The more something means to you, the harder it is to write about. This took me a week to put together and in my mind, that feels closer to five years than seven days. I don’t fall in love often but when I do, it tends to be critical, serious, and — yes — just a tiny bit devastating.
I stumbled upon Hamilton accidentally. My co-teachers were singing (and clumsily rapping) out loud in the faculty lounge when I arrived in school one morning. I can still remember Felice, oversized gray hoodie, arms wide open, eyes closed, belting the line “Oceans rise, empires fall” at the top of her lungs. There’s this musical, they told me. It’s called Hamilton, they continued. You should check it out, they admonished. I agreed nonchalantly and that was that.
A little less than a month ago, I randomly listened to the third song —My Shot — of the original Broadway soundtrack which then kickstarted my ascent (or descent, depends on how you look at it) into this gloriously geeky fandom.
Here are the facts:
- I’ve watched a bunch of stuff on Broadway that I liked (perhaps even loved!) but never wholly got into. If you met me two months ago, I’d probably tell you that musicals are fun and creative but I’d never, like, obsess about them.
- I know very, very little about American history. And, if I had to be honest, I don’t care for it all that much. (Mostly because I’m not, you know, American.)
- I know nothing about Alexander Hamilton. I didn’t even know he was the dude on the $10 bill.
And so it was on the 26th of April 2016 that I surrendered my life to a 46-song playlist. I listened to the whole thing twice, headphones on, while intently reading through each lyric (alongside the contextual annotations) on Genius.com.
Because Hamilton doesn’t have any speaking parts, the soundtrack is the story itself, which means you can experience the musical without ever actually watching it live. While you wouldn’t, on your own merit, describe a 17th-century founding father’s life as compelling, Alexander Hamilton’s truly is. But a lot of the magic comes from the storyteller himself: Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Fusing hiphop, R&B, reggae, funk, pop and jazz together, Miranda takes the best of today’s musical culture and sprinkles it into the pages of a forgotten history. He breathes life into a dead man’s legacy. And while the music is stellar: fun, lyrically clever, and more powerful than any LSS I’ve ever had (these songs have been on loop in my head for almost a month now! THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE IN MY LIFE), it isn’t the only thing worth sticking around for.
Hamilton is a multi-layered piece of art. It’s about Alexander Hamilton but it also generously lets you in on the people he lived alongside with. It’s about Elizabeth Schuyler. It’s about George Washington. It’s about Aaron Burr, the show’s narrator, who also happens to be ‘the damn fool that shot him’. It’s two acts’ worth of stories that speak deeply of what it means to be human.
The songs echo themes that make Hamilton so much more than just a modern day history lesson. Miranda touches on friendship and camaraderie, romance and unrequited love, courage and cowardice, and, perhaps my top two favorites: the malleable idea of heroism and the reality of how finite this life can be.
It does not glorify Hamilton nor does it vilify Burr. (Lin-Manuel himself said that he does not believe in villains.) Instead, it gives both characters a platform to exist, to live out their truest ambitions and fears on stage, as close to reality as possible. What we witness, in effect, are their shining moments of brilliance as well as the ripple effects of their personal failings. This, in particular, is what captures me the most. What I get from Hamilton is a continuous unveiling of mankind’s duality.
Another great thing is that there are no real tertiary characters in the musical. Everybody matters and everyone is given a time to shine — even Peggy Schuyler, who seems to have been written off by historians as the lesser known Schuyler sister, gets a chance to be a part of the narrative.
One pertinent question that pops up in the first and second act is: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
Hamilton was one of the most disruptive founding fathers. He was a troublemaker, a rebel, an orphan immigrant with a point to prove. In life, and even after death, his reputation was dragged through the mud by his political enemies and rivals. Eventually his life story — as well as those who lived and loved and fought with him — lost its relevance; became just another minor detail in American history.
It took Lin-Manuel Miranda six years to create and craft Hamilton. Each word (there are over 22,000 of them) earned its place in the musical, each character carefully researched on then fleshed out so they could transcend the boxes they had been hastily trapped in.
Hamilton, Burr, Eliza, Angelica, Washington, Mulligan, Laurens, LaFayette, Philip — they were never just mere characters to Lin. They were men and women, movement-makers who were also fatally flawed and forgotten. Now their story is our story.
“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
If you’re lucky, a music-loving genius named Lin-Manuel; if you’re lucky, the kind of man that believes in the beauty of the hustle, who can, with a pen and a keyboard, turn dreams into real and truly life-changing art.
So, yes. I’m in the deep end of love right now. And, yes. It’s critical, serious, and just a tiny bit devastating.
But why would I want it to be anything else?
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said:
“The bad news is you’re falling through the air,
nothing to hang on to, no parachute.
The good news is there’s no ground.”
That’s exactly what all this feels like.
OK, mic drop. Hamiltrash out.