us.

Enter Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ron Chernow’s 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Coming off of his success for the musical In the Heights, which he received the Tony for Best Original Score, Miranda picked up Chernow’s book while on vacation and became inspired to tell Hamilton’s story. But what’s so inspiring about a man who modern audiences only know was killed in a duel and appears on the ten dollar bill? In Miranda’s mind not only is Hamilton’s life the immigrant’s story but the man’s tenacity, zeal, and naked ambition makes him a kindred spirit of modern day hip-hop artists like Tupac and Kanye West. After reading Chernow’s book, Miranda spent the next seven years working on the musical that originally started as the Hamilton Mixtape. The first inklings of the emerging musical came from Miranda’s performance of what would be the opening number at the White House in 2009.

It’s easy to laugh at the idea. Hamilton and hip-hop don’t exactly overlap no matter how refined you make the Venn diagram. But when you move past the conceit of the musical and listen to the actual music, it all begins to make sense. Hip-hop and rap are, at their core, about self-aggrandizement, hyperbole, and passion and when one looks at the writings produced by the Founders those same core tenets materialize. They wrote for posterity’s sake, with history in mind, and men like Hamilton could rise or fall by the strength of their words. To win was to have the most convincing argument, which also meant destroying the argument of your opponent through cleverness and rhetoric. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a rap battle. In fact, there are two moments where the old school rap battle serves as the delivery method for cabinet debates between Hamilton and Jefferson. They are, by far, my favorite pieces for the Hamilton-Lafayette-Mulligan-Laurenssheer amount of history covered through amazing lyrical dexterity. I could listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs battle all day as Hamilton and Jefferson. All. Day.

But the Hamilton soundtrack, produced by Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, is more than just hip-hop. It’s the best fusions of R&B, jazz, rap, soul, pop, and traditional Broadway, but above all else it’s filled to the brim with energy. And therein lies the strength of the musical. The frenetic nature of hip-hop propels the story, making Hamilton and the rest of the Founders dynamic and active participants in the creation of the American experiment. These aren’t the stuffy white men of static images in history books, these are living, breathing revolutionaries looking for a fight, a cause, to improve their lives and prove themselves to the rest of the world. It’s also worth noting that the entire main cast is intentionally composed of people of color. As Miranda puts it Hamilton is “the story of America then told by America now.”

And at the center of it is Alexander Hamilton, played by Miranda, and the amazing cast bringing George Washington (Christopher Jackson), Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette (both played by Daveed Diggs), and Aaron Burr to life. Using Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) as the musical’s narrator, Hamilton follows the youngest Founding Father from his revolutionary beginnings to his untimely end. Miranda and company present a man who lived like every day might be his last, a man obsessed with glory and legacy as the only means of proving himself and rising above his lowly origins. But Hamilton isn’t just the immigrant story, it’s the story of American politics, which haven’t changed all that much, and the flawed men in power.washington

As someone who has studied the Revolution, I appreciate Hamilton‘s approach to the Founders. Framed within the context of “who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” the musical neither condemns nor condones the behavior of Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. They all get their moments to shine, but they’re also undercut by their own arrogance and insecurities. The exception might be Washington. Commander, president, and father figure, Washington still retains an air of heightened reverence but the song “Right Hand Man” does a brilliant job of articulating Washington’s frustration with Congress and his own soldiers while “History Has Its Eyes on You” brings out his gentle, compassionate side beautifully encapsulated in Chris Jackson’s voice. Hamilton, however, is as much at fault for his own ruin, “The Reynolds Pamphlet”, as the people out to destroy him politically. And while Hamilton and Burr’s duel is an inevitability the road towards that confrontation is paved by two lives that intersect and parallel at key moments. And yet, at every turn, we get a reminder of Hamilton’s looming death. Whether it’s in the subtle reverberations of gun shots at the end of specific songs or Hamilton’s personal mantra of “I am not throwin’ away my shot!” we know what’s coming.

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre Cast Lin-Manuel Miranda Alexander Hamilton Javier Muñoz Alexander Hamilton Alternate Carleigh Bettiol Andrew Chappelle Ariana DeBose Alysha Deslorieux Daveed Diggs Marquis De Lafayette Thomas Jefferson Renee Elise Goldsberry Angelica Schuyler Jonathan Groff King George III Sydney James Harcourt Neil Haskell Sasha Hutchings Christopher Jackson George Washington Thayne Jasperson Jasmine Cephas Jones Peggy Schuyler Maria Reynolds Stephanie Klemons Emmy Raver-Lampman Morgan Marcell Leslie Odom, Jr. Aaron Burr Okieriete Onaodowan Hercules Mulligan James Madison Anthony Ramos John Laurens Phillip Hamilton Jon Rua Austin Smith Phillipa Soo Eliza Hamilton Seth Stewart Betsy Struxness Ephraim Sykes Voltaire Wade-Green Standby: Javier Muñoz (Alexander Hamilton) Production Credits: Thomas Kail (Director) Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) David Korins (Scenic Design) Paul Tazewell (Costume Design) Howell Binkley (Lighting Design) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Book by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The women of Hamilton, though, are not to be ignored. Alexander Hamilton’s relationship with the Schuyler sisters may have been complicated but the musical uses that complexity to bring out the romance and tragedy in their history. Renée Elise Goldsberry is amazing as Angelica Schuyler-Church, the eldest and most intellectually profound of the sisters. In “The Schuyler Sisters” Goldsberry brings out the fun and youthful exuberance of Angelica’s search for a “mind at work” while “Satisfied” exposes her love for Hamilton and her dueling feelings of regret and happiness for his marriage to her sister Eliza. Phillipa Soo, though, is inspiring as Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton. Kind and supportive of her husband, her desire to “be part of the narrative” takes a tragic turn in the wake of the Reynolds Affair. The song “Burn” makes your heart break for her as she condemns her husband’s words and denies history access to her heart and mind. It’s a poignant commentary on the lack of documentation from Eliza concerning the affair and Soo brings such raw sadness and anger that it’s hard not to imagine the reality of Mrs. Hamilton’s circumstances.

This is all to say that I love, Love, LOVE this soundtrack and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton wins all of the Tonys! Miranda has also mentioned that there are plans to film the musical, which I believe should be done as soon as possible. Not only does it put Hamilton into the homes of people who don’t have access to or can’t afford to see Broadway shows but it could be utilized by schools as a new way to teach kids about the American Revolution.

So raise a glass, people, and join me in my love for Hamilton!