HAMBURG, Germany — “Hamilton” is a mouthful, even in English. Forty-seven songs; more than 20,000 words; fast-paced lyrics, abundant wordplay, complex rhyming patterns, plus allusions not only to hip-hop and musical theater but also to arcane aspects of early American history.
So imagine the challenge, then, of adapting the story of America’s first treasury secretary for a German-speaking audience — preserving the rhythm, the sound, and the sensibility of the original musical while translating its dense libretto into a language characterized by multisyllabic compound nouns and sentences that often end with verbs, and all in a society that has minimal familiarity with the show’s subject matter.
For the last four years — a timeline prolonged, like so many others, by the coronavirus pandemic — a team of translators has been working with the “Hamilton” creators to develop a German version, the first production of the juggernaut musical in a language other than English. The German-speaking cast — most of them actors of color, reflecting the show’s defining decision to retell America’s revolutionary origins with the voices of today’s diverse society — is now in the final days of rehearsal; previews begin Sept. 24 and the opening is scheduled to take place Oct. 6.