'Hamilton' coauthor comes to Rutgers, tells story of musical's creation
While getting tickets for the Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” has presented itself to be a challenge for many, that did not stop Rutgers—New Brunswick Summer and Winter Sessions from bringing a little piece of the musical to campus. Jeremy McCarter, coauthor of the book “Hamilton: The Revolution,” came to speak last Saturday evening, Jan. 19, on College Avenue.
The other author of the book is composer, playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda. Their Pulitzer Prize-winning book goes behind the scenes of “Hamilton,” a musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, which Miranda wrote and composed.
At the talk, McCarter said 12 years prior to “Hamilton,” he worked as a theater critic for a magazine in New York. This career path led him to see the musical “In the Heights,” a musical Miranda also composed and starred in. Impressed, McCarter gave the show a positive review.
Shortly after, a publicist from “In the Heights” brought McCarter and Miranda together to meet for drinks.
“One drink became drinks plural. Neither of us are exactly sure what we talked about that night because of how plural those drinks got to be,” McCarter said. “But, in the emails that we exchanged in the next couple of days, we had pieced together that at some point I had asked him so, ‘what’s next?’”
Miranda then told McCarter that he was going to write a hip-hop mixtape about the life of Hamilton. “(The idea of) which I would of thought was insane. Because it is,” McCarter said.
Two years later, McCarter began working for the New York Public Theater and found himself involved behind the works of “Hamilton.” McCarter said during a meeting, Miranda gave him a demo CD of approximately eight songs for the show. As a demo recording, Miranda sang all the roles.
A specific memory McCarter said he had was listening to Miranda singing the song “Helpless.” In the demo for it, Miranda sang a female part in falsetto which McCarter initially laughed at.
“When it was done, I remember thinking, if he can take something that is this a perfectly raw pop song, and can also cover all the narrative distance of a courtship and marriage in 4 minutes, and tie it off as naturally as he does there ... if he can keep this up, this will be the best thing written in our generation,” he said.
The casting of “Hamilton” differs from the Anglo-Saxon origins of the historical people in the musical. McCarter said when Miranda was making the mixtape for "Hamilton," it mattered how they sounded not looked, so the cast is mainly composed of Black, Latino and Asian performers. Because minorities were now inside the story, it made them think differently about their relationship with the country.
McCarter originally rejected the offer to work on the book for the musical. On the night of the release of “Hamilton,” McCarter said he declined when Miranda came up to him at the party and told him he should write the book about the show. When he realized the space for change the book could make, like the musical, he changed his mind and agreed to write it.
“Hamilton tells the story of revolution. But what I had seen at that point in 2015 is that Hamilton itself is a revolution,” he said.
The musical has gained numerous awards and even praise from former First Lady Michelle Obama, who said it was “the best piece of art in a form I have ever seen in my life.” McCarter said the musical has also won 11 Tony Awards, its album has gone triple platinum and the cast recording album was second on the Rap Billboard charts, while "The Hamilton Mixtape" ranked first for Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
As for the book McCarter helped to write, he said it worked because he was part of the process of “Hamilton” from the very beginning, not coming in at the last minute to write about it. Since he was so ingrained in the creation of "Hamilton," cast members were comfortable talking to him about issues such as police brutality in connection to the musical.
“This is a story about America then, told by America now,” he said.
The event was organized with the help of Krystal-Ann Ladao, senior program coordinator of Rutgers Winter Sessions, who secured the talk with McCarter through his agency Lyceum. Students vote on who they want to hear speak at the annual Winter Guest Lecture. Last year, students voted for Daniel Handler, who wrote the book series “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” This year, students voted for McCarter. Ladao said “Hamilton,” which was the original inspiration for McCarter’s book, incited change.
“It is a musical but it is like a rap and people are accepting of it. It is something different. They are open to that change,” she said.