So I didn’t write a blog post yesterday. It’s actually been a few days since I’ve posted. I skipped Saturday on purpose because I was at Disneyland with my cousins (more on that later). Sunday I was too tired, so I gave myself a pass. Yesterday (Monday), I should have written something. But I didn’t. I sat at the computer and had time to do it. But I ended up listening to Hamilton for an hour instead of writing a post.
Hamilton is the new Broadway musical sensation that is taking over the world. It tells the story of Alexander Hamilton from his arrival in New York City in 1776 through the Revolutionary War, the building of the U.S.A., up to his untimely death in 1804. The musical was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also just recently received a MacArthur genius award) and is based on the biography by Ron Chernow.
I had first heard about the show a couple years ago. I have always loved musicals and so I kind of follow the news w/r/t new musicals. Lin-Manuel Miranda worked on the show for more than six years before it came to Broadway and early on in 2009, he performed a version of the opening number at a poetry and spoken word performance at the White House. After that, a lot of people were anxious to see what, if anything, would come of an ambitious, rap/R&B inspired musical about a forgotten historical figure.
And last year, the show opened off Broadway to frankly insane reviews and I didn’t think there was any possible way it could live up to all of the hype I was hearing.
In September, NPR was streaming the full original cast album as part of their First Listen series. I listened to the whole thing immediately and was blown away. The hype was real. It is legit.
I like NPR’s description of the show:
The songs he wrote for Hamilton are not rap songs. This is musical theater made by someone who knows rap to be all our cultural lingua franca, whose sense of humor is legible to people like us. It is songwriting done within rap’s regulations and limitations. It’s a work of historical fiction that honors the sentiments of rap, a play off collective memory that feels overwhelming personal.
Like all good musicals, it has highs and lows, powerful songs and sad songs and love songs and an interesting and engaging cast of characters. Also, it’s so funny! The fact that this musical is also (mostly) historically accurate makes it all the more amazing that it succeeds in such a powerful way as a musical in its own right, not just because it handles the subject matter so well. It is a tragic story, but the musical breathes so much life and relevance into the life and legacy of a man that lived more than two hundred years ago, that it almost feels more triumphant than tragic at the end.
I’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop for the last month. I’ve been trying really hard not to sing random songs during meetings and on the train and I’ve mostly succeeded. It is so good and I just want everyone to know about it and share in the joy that it is bringing me and thousands of others who are listening to it (or are lucky enough to get tickets). Every week I have new favorite songs. Last week it was “Dear Theodosia” and “The Schuyler Sisters” and this week it’s mostly “Helpless” and “The Election of 1800”. Also, the three King George songs will pretty much always be hilarious and amazing.
Most of my knowledge about Alexander Hamilton is from high school AP U.S. History and it comes down to two main bullet points: he was the first secretary of the treasury (and let’s be honest, this is easier to remember because he’s on the $10 bill) and he helped write the Federalist Papers. Since I do a lot of trivia competitions, this is probably more knowledge about Alexander Hamilton than most people remember more than a decade after high school. So Hamilton also excels at bringing light to one of the lesser known and remembered Founding Fathers. He had an extremely important role in the fight for and development of our young country and history should not forget him. It’s wonderful that we have Lin-Manual Miranda and the wonderful cast of Hamilton to continue to tell his story in a very compelling way.