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Three years ago, Alex Horwitz started filming a behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway smash "Hamilton."

That was two years before the debut of the musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton. It was before anyone — including writer, composer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda — knew that "Hamilton" was going to be a musical.

"I didn't know what Lin was making any more than he did," said Horwitz, one of Miranda's college roommates. But he joked that the documentary "would be my only chance to get a ticket to see the show."

In the documentary, Miranda says, "I feel like Hamilton chose me. He reached out of the [Ron] Chernow book and grabbed me and wouldn't let me go until I told his story."

He had "this sort of half-baked idea" that he thought might be either a concept album or a show, said Horwitz. "I said, 'Look, I don't know what you're going to make, but let me follow you doing it.' "

The result is the highly entertaining, very informative "Hamilton's America" (Friday at 8 p.m., PBS/Ch. 7), a two-hour film that goes behind the scenes of "Hamilton," but does so much more. It's a look at Miranda and his family. At the influence "Hamilton" has had on kids.

It's a bit of a biography of Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury secretary.

"It's not so much behind-the-scenes of the making of the musical as it is an explanation of Alexander Hamilton's life and how that was cultured through the musical," said Miranda, who is an executive producer of the documentary. "When you see it, I think you'll note the strong parallels to America today."

This is not a warts-and-all look at "Hamilton" because "there aren't many warts to show," Horwitz said. "And I'm not just saying that because these are buddies of mine."

"Alex is part of the family," said Daveed Diggs, who originated the roles of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette and won a Tony — one of 11 that went to the show. "He's part of the building block of the thing."

Horwitz put the focus of "Hamilton's America" elsewhere.

"I knew that trying to make a backstage, fly-on-the-wall, behind-the-curtain documentary wasn't necessarily going to be all that compelling," he said. "To be in the room with these guys is to just see a well-oiled, friendly machine. And that's impressive, but it doesn't really make for good television."

And "Hamilton's America" is very good television, even if you haven't seen the musical or listened to the soundtrack.

Horwitz was there when Miranda was writing "Hamilton" songs "at the amazing pace of a song a year," Miranda says in the documentary.

The documentary shows us magic being made, but that doesn't mean we see magic explained.

"I don't know that I've cracked exactly how Lin's alchemy is working — why a debate in hip-hop form about the assumption of states' war debt is the most exciting thing to happen to theater maybe ever. Certainly in many years," Horwitz said. "I just know that it works."

Cameras follow Miranda when he's visiting Hamilton's home and when he's writing songs in Aaron Burr's bedroom. Horwitz shot a segment with Miranda and Phillipa Soo (who starred as Hamilton's wife), visiting the graves of Alexander and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton in lower Manhattan.

"Here we are trying to get a nice, sort of pensive shot at a gravesite," he said, "and beyond the edge of our frame was a screaming horde of people just screaming for Lin."

That's another focus of "Hamilton's America" — the show as a cultural phenomenon that reaches far beyond the Broadway stage.

"I have never in my life witnessed a musical that has penetrated the American culture faster than 'Hamilton,' " producer Jeffrey Seller says in the program.

"I am aware that musical theater does not get off the arts page often," Miranda says, "and here we are."

The show played a part in the Treasury Department reversing a decision to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill.

"I knew that 'Hamilton' was going to change my life," Miranda says. "But I didn't anticipate how much we'd help Hamilton's legacy in turn."

Diggs said he realized what a cultural phenomenon "Hamilton" had become "maybe the second time we met the president."

And when the cast met the Obamas for the third time it was "crazy."

"When Barack Obama comes up to you and says, 'Daveed, how are you?' What?" said Diggs incredulously.

He recalled watching Christopher Jackson perform as George Washington at the White House in front of a portrait of Washington "and sitting right in front of him is Barack Obama — our first black president … watching a black man playing the first president."

"I cried," Diggs said. "Everybody cried."

"It's in the movie," Horwitz said. "Don't worry."

And there's an emotional segment in which Jackson visits the slave quarters at Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

Among those interviewed are President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Sondheim, Chernow and Nas.

"Hamilton" is Miranda's second Broadway hit, following "In the Heights." But he sees this one as something unique.

"You can't manufacture another 'Hamilton.' I'll never write another 'Hamilton,' " Miranda says. "Hamilton is singular — the man and the creation of the show."

And "Hamilton's America" is a singular television event.

Twitter: @ScottDPierce —


The two-hour "Hamilton's America" airs Friday at 8 p.m. on PBS/Ch. 7.