Everyone is talking about Hamilton, but what even is it?
A recent conversation with a friend of mine reminded me that outside of the intense Hamilton fandom that is primarily focused on Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tumblr, a lot of people aren’t really sure what Hamilton is all about.
Friend: Okay, what is this Hamilton thing? And do I need to listen to it, because I find when I listen to musical soundtracks without seeing the show I can’t really appreciate it because I don’t know the characters and it’s all a bit cheesy.
Me: I accept this challenge. I will explain the show to you and you will love it.
Friend: Oh no, I wasn’t really asking for you to convince me or anything, I was just sharing how I felt in general–
Me: JUST YOU WAIT.
When you ask someone about Hamilton, they’re going to want to tell you about the importance of the diversity of character casting; how it’s a masterpiece of historical analysis while also a pointed commentary on modern society; how it catapults women to the forefront; and how it innovatively uses musical styles to serve the story in a completely unique way. (Oh look — I did just tell you about all those things!)
But to get started, all you really need to know is: Who are these Hamilton characters and what are they singing about? Well, I’ve got you covered, because I already bombarded my friend with these descriptions so this article really involved no extra work (WERK!) on my part. Hey, we’ve all got bills to pay. I present to you the crash course to the characters of Hamilton the musical, minus expletives and excessive CAPSLOCK. You’re welcome.
Do note: The actors and actresses listed are Hamilton’s original Broadway cast. While they’re no longer performing, the good news is that Lin filmed the show with the original cast in June 2016. So one day — one day — we’ll be able to watch the original Hamilton cast from the comfort of our own home ?
‘Hamilton’: Act I
Note: These character descriptions are accurate to the characters of Hamilton, not to the real life historical figures. You’ll need to do some further reading on your own if you’re interested in what’s real and not real.
Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Alexander Hamilton is this super sassy little dude who came up from nothing and would definitely kick your ass at NaNoWriMo because he writes like he’s running out of time. He is going to make something of himself if it kills him, and he challenges people to duels almost on the daily because he just can’t keep his mouth shut and that’s the 1700s version of, “You want to fight, bro?” He is the most easily offended dude you will ever meet, and if he was alive today he would spend all his time arguing with trolls on Twitter and then complaining about how they take up all of his time.
He’s approximately 1000% sure he’s smarter than everyone else but don’t hold that against him because he probably is. Also to make things better/worse, he’s a total ladies man. He’s also got kind of this emo streak, what with him talking about death every five minutes. It’s probably because of all those times he almost died. You’ll get used to it.
Sick of France and their total lack of a war, Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) came over to America to basically mess things up and get in fights. But P.S., it turns out he’s actually a military and strategic genius, so good thing he’s on Hamilton’s side. Lafayette and Hamilton are bros because they’re both immigrants and immigrants know how to get things done. He wants revolution everywhere, so once he’s done here he’s heading back home to stir up more trouble.
Next up is Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan). He’s learning to be a tailor but he doesn’t want to sew pants forever, so just like Hamilton he is praying for a war so he can prove himself and rise through the ranks. He is a guy you want on your side in a fight. And don’t worry, he definitely doesn’t have sex with horses, no matter what he says. Also he might be a super secret James Bond spy, but no spoilers.
Rounding out the awesome foursome of Act I is Hamilton’s BFF John Laurens (Anthony Ramos). Depending on which history books you read, Laurens was Hamilton’s secret lover (yeah, this gets steamy). They don’t reference the relationship in Hamilton, but Laurens calls Hamilton the “closest friend he’s got” and basically offers to die for him, so read into that what you like. Laurens is more anti-slavery than anyone in this show and considering the show is about the famous abolitionist Alexander Hamilton, that’s saying something.
These four are the Hamilton Act I dreamteam. They spend a lot of time making you wish you were in their squad and getting drunk.
Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.)
On the other side is Aaron Burr, the narrator of Hamilton and Hamilton’s ultimate frenemy. He’s like, “Talk less, smile more, just please shut up.” He’s the friend who waits until he sees what everyone else is wearing to the party before he picks an outfit because being overdressed is a big deal, okay?! He has no opinions and stands for nothing, except that he does but they’re a secret? Whatever, Burr. Basically, the ultimate modern politician.
Burr is way jealous of Hamilton because although they’re both orphans, Burr’s parents were loaded so he’s always worried he’s messing up their legacy. Meanwhile, Hamilton came from literally nothing so he can do what he wants because he literally has nowhere to go but up. Burr is also hooking up with the wife of a British officer but hey, no judgement.
George Washington (Christopher Jackson)
Presiding over all these beautiful idiots is none other than George Washington. He only raps when he’s mad or frustrated, so watch out when that drops. He’s trying to win the war, but Congress hasn’t given him any supplies, so he needs some help in the form of his new right hand man Alexander Hamilton. Alex isn’t super keen on being someone’s secretary, but Washington is basically his new dad so he agrees. Too bad Burr was also vying for that job.
Washington is constantly reminding Hamilton, you need to chill out man, I know you’re obsessed with your legacy but how about we focus on winning this war first before wondering which note you’re going to end up on (spoiler, it’s the $10). Also, you have no control WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, WHO TELLS YOUR STORY (this is the message of the show). Basically get your ass in line, Alex, or go home.
The Schuyler Sisters
While all these boys are fighting and drinking and generally being adorable miscreants, we can’t forget about the ladies. Hamilton is the ultimate ladies man, and the hottest girls in town are the Schuyler sisters, three daughters of this totally rich dude who are all super foxy and are basically Destiny’s Child.
First there’s Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry). She’s the Beyoncé of the three because she can rap better than you, she looks better than you, and she is smarter than you. It’s too bad she can’t fully participate in society because, reminder, this is the 1700s and she’s a woman, ew. She has a crush on Alex for a hot second and he is totally reciprocating because of her brain, and her body, and her money, and her status, but Angelica can’t go through with it and now she’s never gonna be satisfied.
That’s because her sister Eliza (Phillipa Soo) has already called dibs, and we know dibs were a serious form of currency in the pre-Revolutionary War period. Angelica loves her sister more than anything in this life even if she is the Kelly to her Beyoncé. Alex is more than down for this because for some reason he has no problem swapping between sisters and everyone else is totally cool with this. She and Alex get married and have a son, which is a pretty good incentive for him to not die during the final battle, and they’re all happy families.
And there’s Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones), but don’t worry about her, she’s the Michelle of the trio, who is really only there to fill out the harmonies. Poor Peggy.
King George (Jonathan Groff)
Finally we have King George. He just prances in every so often to laugh at the Americans and tell them how they’re messing up before threatening to murder them all. It’s really sweet. He’s like an awful boyfriend in a hilarious hat who is pretty sure you’re not going to find anyone better and so will come crawling back to him. Also he’s the only white guy in the main cast and that is super deliberate.
Listen to ‘Hamilton’ for free!
Now that you’re all caught up on the characters, you are ready to listen to Hamilton Act I, which finishes with the track “Non-Stop.” Prepare yourself to fall in love.
Chances are after listening to Act I you won’t be able to stop yourself from continuing with Act II, but if you would rather find out more about the new Hamilton Act II characters, keep reading on page two. Be aware, there are more spoilers for the show in these descriptions.
‘Hamilton’: Act II characters
Like any good musical, Hamilton sucks you in with a wonderful, catchy, emotional Act I, before ripping your heart and soul to shreds in Act II. This act is a little more plot-heavy, so be prepared for Hamilton spoilers in these descriptions.
Then again, Hamilton is a show based on historical events from over 200 years ago, so I don’t think spoilers really apply in this situation. Anyway, read ahead at your own peril.
Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda, still)
Surprise, he’s back! Hamilton continues to have no chill while also keeping on his quest to be perfect at everything. He was a lawyer, but he nailed that, became a delegate and nailed that, and is now rocking it as the first Treasury Secretary to President Washington. Except he’s had the crazy idea to unite all of the colonies under a new debt system which no one is really on board with, so good luck. He’s also making some pretty terrible decisions in his personal life, so stay tuned for that.
Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs)
Watch out Hamilton because here comes Thomas Jefferson. He’s been chilling in France, but now that the actual work of winning the war is all done, he’s back to be Secretary of State. His main hobbies are being sassy AF, cutting down on his commute time, and chilling in Virginia in the shade with his slaves. He really hates Hamilton and his wannabe outfits and his anti-slavery stance, so he is not going to help him pass his debt plan. In fact, he’s going to do everything he can to ruin Hamilton’s political and personal life because that’s the kind of stand up, freedom-loving, slave-owning, somehow still endearing guy that he is.
You might be wondering why Jefferson looks and sounds like Lafayette. Gold star for you because they are played by the same actor! A lot of the lead roles in Hamilton are double cast, which might be confusing at first, but just go with it and be grateful that we get to hear Daveed Diggs do a French accent AND a Southern accent all in the same show.
James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan)
Backing up Jefferson is James Madison. He doesn’t really do anything except the call and response answers to Jefferson’s rhetorical questions. That’s cool and all, but ‘yeah what he said’ doesn’t really cut it when Jefferson is doling out the sick burns. He also hates Hamilton because of reasons, so he and Jefferson are the ultimate Act II bromance, although mostly because no one else in this act has any friends so there isn’t much competition.
Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry)
Angelica has married a boring British guy with a whole lot of money, but he isn’t Hamilton so she and Alex have been busy sexting each other via letters that take several weeks to arrive. It’s a slow build. She comes home to visit and it’s that awkward moment when you see someone you’ve been texting in person and can’t really meet their eye.
Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas Jones)
Unfortunately for the Hamiltons and for the future of American society, Hamilton meets Maria Reynolds. She seduces him and because he has no impulse control he goes along with it, which is awesome for them both until her husband sends him a blackmail letter. James Reynolds says, you can still sleep with my wife, just pay me what I’m asking or I’ll tell your wife. Hamilton pays him to keep everything hush-hush. As you’ve surely guessed, this backfires.
(Sorry team, there’s no GIFs of Maria yet so let’s just appreciate Groff’s dance moves again.)
George Washington (Christopher Jackson)
While all this is going on, Washington is peacing out from public life. Hamilton begs him to stay, but Washington has his heart set on sitting under some trees and gardening (nah, it’s beautiful), so he makes Hamilton write him a speech and then he’s out of there. This is awesome because we finally get to hear Chris Jackson SING, but it is terrible because there’s no more Washington. We all take a minute here to wipe that dust out of our eyes.
Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.)
Washington stepping down is a shame (again) for American society, but mainly for Hamilton because without Washington on his side, he has no protection from Burr, Jefferson and Madison. They decide to confront him about the money he has been paying Mr. Reynolds. Hamilton assures them that, don’t worry, he isn’t stealing from the country, he’s just paying some dude to sleep with his wife. Jefferson and Madison are like, yeah fair enough, but Burr is pretty happy to hold this over Hamilton’s head forever to pay him back for having beliefs and opinions. Of course, he doesn’t count on Hamilton being the most self-sabotaging person in the history of ever.
Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo)
Hamilton does the only logical thing in this situation and writes an exposé of himself in which he tells the entire world about the affair that no one knew or cared about. And now we know why Hamilton was never president. What makes this scandal sort of worth it is the realization that Eliza is not the Kelly to Angelica’s Beyoncé, she’s Solange and she is a secret badass. She tells Alexander oh hell no, and burns all of the letters that might have redeemed him. They are officially consciously uncoupled and we are all in love with Eliza Hamilton.
This is all well and good except that their son Phillip is now a teenager, and because he’s a Hamilton the logical way to solve a problem is challenging someone to a duel. He calls someone out and they go to New Jersey to shoot each other, obviously. Except Alexander tells Phillip to shoot at the sky and THROW AWAY HIS SHOT (this is another message of Hamilton, pay attention), but now Phillip is dead and Eliza is sad and it’s all Alexander’s fault.
I may as well finish at this point. After all this drama, it’s the election of 1800 and now it’s Jefferson vs. Burr because everyone is everyone’s frenemy in this damn show. Everyone is asking Hamilton who they should vote for. Hamilton says, well I really hate Jefferson, he is basically Satan in real life, I disagree with him on literally everything, he is my ultimate enemy. So OBVIOUSLY he has my vote. Burr has no policies, no personality, no beliefs, and here’s a list of other reasons I’m mad at him that I have been meticulously recording for the last 30 years of my life.
At this point Burr is so over Hamilton, he just wants to be in charge, so why is Hamilton making it so hard? It’s back to New Jersey for more shooting, and they’re standing on the same spot Phillip died because this show wants you to drown in your own tears. Hamilton throws away his shot and shoots at the sky while Burr shoots him. Then he kind of regrets it, but hey, maybe don’t shoot people if it’s going to make you sad later. But this plays a trick on the audience because now we’re sad for Burr? Even though he just killed our hero? This show is an emotional tidal wave.
That would be the end of the story except we still don’t know WHO TELLS YOUR STORY because no one answered Washington the first time and that was over an hour ago. For the first time in this show, this question isn’t actually rhetorical. Surprise, it’s Eliza! Oh, did you not realize that this show is secretly a masterpiece of feminist historiography that puts women in the forefront of history? Well the joke is on you. Eliza lives for 50 more years and does everything Alex wanted to do, and makes us all cry AGAIN and then it’s the end. For real this time.
Now go and rehydrate because chances are you have cried a dangerous amount of tears. Then you’ll be ready to listen to the genius that is the Hamilton soundtrack one thousand more times.