A (maybe obsessively) complete guide to enjoying Hamilton on the Internet, including free options.
Like so many of us, I’ve become obsessed with the Broadway musical Hamilton, but of course it’s quite difficult to get a ticket to it, even for those who live in New York or Chicago or have the means to travel there to see a play.
I’m not so lucky that my geographical circumstances match up to where the show is live, so I am limited to enjoying the program not-in-person.
Still, those of us who can’t go see it in person needn’t be left out.
The original cast recording
The music is, of course, the heart of the show. The play is sung-through, meaning there aren’t any dialogue scenes between the songs that you are missing by listening to the album.
If you don’t subscribe to any of the music services and aren’t ready to (or can’t) pay for the album, though, you still have options. As far as I can tell, the entirety of the cast album is available at this YouTube playlist, with the exception of the first track, “Alexander Hamilton.” It’s a bit weird, because the tracks appears to be official/legitimate (“provided to YouTube by Warner Music Group”) so I don’t know why it’s minus one track.
Conveniently, though, the missing track “Alexander Hamilton” was performed at the White House, and that performance is available here (the music begins at about 8:40). (From the same event there’s also a performance of track 3, My Shot.)
Starting points for the curious
The album (play) is an interesting mix of thematic repetition and quite differing musical styles. Some of the pieces would probably feel hodgepodge without context, but if you want to get a feel for whether you’ll like the whole thing, I’d recommend these as standalone listens:
- Helpless and Satisfied: these play back-to-back. They’re told from the perspective of two sisters, Eliza (Helpless) and Angelica (Satisfied). They make an interesting pairing because of how much Satisfied backtracks and subverts the narrative of Helpless.
- Wait For It: this is Aaron Burr’s theme
- It’s Quiet Uptown: this plays after Eliza and Alexander are estranged because of Alexander’s actions, and have lost a son (in a duel in which he was attempting to defend his father’s honor).
- You’ll Be Back: King George singing a (stalker-ish) breakup song to the colonies
- What’d I Miss: Beginning of Act II, and the introduction of Thomas Jefferson
- Ten Duel Commandments: an homage to Biggie Smalls’ Ten Crack Commandments, this sets up the play’s first duel. (It won’t be the last.)
There are stage performances of several pieces available online, one way or another, and it’s really nice to see how it plays out onstage:
- Alexander Hamilton was broadcast as part of the Grammy Awards; it’s not on YouTube but there are videos in several places, including here.
- Similarly, the Tony awards included a performance of History Has its Eyes on You and Yorktown. It differs a little from the usual stage performance because they chose not to include the muskets for the TV performance, and censored a couple of curse words.
- This “Miscast” version of The Schuyler Sisters is kind of played for laughs, but is actually pretty great, and still serves the purpose of getting a feel of the stage performance and who’s-singing-when.
If you do get seriously hooked, just listening through the cast album (over and over) might not turn out to be enough to feed the obsession. In that case, here are some further links:
- The annotated lyrics on genius.com are great for two reasons: first, they note who is speaking when, which on a few songs can be difficult to figure out without the visual cues you’d get if watching it. Second, there are line-by-line annotations, some of them by the author (Lin-Manuel Miranda). The annotations go into both the many references the play makes to other music or other theater; as well as examining some of the history and what is/isn’t embellished or rearranged.
- There’s a book, Hamilton: The Revolution, which includes the full text of the lyrics, a bunch of footnotes, and lots of background — into the American history as well as the show’s creative process. There are a bunch of photos from the stage production too.
- The Hamilton Mixtape, which contains new performances of many of the songs, each of them quite different from the original. As someone who is more a fan of the musical theatre tradition than the rap and hip-hop scene, I didn’t find this as compelling as the original, but I appreciate that the versions here are so different. Highlights for me are Jill Scott’s Say Yes To This, a new spin on Say No To This; and John Legend’s gospel-tinged History Has Its Eyes On You. Find on iTunes/Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, Spotify.
- Google Translate Sings You’ll Be Back is hilarious
- This Emma Watson interview of Lin-Manuel Miranda is pretty cool. You get to see Emma Watson beatboxing at the end!
- Back in 2009, Miranda performed an early version of “Alexander Hamilton” at a White House poetry jam. I think he has said that no other songs were written at this point, but the opening number is pretty close to its final form.
- PBS aired a documentary about the show, Hamilton’s America. It was freely streamable until November 18, 2016, but in 2017 I can’t find a stream of it.
- Last Week Tonight With John Oliver dedicated most of the program on April 24, 2016, to Puerto Rico’s economic crisis. Lin-Manuel appeared at the end of this segment and performed a song dedicated to the island that was his father’s home. (For the record, some action was taken in the House on the economic crisis, but it has still received little press attention here on the mainland.)
I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list. Feel free to tell me about things I missed!