How We Got to Hamilton

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as eleven Tony Awards, Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) is a critical and commercial smash hit. Justly praised for its innovative rap battles and nontraditional casting, this musical also builds in brilliant ways on the work of past creators of musical theater whose work has too often been undervalued and overlooked. To enrich our appreciation of Hamilton, we will begin by studying forms of drama that routinely go untaught, including burlesque, minstrelsy, all-black revues, and the classic American book musical. Listening to or watching multiple performances of the same material will help us to deepen our analysis of how individual songs, dances, and entire shows are structured, as well as to appreciate how they vary depending on who is performing them.

In the process, we will celebrate the groundbreaking yet often forgotten (or appropriated) achievements of artists of color, including Master Juba, the Black Swan, Ethel Waters, Buck and Bubbles, and many others. By the time we get to Hamilton, our attunement to how popular songs and musicals are structured will enable us to analyze Manuel-Miranda’s debts to past artists as well as to appreciate his scintillating originality. We’ll also discuss insightful critiques of Hamilton by a wide range of contemporary commentators. Because this is an “Arts” course that’s cross-listed with Music and Theater Arts, it will feature a mix of creative and critical assignments, some of which may be linked to field trips to local theaters, dance studios, and performance-related archives.