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'Hamilton' special debuts on PBS, exploring historical side of hit musical

The program 'Hamilton's America' airs on PBS on Oct. 21. It depicts the making of the smash hit Broadway show and delves into the musical's historical inspiration.

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'Hamilton' stars Lin-Manuel Miranda (center).

Joan Marcus/The Public Theater/AP

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A TV program about the smash hit musical “Hamilton” is airing on PBS on Oct. 21, when the special will explore the history behind the show.

“Hamilton’s America” chronicles the making of the Broadway musical that’s based on the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. The original cast of the program included Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, and Renee Elise Goldsberry. 

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The musical won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama and dominated the 2016 Tony musical categories, with the show winning the best musical prize, Mr. Miranda winning the award for best book of a musical and best original score, Mr. Odom Jr. winning the prize for best actor in a leading role in a musical, Daveed Diggs winning for best featured actor in a musical, and Ms. Goldsberry winning for best featured actress in a musical.

The PBS special also delves into the real-life events behind the show, with the program depicting, for example, some cast members visiting the homes of the characters they are playing. 

As it depicts the Revolutionary War and the beginning of America, the musical also teaches its fans many details about the lives of the Founding Fathers and the government of the US. In a pre-recorded speech that aired at the Tony Awards, President Obama noted that the musical, "has become not only a smash hit, but a civics lesson our kids can't get enough of."

Others have noted how the ubiquity of “Hamilton” is teaching listeners about everything from The Compromise of 1790 to the creation of the national bank.

“Historic sites connected to Alexander Hamilton are getting a lot more visitors than they used to,” Associated Press writer Beth J. Harpaz wrote earlier this year. "…Thousands of 'Hamilton' fans [are] boosting visitor numbers at historic sites that in the past were barely on tourists' radars."

Pat Sanftner, who works at the Schuyler-Hamilton House in New Jersey, told the AP, “We have 5-year-olds, 16-year-olds, 30-year-olds coming here now. We did not have that audience in our museum before. We had 60-year-olds. It's wonderful to have these conversations now with visitors. We're not just teaching. They're questioning us and they're thinking.” 

Meanwhile, Newsweek writer Zach Schonfeld noted the inclusion of “Hamilton” in lesson plans. The show “is making educators rethink how they teach early U.S. political history – and making students rethink how much they care,” Mr. Schonfeld wrote.