At hot-ticket 'Hamilton,' Obama finds a story like his own

Story highlights

  • "Hamilton" is unorthodox in its telling of Alexander Hamilton's life
  • The musical has attracted a stream of political heavyweights

(CNN)An island-born boy, whose father left early, grew to become one of the most influential men in the country.

It's President Barack Obama's story, but also Alexander Hamilton's, whose biography has been translated into an audacious musical heralded as a turning point for American theater. Obama attended a matinee performance in New York on Saturday with his daughters.
Already viewed by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, and first lady Michelle Obama, "Hamilton" is unorthodox in its telling of Alexander Hamilton's life. The mostly African-American and Latino actors -- including creator and title star Lin-Manuel Miranda, born to Puerto Rican immigrants -- look nothing like traditional depictions of the white men who founded the country.
    So, too, does the show's hip-hop score reflect a contemporary sound more akin to Outkast than Oscar Hammerstein -- perhaps a reason why Obama, who tweeted this month his favorite song of the moment was Outkast's "Liberation," chose to see it.
    Tickets to "Hamilton" have been hard to come by after critics swooned during an off-Broadway run. Celebrities and New York tastemakers packed the Public Theater in the East Village nightly before the show moved to Broadway this month. It's already sold more than 200,000 tickets for an open-ended run at the Richard Rogers Theater.
    The musical has attracted a stream of political heavyweights, eager to see a predecessor portrayed on stage. The first lady saw it back in April.
    Another U.S. President, Bill Clinton, attended a performance in March with wife Hillary, now the Democratic presidential frontrunner, and their daughter Chelsea.
    After Cheney, the former vice president, and his wife Lynne attended, the musical's creator couldn't help drawing the obvious comparison between the Republican and a character in his show, former vice president Aaron Burr, who famously shot and fatally wounded Hamilton in a duel.
    "Dick Cheney attended the show tonight," Miranda wrote. "He's the OTHER vice-president who shot a friend while in office."
    For Obama, the parallels are more apparent to Hamilton's early life, before he entered public life.
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    Hamilton was born out of wedlock on Nevis, in the Caribbean; his father abandoned his family when Hamilton was young.
    Obama was also born on an island, Hawaii's Oahu, and his parents separated soon after he was born. His father moved away and the future president met him again only once, when he was 10 years old.
    Both spent chunks of their childhoods outside of the United States; Hamilton on various islands in the West Indies, and Obama in Indonesia, where his mother worked as an anthropologist.
    The two even graduated from the same college: in the 1770s it was called King's College, now it's Columbia University in New York.
    Hamilton was the youngest of the Founding Fathers and became the country's first Treasury Secretary in his early thirties. Obama was also young for his job -- at 47, he was the fifth youngest man to be elected president.
    But those biographical analogues aren't stopping Obama from moving to diminish Hamilton's most prominent memorial: his face on the $10 bill.
    The administration announced earlier this summer it would put a woman on a new version of the sawbuck, though they haven't chosen who she'll be. The Treasury Department says Hamilton will still have a place on the note, either on a separate version of the bill or in a smaller portrait on the back.
    Backlash against the decision to bump Hamilton was swift; Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said he was "appalled."
    The decision seemed doubly offensive since the face on the $20 note, President Andrew Jackson, is remembered mostly for his forced displacement of Native Americans and for killing another man in a duel.
    Hamilton, mused some of his fans, was being demoted, perhaps for his status as the most influential founder never to be president. The White House says Obama bears no ill will toward Hamilton.
    Miranda's unorthodox telling of an 18th century life seemed to entertain Obama when he watched the show's creator perform an early version of the score at a 2009 White House poetry slam.
    "Ten dollar Founding Father without a father got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter," Miranda rapped in the East Room, drawing an amused smile from the President.
    After Miranda, who was singing as Hamilton's killer Aaron Burr, completed his final line -- "I'm the damn genius that shot him!" -- Obama was the first to jump up for a standing ovation.