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Behind the Music of 'Hamilton'

Since making its debut in 2015, "Hamilton" has become a touchstone of musical theater for its songs, politics and social commentary. 

"Hamilton" arrives on tour in Northeast Ohio this week.

Company - "Hamilton" National Tour 2018 [credit: Joan Marcus]

Leading up to the six-week run in Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University Director of Popular Music Studies Daniel Goldmark has been digging into Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-award-winning production. 

"Miranda is great about incorporating all the various styles he loves or was influenced by," Goldmark said.

After reading Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography, Miranda decided to write a musical based on the founding father's life with a contemporary score.

"This is maybe the perfect way to bring all these current things that are going on in politics and in social issues, to bring it to the fore, using all the music he likes and still tying it to a story that's really important to the history of the country," he said.

One of Miranda's favorite styles of music is hip-hop, and the 11-time Tony-award-winning musical celebrates that.

"For the people who know their rap history they're going to get it, and they're going to appreciate all the work that's gone into it," he said.

Joseph Morales and Company - "Hamilton" National Tour 2018 [credit: Joan Marcus]

But Goldmark points out that "Hamilton's" musical influences go beyond rap and hip-hop.

"One of the reasons why this musical has been so powerful for people is it's not about just one musical style.  It's not a hip-hop musical, although a lot of people call it that.  It's engaging with so many things at the same time," he said.

Daveed Diggs and "Hamilton" Original Broadway Company 2015 [credit Joan Marcus]

For instance, the song sung by Thomas Jefferson ,"What'd I Miss," is a jazz number.

"He's doing this vocalese, boogie-woogie, jazzy thing.  There's a dozen very clearly definable musical styles and each person has a particular sound," he said.

For one of the villains of the show, King George III, Miranda uses a very distinct sound.

Jon Patrick Walker - "Hamilton" National Tour 2018 [credit: Joan Marcus]

"He's so full of himself, so affected.  The sound, in that case, [Miranda] wanted to give him was this 1960's British pop sound, which playing against all the other very contemporary music just goes totally the wrong way.   But in a good way, as it shows just how out of touch [King George] is with what the current thinking is, " he said.

And then there are the leading ladies of the show, the Schuyler sisters, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy.

Shoba Narayan, Ta'Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre - "Hamilton" National Tour 2018 - [credit: Joan Marcus]

"The Schuyler sisters are a contemporary R&B, 'Destiny's Child' sound," he said.

Hamilton: An American Musical is onstage at The State Theater in Playhouse Square July 17 - August 26.

Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.