Here’s the very first exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, as conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda:

Hamilton: Pardon me, are you Aaron Burr, sir?
Burr: That depends.

That’s Burr in a nutshell: unwilling to commit, even to the point of admitting his name. Oh, sure, it’s framed as a gentle rebuke to Hamilton’s manners, which he accepts: “Who’s asking?,” Burr goes on to say, a reasonable enough rejoinder when a stranger demands to know one’s name, and Hamilton catches his faux pas and introduces himself. But it is also an epitome of the defining difference between Burr and Hamilton in Miranda’s interpretation; Burr is guarded, “waiting to see which way the wind will blow” (“Non-Stop”), and Hamilton impetuous, always giving his opinion whether anyone wants to hear it or not–just as, at the end of this song, a newbie, he jumps in to the tavern debate: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”

Each will drive the other up a wall, learn from the other, and adopt the other’s ways to his own advantage. This meeting is the first step along the way to Hamilton’s becoming diplomatic enough, Burr style, to gain influence (“The Room Where It Happens”), and to Burr’s acquiring enough of Hamilton’s bulldozer drive to seek power (“The Election of 1800”) and as a result, end up fatally opposed. The reality was probably muddier, but that’s one of the thoughtful simplifications Miranda chooses, stringing a thread from each man’s earliest experiences, through their career decisions, to their final confrontation.

And then, of course, there’s the foreshadowing in the warning, “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead,” which would be too theatrically ominous if not immediately humorously claimed, and thus undercut, by John Laurens’ shouting “What time is it? Showtime!”

Anachronistic humor is another tricky balance the play strikes well. What kind of beer does Laurens drink? Sam Adams, of course. In the gangsta-rap style introductions, Laurens speaks defiantly about the Redcoat “cops,” which prompts thought about ways in which the British and colonists were, and were not, analagous to today’s police and African Americans. Do government forces within the 21st century US perpetuate colonialism vis a vis the citizens? The play stays firmly rooted in the 18th century, but it doesn’t shy away from planting these ideas.

The foreshadowing is in the music as well as the words. Those chords of “Aaron Burr, Sir,” the second song? We will hear them again in the second-to-last song (“The World Was Wide Enough”), just after Burr shoots Hamilton and becomes “the villain in your history.”

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