Common Text: ‘Hamilton the Musical’

March 27, 2018
Office of Marketing and Communication

Hamilton graphic

The Common Text for the First-Year Seminar program in 2018-2019 will be Hamilton: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording) by Lin-Manuel Miranda (2015).

Announcing the selection by campus email Monday was Peter Vantine of the Modern Languages/French faculty (photo below left), who directs the College’s First-Year Seminar program. For more than a decade, the Seminar has been focusing the first portion of incoming students’ seminar studies around a common text that each student is asked to read before arriving on campus. All members of the College community also are invited to read and join discussions about the Common Text.

This is the first year that the “text” of a show with music, rather than only a book, has served as a “common text” for First-Year Seminar, Vantine said.

Miranda’s musical is inspired by historian Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton. It is the story of the life and death of an important figure in the history of the United States, an impoverished orphan who emigrated from the Caribbean to New York as eager for an education before fighting in the Revolution and helping to found the country. It is also the story of his marriage and family. On both the political and personal fronts, it is a tale of ambition, struggle, triumph, and a fall from grace. Whether or not there is also redemption is one of many questions that may evoke a range of responses. This dramatic retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s life and of a period of American history contains both comic and tragic dimensions, and its many levels of meaning combine the personal, social, and political. In 2016, Hamilton earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and eleven Tony Awards.

Musically, Hamilton blends rap, hip-pop, pop, R&B, and the traditions of musical theater. “The lyrically rich text and engaging music of this historically-based piece of musical theater lend themselves to exploration, discussion, and debate within a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives,” Vantine said. “Lin-Manuel Miranda’s text, music, and theatrical production also fit well with the First Year Seminar program’s effort to promote reflection on diversity, given the intentionally multicultural focus of the musical’s conception and performance.”

Students will be asked to use the original cast recording, to ensure that all are experiencing and examining the same version of the musical. Vantine said in his announcement that the music may be purchased on CD from any music store and many bookstores, or it may be downloaded in digital form from online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play (for approximately $20).

“It is readily available from a variety of sources,” he said. “We suspect students will be inclined to download or stream the music on their phones, which should allow them to listen to it easily and repeatedly. However, we will also expect them to read the full lyrics, since the work’s words, its story, and the interplay between these elements and the music is at the heart of this year’s selection.”

Peter VantineHowever, Vantine (pictured at left) said he and fellow faculty do not expect students to travel to New York City and purchase very expensive tickets to see the musical on Broadway, “nor can we offer to take them all to a show there or elsewhere. Our focus will be on this work of art as a text and piece of music.”

Here is the official page for the music of Hamilton: The Musical

Vantine said that in the middle of the page at this link, one can follow a link to the album booklet with the full lyrics in two parts: Acts I and II. The two-part booklet either can be viewed online or downloaded. For faculty, students, or others who wish to delve into details about the theatrical production and performance, a useful resource is Hamilton: The Revolution, co-authored by Lin-Manuel Miranda and collaborator Jeremy McCarther, a cultural critic and theater artist. “This supplemental resource contains numerous photos, notes, commentary, and interviews. However, it will not be required as part of the Common Text selection,” Vantine said.

“I hope that many faculty and staff outside of the FYS program will also be inspired to undertake this common reading and listening experience, he said. “I would like to thank the other selection committee members, Student Life VP Dawn Ellinwood and Will Marquess of the English faculty, for their reading, listening, and thoughtful deliberations. I am also grateful to all those who submitted recommendations for our consideration. It is a pleasurable challenge to explore a wide range of excellent texts as we work to select one each year, and there are quite a few that would indeed also be excellent choices.”

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