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History lessons: ‘Hamilton’ tells its story though real people

UPDATED: Thu., April 28, 2022

The national tour of “Hamilton” is at First Interstate Center for the Arts from Tuesday through May 22 in downtown Spokane.  (Joan Marcus)
The national tour of “Hamilton” is at First Interstate Center for the Arts from Tuesday through May 22 in downtown Spokane. (Joan Marcus)

“Hamilton,” which runs Tuesday through May 22 at First Interstate Center for the Arts, is based on Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of the first U.S. treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, the “ten dollar founding father” who was instrumental in creating the U.S. monetary system still in use today.

While based on fact, and sprinkled throughout with creative license, the show features a cast of characters from American history. Here’s a who’s who of “Hamilton.”

Alexander Hamilton: From scrappy immigrant and Gen. George Washington’s righthand man during the Revolutionary War, Hamilton was a leader during the pivotal siege of Yorktown, which ended the war, wrote a majority of the Federalist Papers and helped shape U.S. monetary policy.

Aaron Burr: Hamilton’s political rival, they clashed over banking interests and politics. When Burr was campaigning for the presidency, he and Thomas Jefferson tied in the electoral college. Hamilton opposed Burr’s candidacy and eventually Burr finished second, thus becoming vice president. The two would meet in a duel in 1804, with Burr firing the shot that killed Hamilton.

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton: A descendent of one of New York’s wealthiest families, Eliza threw herself into philanthropy after her husband’s death, helping found New York’s first private orphanage. By all accounts, she deeply loved her husband and in her later years worked to burnish his reputation.

Angelica Schuyler: Eliza’s older sister and a confidant of Hamilton’s, Angelica was a socialite who exchanged letters with many of the era’s leading thinkers, including Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Her and Alexander’s letters were flirtatious, and Chernow wrote that “theirs was a friendship of unusual ardor.”

George Washington: As Lin-Manuel Miranda puts it in introducing Washington in “Hamilton,” he’s the “model of a modern major general / The venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all / Lining up to put me up on a pedestal.” Washington selected Hamilton to be his aide-de-camp during the Revolution, gave him a command for the siege at Yorktown and named him to his first presidential Cabinet. Hamilton, with an assist from Eliza, helped write Washington’s famous farewell speech when he announced that he was not seeking re-election.

King George III: The monarch of Britain who watched the American colonies slip through his fingers. Later in life, he battled mental illness.

Dual roles

Several actors in “Hamilton” take on dual roles, appearing as one person in Act I, then another in Act II.

Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson: Lafayette is a French nobleman who fights for the American cause. Jefferson was the third president of the United States who clashed with Hamilton.

John Laurens/Philip Hamilton: Laurens was Hamilton’s friend who advocated an end slavery. Philip Hamilton was Eliza and Hamilton’s firstborn son.

Hercules Mulligan/James Madison: Mulligan was a tailor, a friend of Hamilton’s, a member of the Sons of Liberty, a colonists rights group and a spy against the British. James Madison was the fourth president and one of the key authors of the U.S. Constitution. He often opposed Hamilton and his Federalist Party.

Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds: Peggy was the younger sister of Eliza and Angelica. Maria Reynolds was a married woman with whom Hamilton carried on a yearlong affair, causing Eliza to leave him for a time.

And finally

The Bullet: “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory” is a lyric of Hamilton’s that is repeated throughout the show. Indeed, he is haunted by death, literally it turns out. One member of the ensemble shadows him and other characters, and Hamilton only notices her at the very end. In the original Broadway production, now available on Disney+, the Bullet is played by Ariana DeBose, who a month ago won an Oscar for her performance as Anita in “West Side Story.”

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