'Hamilton' fans: Get hooked before show via soundtrack, book

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Tracey Goddeeris, 60, poses with her book, "Hamilton" The Revolution," written by musical lead Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, at her Birmingham residence

It was more than two years ago when Tracey Goddeeris first heard rumblings of an unconventional rapped musical about the life of one of America's founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.

A friend who had seen "Hamilton," which took New York's Broadway by storm in August 2015, was gushing about the experience and sent Goddeeris a pirated-flash drive of the performance.

That taste was enough that Goddeeris of Birmingham soon set out on a quest, buying the 46-song soundtrack to the show and reading the biography of "Alexander Hamilton," written by Ronald Chernow, who served as a historical consultant for the musical.

The two-hour and 33-minute soundtrack, which incorporates hip hop, R&B, pop, soul and traditional show tunes to tell Hamilton's entire life, immediately hooked Goddeeris and helped her enjoy and follow the show even more once she saw it in Chicago in 2017.

"I recommend people get the soundtrack before they go to the show and become familiar with it," she said. "You start to hear the story and appreciate the music and hear the aspects that are clever and that are hip-hoppy if you aren’t used to that."

Hamilton's biography was a great history lesson, Goddeeris said, but the musical doesn’t follow everything true to form. It does address Hamilton's spirit and intensity.

"It changes things for dramatic purposes," Goddeeris said. "Overall, the spirit of the book and words ended up in the lyrics." 

In March 2017, Goddeeris and her husband, Jim, landed "Hamilton" tickets in Chicago at the CIBC Theater. It was an evening performance on a weekday, she said. They sat on the main floor, not too close to the stage.

"I was really excited about it because I loved the music so much," Goddeeris said.

Goddeeris said she loves the critically acclaimed musical because it is inspiring, entertaining and educational all at the same time.

"I grew up with a lot of boring history lessons, nothing about Alexander Hamilton, and you learn here he developed the financial system. It took these dry facts and characters in history and got across their personalities," she said.

"In real life, Alexander Hamilton wrote and wrote and wrote," she said. "He was very ambitious and wordy. (Musical's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda) referred to him as a rapper. He was clever. He used his words and developed his ideas."

Goddeeris is seeing the show in Detroit at the Fisher Theater with her husband, daughter and a friend on Easter Sunday. Being an informed viewer of the musical is the way to go, she said.

"(The musical) made these people flesh and blood," Goddeeris said. "I don’t know what this country would be without him. ... I really appreciated the ying and the yang of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and how that was established musically, that dichotomy. That makes a good musical."

Caroline Huntoon, a 35-year-old children's theater director at Young People's Theater in Ann Arbor, said Hamilton has been on her radar since its off-Broadway debut at the Public Theater in New York in early 2015.

Caroline Huntoon

She had several friends in New York who saw it early on, and everyone responded to it in effusive, almost over-the-top ways, said Huntoon of Ann Arbor.

“I guess it would have been possible for that intensively positive response to sour the show, but it didn't," Huntoon said. "I was hungry for any scrap of content about the show I could get my hands on — performances for awards shows, Ham4Ham footage, fan-made animations."

Huntoon, who also a teacher at Greenhills School, saw Hamilton in New York in 2017 and will be going to the Detroit performance on March 19.

“Personally, I listened to the show nearly constantly from November 2016 to June 2017. It wasn't ‘preparation’ exactly, more obsession with the understanding that I would get to see the show someday,” she said.

“I was fascinated by (Miranda’s) sampling and references, so I did a lot of research into all of that — just for fun,” she said. “I got the musical theater references pretty fast, but I am not as well versed in rap and hip-hop tropes, so I learned a lot on that end.”

Huntoon read the Chernow biography, which led to some “lovely conversations with my dad, who is a big history buff. I made a lot of secret Hamilton references in my everyday conversations.”

She says there is no one "right" way to go about experiencing Hamilton.

“If you are so inclined, I think listening to the show in advance would be helpful. It's really dense — over 20,000 words; the average show is between 5,000 to 7,000 or so... so that's a significant jump,” Huntoon said.

“Having a sense of the story could be useful. When I saw it in New York, I remember thinking my eyes weren't big enough to take everything in, and I had to kind of let go of my desire to 'experience it all,' so I could actually enjoy it."

The first "Hamilton: performance in Detroit is on Tuesday.