Hamilton at Cleveland Public Library

Oh, Alexander Hamilton

When America sings for you

Will they know what you overcame?

Will they know you rewrote the game?

The world will never be the same ..

Source: Hamilton: An American Musical, lyrics from “Alexander Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda1918 playbill Hamilton Euclid Ave Opera

The Broadway show Hamilton: An American Musical was performed in Cleveland from July 17 through August 26, 2018. Composer, lyricist, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda based the musical on the biography Alexander Hamilton  (2004) written by historian Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton was a poor immigrant from the British West Indies who arrived in New York and becomes one of the founders of America and its new economy. Miranda told Hamilton’s story by fusing musical theater with popular musical styles such as hip hop, hap and R&B. In 2016, the show won 11 awards including Best Musical, Original Score and Best Book.

However, this was not the first time that Clevelanders were treated to a theatrical telling of the life of the statesman. In January 1918, a performance of Hamilton: A Play in Four Acts opened at the Euclid Avenue Opera House (once located at 4th and Euclid across from the Old Arcade). This version of Hamilton was written by a 46-year-old mother of four from New York named Mary Hamlin. It originally opened on Broadway in September of 1917 and, like Miranda’s show, won rave reviews. The play was co-written with British actor George Arliss playing the lead role of Alexander Hamilton. The play’s success was short lived due to the flu pandemic of 1918, which caused many theaters to close. Thus, Hamilton: A Play in Four Acts only lasted on Broadway for 80 performances. In 1931, the play was turned in to a film, where Arliss reprised his role as Hamilton.

For those who want a little more “Hamilton”, the Special Collections Department of Cleveland Public Library has a copy of the famous pamphlet titled, Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States Written in the Year 1800. This document played a significant role in the contentious election of 1800 between the incumbent John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The letter expressed Hamilton’s concerns for a second Adams presidency and claimed that he was unfit to be President. “I should be deficient in candor, were I to conceal the conviction, that he does not possess the talents adapted to the Administration of Government, and that there are great and intrinsic defects in his character, which unfit him for the office of Chief Magistrate.”

Parts of the letter were released to the public and the Aaron Burr was believed to have been the culprit. Hamilton felt his best recourse was to publish the letter as a pamphlet and to sign his name to it. In over 14,000 words, Hamilton proceeds to spell out his reasons against a second term for Adams. As a result, it helped ensure the defeat of Adams in the election.