What compels a 51 year old white woman* to listen incessantly to the album Billboard calls the “Best Rap Album of 2015?” The same woman who is only slightly embarrassed to admit to having seen Neil Diamond in concert 10 times? And is decidedly uncool?
What do hip hop music and Revolutionary War era history have in common?
My new obsession: the musical, Hamilton.
The week before Christmas, my family of four spent a few days in NYC. As the girls have gotten older, we have found the best way to guarantee quality time with them is to lure them away on a trip. With 2 college theater majors, Broadway and the sparkling lights of Christmas in NY seemed the perfect destination. In preparation for our trip, we asked the girls what they wanted to see. The immediate and unequivocal answer from both was this year’s Broadway phenomenon, Hamilton. We saw the show on December 22nd and I have been obsessed ever since.
Hamilton is a hip hop and rap inspired musical about Revolutionary War hero and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. If you have a $10 bill, you have seen Secretary Hamilton’s portrait, one of only 2 non-presidents on our modern currency. The show also features other familiar personalities from our history books, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Aaron Burr among them.
Without giving you a complete review of the show (there are a gazillion online already,) let me just tell you this: I have seen a fair amount of theater in my 51 years and I have never seen anything like this groundbreaking work of genius. It is simply BRILLIANT. It is story-telling and creativity and entertainment at its finest. Unlike most pop culture phenomenons, it absolutely lives up to all the hype. That evening will be one of my favorite family memories for a very, very long time. The photos below are my girls meeting the gentlemen who brilliantly played Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Burr (Sydney James Harcourt, understudy) that particular evening. These 2 guys could not have been more gracious, friendly and generous to my girls.
Although the story is centered around the tumultuous relationship between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, it is the story of all of us.
In our stilted, bewigged portraits of the men who birthed our nation, our founding fathers appear somber, reserved and much older than they actually were. In Hamilton, we are reminded that deciding to separate from England and begin a new nation was a bold, audacious, possibly even foolhardy undertaking orchestrated by young dreamers and idealists who believed freedom from tyranny was worth any cost. The multicultural casting and the language of modern music brings what might be an ordinary history lesson to life in a fresh contemporary format, making it accessible to a broader audience and reminding us why we are still fascinated by these brave, ingenious, creative fore thinkers more than 200 years later.
By the way, Monday was Hamilton’s 260th birthday- a fact I know because I now
stalk follow the composer, lyricist and star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter and Facebook. I have also watched every YouTube video and read every article on the internet referencing the show, Mr. Miranda or any other member of the cast. I recently purchased the 700 page biography of Hamilton which initially inspired Miranda to write the play. This is in addition, as I said, to playing the album on repeat in my car, in my kitchen, in the gym and even in my bathroom every day since we saw the show.
I know what you are thinking: I am a grown woman who clearly has entirely too much time on my hands.
Some 500 words later, I’m sure you are asking yourself “why is she talking about this play here on her blog which is primarily about faith and being brave, with an occasional rant about gun control?”
I am so glad you asked!
One of the central unifying themes of the show is the contrast between Hamilton and Burr’s approach to their dreams and ambition…a contrast and conflict which eventually leads to the death or ruin of both. Any conversation about moving from comfort to bravery, one of our favorite topics around here, would benefit from a closer look at their stories.
Hamilton is portrayed as hungry, ambitious and driven. The song My Shot introduces us to the mantra we hear him returning to throughout the story: he is not going to throw away his shot. He repeatedly grabs what he perceives to be his shot at changing the world, making a difference, and leaving a legacy. He works “non stop,” writing and working like he is running out of time. He chooses to seize the day, sometimes at great cost. Burr tries to counsel him to be more cautious and careful with his oft repeated advice to “talk less, smile more.” Hamilton responds he would rather be “divisive, than indecisive.” In spite of his success, his confidence often morphs into arrogance and his obsession with his legacy becomes dangerous pride.
Burr, on the other hand, favors a more tempered and calculated approach. He cautions against rushing in or quick judgment preferring to figure out which way the wind blows and, as his theme song says, Wait for It. Early in their relationship, Burr counsels Hamilton to not let them “know what you’re against or what you’re for.” Hamilton finds Burr’s approach frustrating and repeatedly asks him “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” Burr foretells the haunting denouement with his response “fools that run their mouths off wind up dead.” He resents Hamilton’s success, yet is unwilling to take the chances which might propel him to a similar place of power and access.
A plot unique to these 2 men in our history books? Or the struggle of dreamers even today? Dive in or wait for it? Go for it or play it safe? Which is braver? Is there a balance between the two?
Art imitating life. Life imitating art. Oh my goodness, I do love theater!
For a little peek at Hamilton and to see why I have a “big sister / ok, I’m actually almost old enough to be his mom” crush on Lin-Manuel Miranda, check out this 9 minute piece done by CBS This Morning. This show aired before the show moved to Broadway. I can’t get over his talent and his generosity as an artist. <3
*I would like to apologize in advance if making fun of myself for being an old white person listening to rap/ hip hop music is in some way offensive to anyone or not PC. In spite of its recent bad press, I personally am a huge fan of being “politically correct” as that usually means you are not purposely hurting people with your words.