Meet the man behind the book.
We got the chance to catch up with the man behind the biography that led to the creation of one of the biggest musicals on Broadway. Biographer Ron Chernow talks about having his book turned into a musical, being part of a cultural phenomenon and working with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Tell me about what it was like having your book turned into a massive cultural phenomenon.
Ron Chernow: I feel like the luckiest writer in the country. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show has done such justice to the book. It’s a little bit surreal and dreamlike to go to the theater, as I often do, and to see my characters dancing and singing on the stage. I almost get to feel watching the show that I’m eavesdropping on my own characters. There were certain places, as a biographer, that I couldn’t go because I didn’t have the facts. Lin had to go there as a dramatist. Sometimes I’m actually hearing the inner thoughts of my characters, which I was not able to get at as a biographer and historian. It’s not only been thrilling, it’s been quite fascinating to see the interpretations of the different characters, and each actor brings something quite different to the role.
At what point did you find out that your book was a major inspiration?
Ron Chernow: That was early on. Back in 2008 I met Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was still starting in his first musical In The Heights. He had read my Hamilton biography. He told me that as he was reading it on vacation in Mexico, that hip-hop songs started rising off the page. He said to me, “Ron, you know Hamilton’s story is a classic hip-hop narrative.” I thought to myself, “Pal, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I gradually did. Lin promised that he would educate me in hip-hop, of which I was more or less completely ignorant. He’s done a very good job. This has been thrilling and completely unexpected. I never thought that the dramatic form it would take, and be a musical much less a hip-hop musical. The whole thing has been one great big surprise.
What’s your favorite number in the show?
Ron Chernow: “Satisfied” it’s the song that Angelica sings. It’s really amazing because first of all, like all of the hip-hop lyrics it’s very dense and rapid, but you have just had this very moving song where her sister Eliza sings a beautiful love song “Helpless” about meeting Hamilton. Then you suddenly see the same story, the same event through much more mature eyes. What had been a very kind of hopeful and optimistic moment, suddenly in the eyes of the older sister who can foresee what’s about to happen in this marriage. It suddenly takes on tragic overtones. It’s my favorite scene because it’s what we call the rewind scene. Where the scene is done over three or four times, and each time we see it from a slightly different angle. I think that it’s not only my favorite songs in the show, I think it’s the single most sophisticated piece of musical theater that I’ve ever seen.