'Hamilton' Director Thomas Kail Recalls Birth Of Zeitgeist Hit

Back in 2009, Thomas Kail got more than an inkling that his friend Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new project was something special when a video from a presentation at the White House went viral, ricocheting around the globe, enjoyed by countless theater fans, young people and, interestingly, history teachers. Before an audience that included Barack and Michelle Obama, Miranda introduced a hip-hop number from a “concept album” he was developing called The Hamilton Mixtape.

“Then Lin and I started conversations, just the two of us, thinking about what else this could be,” says Kail, who overlapped with Miranda for one year at Middletown’s Wesleyan University but never actually met him until after college. “We found ourselves building it brick by brick and we [eventually] started to realize there is some energy around it, that it felt like it was holding together.”

But it wasn’t until early 2012 — when a selection of songs from what was still called The Hamilton Mixtape was presented as part of the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center — that Miranda and Kail knew for sure they had a viable stage work.

“That’s when it became absolutely clear,” says Kail, a native of Virginia. “That’s when [music director] Alex Lacamoire came aboard. It was the first time Lin and I had been in a room with an audience of 350-400 people to listen to the songs, which wasn’t a ton of people, but something was definitely happening. I felt it very clearly. I’ve spent my whole life sitting in audiences and reading audiences and understanding when they’re engaged and when they’re not. That [Lincoln Center] audience was very engaged and that was very encouraging.”

Years later, Kail would receive a Tony Award for direction when that concept album evolved into the groundbreaking Broadway smash Hamilton. The national tour of the musical plays a three-week run at The Bushnell in Hartford Dec. 11-30.