Have you, like many Americans, found yourself listening to the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording over and over and over? Have you despaired at the thought that you might never see the show — or been frustrated at how long it will take the touring version of the musical to reach your neck of the woods?
Fear not, dear reader. It's important not to burn yourself out while waiting for the chance to take your Hamilton obsession to the next level. Understandably, though, you might want to implement stopgap measures, and that's where we come in.
The following seven Broadway cast recordings boast certain Hamiltonian delights, while all standing alone as their own hugely enjoyable works. We've ranked them from most like Hamilton to least like Hamilton. And if you’re not a musical person but have made an exception for Hamilton, these seven just might convert you.
In the Heights
Before he was a household name, Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda won the heart of Broadway in 2007 with his autobiographical celebration of growing up as an immigrant in Washington Heights.
Brimming with joy and optimism, wit and gorgeous musical moments, In the Heights landed with all the confidence Miranda has continued to deploy in the years since. The musical's opening notes echo those of Leonard Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story, in which Puerto Rican immigrants debate which island is best, Puerto Rico or Manhattan?
In the Heights finds a different group of Puerto Rican immigrants asking the same question half a century later but to a different tune, as Miranda fuses Latino music with hip-hop and an intricate knowledge of musical theater. Songs like "96,000" are infectious, addictive, and full of heart, and serve as Miranda's announcement to all comers that Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, and the Gershwins are his crew and he's taking his place alongside them. Few Broadway composers have ever made themselves more immediately welcome on such a high level.
Percent like Hamilton: 85. For obvious reasons, Miranda's first hip-hop-infused musical has much in common with his second, but the plots couldn't be more different. Tonally, In the Heights is like a pleasant stroll on Coney Island while the hurricane of Hamilton brews offshore.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a campy running joke among musical theater nerds, before the endless debates over whether Carl Anderson or Murray Head played the best Judas (sorry, Ben Vereen), before the "British invasion" of Broadway in the '80s permanently associated Lloyd Webber with high-budget, glitzy schlock while genius lyricist Tim Rice went on to write The Lion King, the debut of Jesus Christ Superstar delivered a once-in-a-generation electric shock to a sleepy musical culture — complete with electric guitars, political, racial, and class tension, and a seething critique of Christianity.
Like Hamilton, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those controversial cultural icons that might have drowned in its own hype if it weren't so good. But it is extraordinarily good: Apart from being the quintessential rock musical, it is as ambitious as it is high-voltage.
From the moment Judas steps away from the sidelines to challenge everything the New Testament has taught you about Jesus and his apostles, Superstar examines and reexamines historical narratives, modern society, and even itself. No wonder Miranda borrowed Lloyd Webber and Rice's disgruntled but sympathetic narrator for Hamilton. (Just don't ask yourself how we eventually devolved from Superstar to Love Never Dies.)
Percent like Hamilton: 70. What Hamilton is to hip-hop and history, Jesus Christ Superstar is to rock and religion.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
At first, a self-described "electro-pop opera" adapted from a tiny portion of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace wouldn't seem to have a ton of overlap with Hamilton, but Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 is sneaky that way.
Its similarities with Hamilton are as follows. While the show is sung instead of occasionally rapped, its throbbing electronic score heavily samples feedback and digital noise, creating a musical landscape not unlike Hamilton's. While its race-blind casting isn't as audacious as Hamilton's (where the Founding Fathers are explicitly to be played by people of color), it similarly casts people of color in roles typically played by white people (in this case, Russian counts and countesses). And if that's not enough, Phillipa Soo, Hamilton's Eliza Schuyler, is the Natasha in this show's title and in the recording linked above.
Should you venture into Malloy's swirling score, you'll find something incredibly rewarding and unusual, combining very modern music with lyrics essentially sampled and remixed from Tolstoy's original text. The songs are gorgeous, the story (about love and obsession) feels fresh and archetypal at the same time, and the climax is unexpectedly moving. Plus, if you like it, you're in luck — the show finally moves to a Broadway theater this fall. (Prior to this, it was only off-Broadway.)
Percent like Hamilton: 65. Though having Soo around certainly helps it in the "like Hamilton" column.
Assassins is a devastating postmodern critique on the hollowness of the American dream, as explored through the lives of the often-marginalized men and women who have tried or succeeded at killing US presidents.
It's Sondheim's best musical, and with its nonlinear narrative and mix of the blackly comedic with the too-close-for-comfort — one character delivers a drunken rant while dressed as Santa Claus before flying a plane into Nixon's White House — Assassins offers such a sharp condemnation of American politics that it took two tries to bring the show to Broadway. The first attempt, its original 1990 off-Broadway outing, was stymied by the advent of the Gulf War. The second attempt was originally slated to open in September 2001.
Both the 1990 original cast album and the 2004 recording — of the Neil Patrick Harris–helmed production that finally made it to Broadway — are worth listening to and absorbing. The 2004 version has the edge thanks to its treatment of the show's unforgettable sequence in which a line of assassins convinces a young Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot JFK, and its inclusion of the originally cut "Something Just Broke," the chilling description of the aftermath of JFK’s assassination that still lingers today.
Percent like Hamilton: 60. Though they have less in common musically than other shows on this list, Assassins was a huge influence on Hamilton. Miranda consulted Assassins librettist John Weidman while writing Hamilton because he was interested in the way Assassins blended historical narrative with implicit contemporary commentary. What Assassins lacks in pop influence it makes up for in brilliant political theater.
When Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening — an expressionist plea for sex education — was first performed in New York City in 1906, riots broke out. It was illegal to perform in the UK as late as the 1960s due to its obscene content. But when it was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2006, the only riots that occurred were the ones at the stage door, where fans clamored to meet the show’s glamorous young cast (including Glee’s Lea Michele, Hamilton’s Jonathan Groff, and The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.).
Duncan Sheik’s pop-punk score takes us to Germany at the end of the 19th century, where sexual repression drives a group of teenagers to increasingly tragic ends. It’s blisteringly exciting and gut-wrenching.
Percent like Hamilton: 32. Like Hamilton, Spring Awakening uses contemporary music to examine and critique the historical past. But where Hamilton is fundamentally character-driven, Spring Awakening restricts its characters to being loosely defined archetypes, the better to achieve the hazy universality that pop music demands.
The Last Five Years
Hamilton contains references to many, many other musicals, but the most poignant might come at the end of “Say No to This,” when Hamilton acquiesces to James Reynolds’s threat to blackmail Hamilton for having slept with Reynolds's wife. Hamilton sings in resignation and defeat, “Nobody needs to know.” It’s a direct quote from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and the song that Lin-Manuel Miranda calls “the ultimate infidelity jam.”
The Last Five Years is a portrait of a relationship, seen from two perspectives. Aspiring actress Cathy starts at the end of the marriage and works backward, until she arrives at her first date with successful novelist Jamie; Jamie, in turn, starts at the beginning of the relationship and travels forward in time to the end. The two perspectives meet and cross, heartbreakingly, for a single duet on their wedding day.
Percent like Hamilton: 27. The Last Five Years is essentially what would happen if you excerpted “Helpless,” “That Would Be Enough,” “Say No to This,” and “Burn” from Hamilton and expanded them into their own show.
Tamar of the River
Tamar of the River is simultaneously about as far away as you can get from Hamilton and as far away as you can get from traditional musical theater, which makes it Hamilton's diametrically opposed twin — it's similarly ambitious and atypical, with a similarly unique take on the power of myth and history.
Very, very loosely based on the lesser-known biblical story of Tamar, the show blends Marisa Michelson’s hauntingly unusual music with lyrics by Joshua H. Cohen that don’t attempt to tell a story so much as evoke one. At times, Tamar of the River seems to assume that you’re instantly familiar with the tale it’s telling, through cultural osmosis, so it can simply get down to the business of being utterly unlike anything else.
But even though its book isn't the strongest, the musical has one thing going for it: The music is gorgeous, single tones building atop each other in unexpected intervals and chords that sound slightly non-harmonic before finding their way to resolution. The actual New York production of Tamar of the River ran for only an incredibly short period in a tiny theater, but the preservation of its cast album will hopefully lead to a well-deserved cult following.
Percent like Hamilton: 10. Where Hamilton feels like it emerged, fully formed, from modern pop music’s subconscious, Tamar sometimes sounds like it hails from a world where pop music followed a very different evolutionary path. Its Asian-influenced sounds are the opposite of Hamilton’s contemporary tones — but it's just as adventurous for the occasionally staid world of musical theater.