Hamilton is a smash. We all know the story by now. Lin-Manuel Miranda recasts Ron Chernow’s life of Alexander Hamilton as a rap musical tipping the white elitist world of the founders upside down, reinventing the story with a freakishly compelling score and a superb cast of beautiful and talented multi-ethnic actors and actresses. We embrace Miranda’s adaptation because, despite the “tragic” ending, the story is basically an affirmative story wedded to a reimagined version of American history fitting our own time—a narrative that speaks to our best vision of ourselves. Miranda’s Hamilton is the outsider’s assimilationist story, a genius-immigrant’s heroic self-reinvention—as someone with the artistic ability to employ and transform words into the currency of ideas and ideals rising on the meritocratic intellectual and social landscape of the new America. Hamilton’s ascendency, like his hubristic downfall, occurs at the precise historical moment when the country was freeing itself and reinventing itself too.
Miranda’s own genius, and what lawyers can most learn from him, is in his fearless adaptations.
First, he adapts Chernow’s complex study of Hamilton, chock-full of compelling characters, romance and action too.
Second, Miranda adapts oppositional musical forms: the pleasing lyrical Broadway melodies alongside rap’s percussive rhythms, punctuated with explosions of clearly articulated words. Rap’s language is no longer anti-authoritarian or insular. The idiom is not transgressive and the sounds are not assaultive. Rap is now egalitarian and affirmative, matching the romantic American exceptionalism of the show itself. Miranda also transforms the white, elitist male world of power and privilege built upon a historical shadow world of black slavery, in a society where women were consigned to sexually submissive and proprietary roles. He flips our history upside down to display a multiculturalism and egalitarianism that permits the audience to celebrate an impossibly democratized version of America that our founding fathers, including Hamilton, neither anticipated nor allowed for.
This brings us to Miranda’s final and, perhaps, most ingenious adaptation: his borrowing of selective Hamiltonian ideals. ...