"The Room Where It Happens" is the fifth song from Act 2 of the musical Hamilton, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which premiered on Broadway in 2015. The musical relates the life of Alexander Hamilton and his relationships with his family, and Aaron Burr. Lin-Manuel Miranda composed the music, lyrics and book for the song and musical. The song relates the story of the Compromise of 1790.
The song's writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda explained, "'Wait for It' and 'The Room Where It Happens' are two of the best songs I’ve ever written in my life and [Aaron Burr] got them both".
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton's musical director, explained how he came to add a banjo to a hip-hop band: "'The Room Where it Happens' just cried for it. That to me is probably my single greatest idea in the whole show, only because it’s so quirky and is so of the style of the music. It’s so Kander and Ebb-y, Dixieland, so I just sat down to orchestrate it, and I’m thinking to myself, 'What can the guitar do?' And literally in a flash of light, I’m like, 'Oh my god, it could be a banjo!' It invokes the feel of the song and I think it really fits in the world of it, but it’s also so left of center and not what you would expect."
In a dinner table bargain, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison create an unprecedented political compromise where the capital city is moved in exchange for Hamilton's financial system being supported. Aaron Burr enviously comments on how he had no agency in this decision.
Claire Lampen of Yahoo News explained "History has drawn much of its information on the compromise from Thomas Jefferson's account of the evening, according to PBS; neither Miranda nor anyone else can be entirely certain what happened behind those closed doors".
Monesha Woods of Vibe wrote that song is sung over a "snazzy, jazzy beat almost to tease [Hamilton's] VIP status". Film and stage theater columnist Elizabeth Logan of The Huffington Post said the "slick" song is "just Fosse enough", and that it is "yet another reminder that American politicians have always, always made secret deals." Arts and culture scholar Alisa Solomon of The Nation described it as a "razzmatazz show-tune". Theatrical reviewer David Cote of Timeout deemed it "the ultimate outsider’s jazz romp". Theater critic Peter Marks of The Washington Post called it "a bluesy elucidation of a politician’s urge to be at the center of the action". Poet and Catholic blogger Monique Ocampo of Patheos deemed it Burr's "villain song". Playwright and dramatic expert Carol Rocamora of Broad Street Review deemed it a "pop ballad". Theater staff writer Anna Maples of MOVE Magazine says the song was her "personal favorite" and has a "blend of New Orleans and Dixieland jazz." WIUX said:
Burr doesn’t take his shot until 1791, in the true showstopper “The Room Where It Happens”—the jazzy event horizon that drives Burr to Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, against Hamilton across party lines. In unflattering terms, this song describes the compromise that moved our capital to D.C. and created our first national bank. Onstage, it’s the height of suspense, and much more than debt involvement policy. It’s Burr, drunk on the idea of power, drunk with the want Hamilton has always had and expected from him, entering the political arena and “the room where it happens.” As Hamilton meets him, emerging from the mysterious dinner in “the room where it happens”, he taunts Burr with the same words from “Aaron Burr, Sir”.
Arts critic Colin Dabkowski of The Buffalo News deemed it "quiet and haunting". Playwright and ATCA member Lou Harry of IBJ argued that the song "demonstrates an awareness and respect for 'Somewhere In a Tree', from Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures score". Theater critic Robert Cushman of the National Post expanded on this comparison, writing that "like its predecessor, this song grows in intensity as it proceeds, spurred on by its staging." Making reference to a different Broadway musical, Jeff McGregor of Smithsonian Magazine said the experience of watching the performance is "a lot like seeing Ben Vereen take the stage for the first time in Jesus Christ Superstar, a watershed for performer and audience".
The song received critical acclaim. The New York Times said the "jivey...wicked meditation on being a political outsider" is "now a full-fledged showstopper". The Los Angeles Times grooved to this song, and appreciated "Aaron Burr ditches his usual political double talk for no-holds-barred showmanship". The Huffington Post said that this number makes the audience root for Burr. The Hollywood Reporter said it is a showstopper and a "rousing number". Entertainment Weekly deemed it the show's biggest showstopper, and described it as "pulse-quickening" and "surprising". Variety argues the song reveals Burr's "frustration and yearning." Daily Review said the song is "an ode to power and the desperate desire to be in the inner sanctum." Talkin' Broadway argues that the song's lyrics don't do much narrative heavy lifting, "hardly crystalizing more of the man for us". The Wall Street Journal deemed it a "spectacular second-act production number". NBC New York argues that this song reveals Burr's true nature as a "stop-at-nothing climber obsessed with relevancy". The New Yorker listed it as one of the top ten showstoppers of 2015, describing it as an "unforgettable in this song about power and powerlessness".
National Post wrote that the song is the show's most exciting number, aided by "brilliance of Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, an almost ceaseless but never excessive swirl, precisely keyed to the beats." The Wrap deemed it an "infectious showstopper". New York Theatre Guide writes that "the experience is visceral for us all and becomes a show stopper." NBC New York described it as a "sly, dangerous...show-stealing number." Deadline deemed it "one of the show’s most memorable songs." Theatre Mania said it is one of the show's "show's most high-flying [numbers]". The Post Gazette remarked that the song "bring[s] down the house." Emertainment Monthly noted the song is "one of the most monumental numbers in Hamilton". Uloop called it one of the show's catchiest tunes, along with "Wait For It". RG Magazine wrote the song "captures the emotional and political complexities of Burr."