In 2015, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who had “Hamilton” fever.

“Hamilton: An American Musical” is a hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer behind your child’s favorite Disney films (“Moana,” “Encanto”). The show, still enjoying a successful Broadway run, chronicles the life of Alexander Hamilton, our first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. The musical took the world by storm in ways twenty-first century American theatre has never experienced before and has been declared the definitive musical telling of the American story…

…a declaration I disagree with.

I’m gung-ho about “Hamilton” as much as the next girl, but any theatre-lover worth their salt knows composers have been drawing inspiration from American history books since the Golden Age of Broadway. Curious as to how? Consult your streaming service of choice and look into these five cast albums.

READ MORE — Leslie Sattler: Why “Cyrano” doesn’t work — and why you should still see it

“1776” by Sherman Edwards (1969)

A former writer for Elvis Presley, composer Sherman Edwards once stormed out of a songwriting session ranting and raving that he was quitting to write a musical. That musical, “1776,” was an instant hit that spurred a successful film adaptation. It is unknown whether Elvis noticed.

“1776” follows John Adams along his quest to persuade all thirteen colonies to sign the Declaration of Independence. With the drama of a “West Wing” episode and the powerhouse vocals of 25 actors in powdered wigs, Edwards turns our often-exalted founding fathers into flawed, relatable men.

Book writer Peter Stone said about the musical, “John Adams and the others were not going to be treated as gods or cardboard characters, chopping down cherry trees and flying kites with strings and keys on them. [1776] had this very affectionate familiarity; it wasn’t reverential.”

Although Edwards turned out to be a one-hit wonder, “1776” ensured that he never had to write another ballad for Elvis. New York-based fans can look forward to a Broadway revival this fall.

“Assassins” by Stephen Sondheim (1990)

From the teeth-baring Witch in “Into the Woods” to the slippery Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” Philadelphia native Stephen Sondheim knew how to write a great villain — even the villains of American history.

“Assassins,” which opened off-Broadway in 1990, features every historical figure who ever attempted (successfully or not) to assassinate an American president. Criminals from John Wilkes Booth to Sara Jane Moore tell their side of their story and evaluate what their presence in history says about the zeitgeist of their time. “Everybody’s got the right to be happy,” the assassins argue, even if it means committing the unthinkable.

Part comedy, part case study in radical politics, “Assassins” isn’t exactly fun for the whole family, but it’s a riveting take on a dark chunk of American history from the mind of musical theatre’s greatest genius.

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” by Michael Friedman (2010)

If “history just got all sexypants” isn’t a line you’d expect to see on a poster of our seventh president, abandon every preconceived notion you have about Andrew Jackson.

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is a rock musical about the founding of the Democratic party. From the second you hear the opening number — a balls-to-the-wall romp cheekily titled “Populism! Yeah! Yeah!” — you know exactly what this show is: a good, old-fashioned political satire, packaged to bust the guts of teenagers and grandfathers alike. Our tattooed, skinny jean-sporting ensemble masterfully toes the line between celebrating and criticizing Andrew Jackson’s legacy. Was he one of our greatest luminaries, or was he “an American Hitler?” It’s up to the audience to decide.

If you’re looking to teach your teenagers about the complicated origins of the Democratic party, you’d do well to start here.

“Ragtime” by Stephen Flaherty (1998)

I have a soft spot for stories that blend narrative fiction and American history (“Gone With the Wind,” for instance). If you’re anything like me, Pittsburgh native Stephen Flaherty is bound to become your favorite composer.

“Ragtime” follows three families — a black family of musicians, an artistic family of Jewish immigrants, and a wealthy white family that owns a fireworks factory — as they navigate turn-of-the-century New York City. Narrated by the luminaries of the time — J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit — the three families find strength in one another as they weather the most defining challenges of their lives.

This window into turn-of-the-century America champions the unifying power of our collective national identity. Let the award-winning voices of Audra McDonald, Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell remind you that we as Americans are more alike than not.

“Our American Cousin” by Eric Sawyer (2008)

I lied. I promised five musicals, and here I am discussing an opera. Nevertheless, this particular work has earned a place on your Spotify queue.

Named after the play performed during the Lincoln assassination, “Our American Cousin” is an operatic dramatization of that fateful night from the perspective of the actors, the audience, John Wilkes Booth, and President and Mrs. Lincoln themselves. Dubbed “one of the freshest, most ambitious new American operas,” up-and-coming composer Eric Sawyer shatters the barrier between audience and actor to question the role of art as a peacemaker. It’s up to you to decide just how exaggerated of a retelling this opera really is.

While American opera may seem insignificant compared to the works of Verdi and Mozart, its rich history is anything but. For my fellow musical theatre aficionados looking to explore American opera for the first time, Sawyer’s work is a wonderful place to start.

Leslie Sattler is an editor at Broad + Liberty. Previously, she proofread for October Hill Magazine and worked as Managing Editor of Our National Conversation, a startup specializing in nonpartisan news. She is a recent graduate of New York University.

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