“I find them contrived and ridiculous in a way – streets of people bursting into song,” Hooton says. “But I found Hamilton so moving; the music in particular struck me. I had two or three occasions where I was doing not just quiet theatre, odd tear coming down, but the big ugly sob thing – a huge big cry – and I could hear other people around me choking back the sobs. That might be part of its power.”
Hooton and Cooper spoke at length about Hamilton this week – with moderation from Good Weekend editor Katrina Strickland – for Good Weekend Talks, the podcast that takes a deep dive into the definitive stories of the day. This latest episode explored the astonishing success of the musical, based on a February 2020 story by Hooton: ‘Our own form of protest’ – How linking hip-hop and history turned Hamilton into a surprise hit musical.
The pair discussed everything from revolutionary choreography, to how a show where a black cast play white characters will be perceived in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Hooton interviewed the precocious Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and composer, lyricist and initial lead actor of the show, for her Good Weekend piece. “His mind is just rolling at a million miles an hour, all the time,” she says. “Quite intellectually competitive – you got this sense you really had to raise your game when you’re talking to him, because he was all over everything you said. Not a kind of restful person.”
It took Miranda years to create Hamilton, Hooton points out, hardly surprising given the scale of its subject’s 18th-century life. “He was an illegitimate orphaned kid, who was born in the Caribbean. His father abandoned the family, his mother died when he was 12, and he was sort of indigent really,” says Hooton. “The recurring theme of this life was this incredible precocity and intelligence and ambition. And he was in the end sent to America by a group of wealthy families. He did his law degree in nine months instead of the classic three years.
“During the Revolutionary War he became a war hero and George Washington’s closest aide. He became the first secretary of the US Treasury, and in that role he founded the US Coast Guard, he founded the US Mint, he founded the New York Stock Exchange, he established most of the federal taxation system, he founded the New York Post newspaper, which is still going.”
Cooper notes – in case you’re wondering – that an interest in US politics or history is not required to enjoy the performance. He remembers the hype when the musical soundtrack was released, and couldn’t bear the fanfare over a show about an old dead American politician. “But within 15 minutes of sitting in this theatre, I was like ‘This has absolutely changed my life’,” Cooper says. “I’m getting tingles thinking about being in that room. It changed how I viewed that theatre could be made, stories could be told. It was this alchemy of wonderfulness. I walked out of the theatre, and I wanted to go back in and do it all over again.”
Listen to more episodes by subscribing to Good Weekend Talks wherever you get your podcasts.