If you're like me, since the Hamilton Broadway Cast Recording was previewed on NPR, you've been listening to it "Non-Stop." Of course, Hamilton is the hottest ticket on Broadway right now, telling the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton using rap, hip hop, pop, and other modern musical conventions to get us from America's revolutionary beginnings to Hamilton's death by the hand of Aaron Burr (sir).
Yet there are a few I've spoken to who want to go into the show blind, refusing to listen to the cast recording until they're able to see the show — they're willing to "Wait for It"! With the show being sold out for the rest of this year and into the next, it might be a long time before they get that pleasure. And I get it. When seeing a Broadway show, most people want to go in with the same lack of knowledge as one might go into a new TV show or book or movie — spoiler free. There's no doubt that there is no feeling like experiencing a live Broadway show for the first time, but Hamilton isn't your typical Broadway show.
Hamilton is equal parts musical theater and hip-hop, but for those who aren't well-versed in the lingo and speed of hip-hop, you might go into the show a bit overwhelmed. Here's where the cast recording comes in handy. It allows you to experience Hamilton in a different way than you would any other Broadway show. I'll give you two reasons to listen ahead.
1. It’ll be easier to understand.
Hamilton is dense. On the NY Times Popcast, creator/lyricist/actor/genius Lin Manuel explained that hip hop was the most obvious and natural expression for the story of Alexander Hamilton. Not only because the man resembled the stories of many hip hop artists of the early 90s (including Biggie and Tupac), but because as a man who made his career from the sheer amount of writing he did. Hamilton needed all the words he could get, and hip hop fits in more words per sentence (and second as seen in this photo of song comparisons) than any other musical genre.
Miranda broke it down brilliantly, basically saying: Experiencing a hip hop musical might give you the same "sense of panic" a Shakespeare play might give you. Shakespeare, known for his heavy verse, written often in iambic pentameter, throws a lot of people off when they first hear it. Even if you've seen Shakespeare before, and know the plot of the play, it can take you a few scenes before your brain gets used to the cadence of the performance. Then it figures it out and you understand the rest much better. The same goes for hip hop. If you're not used to the lightning speed with which many rappers spit rhymes, you can end up lost in trying to keep up with the verse rather than the plot or performance.
The release of the Hamilton OBCR allows you to get over that even faster. Don't wait until you're deep into "Right Hand Man" (8 songs in) for your brain to finally get the rhythm of the show, listen to it ahead of time to prepare yourself. (Then there's the rapid-fire, French-accented rapping of Daveed Diggs in "Guns and Ships"… That needs a few listens.
2. Call and Response is an essential part of hip-hop culture
One of the things you hear most from live performers, whether they be comedians, musicians, or actors on Broadway is that they feed off of what the audience gives them. Now add in the effect of call and response to hip-hop culture. The "Cabinet Battles" from Hamilton show great examples of call and response, as Jefferson and Hamilton between two people, as they battle over the formation of our nation, responding to each others' disses. Those watching behind them respond to their traded insults, acting as audience surrogates as spectators. Now let's bring that idea to the theater: as the show goes on, when you know the words, you can join in! For most Broadway shows, this is a no-no (we've seen that in a recent controversy and the flurry of responses it garnered), but Hamilton isn't most Broadway shows. The choice of hip hop as its means of expression allows the audience to participate, even in small ways.
During the famous opening number, the refrain of Alexander Hamilton is repeated by the characters and the company. The simple call, "What's your name, man?" is given the response, "Alexander Hamilton." It opens up the call and response dialogue in the first number of the show! You're being given permission to sing along. Recently, at a Ham4Ham lotto performance, Manuel played a song from later in the show, "Guns and Ships" which has a similar refrain of a character's name, and he encouraged those listening to join in. When you know the lyrics ahead of time and can sing along with the show, singing with others in your row or section, how much more fun will the performance be? It combines the live drama of a Broadway show with the equally electric nature of a hip-hop concert, where artists often expect you to know the lyrics and join in.
Obviously, be respectful (ahem: try to stay on rhythm and melody when rapping along) but this is the kind of show that leaves room for participation. As with any Broadway show, the actors feel the energy you give them and they give you more in return. I can't speak for the cast, but I imagine seeing and hearing an audience enjoy this particular show would give them great pleasure, making the experience better for everyone.
So enjoy the album, listen to it even if you haven't seen the show. Not just because you'll understand the show better, but you'll have more fun, and it will heighten your experience when you finally snag tickets to the show.