Nerd Trip 2015 (Part 3): Hamilton the Musical

I'm BELATEDLY finishing up my NYC Trip Recap with my impressions of the HAMILTON musical, which was the main reason I did this trip. Saved the best for last, but March and April kind of blew past me. Sorry! I guess it's kind of fitting that I'm posting now as the musical's run at the Public Theater is coming to a close.

(Warning, wall of text ahead.)

We must go back briefly to late 2014, when I awoke to a Tweet from Sarah linking to an article about an upcoming musical about Alexander Hamilton. I honestly thought my half-asleep brain was making this ish up because... well, it sounds like something I might make up. And then to find out that Lin-Manuel Miranda was behind it and that it was a hip-hop musical?

REAL LIFE, people. From there, I made plans to visit Sarah in February and to see the musical because I would regret it forever if I didn't go. I also seriously underestimated the popularity of this show because I was thinking about it from the I love Alexander Hamilton side of things and not the Lin-Manuel Miranda is a big freaking deal in musical theater world side of it. So it was that Sarah ended up with tickets in early February (for previews), and I ended up with tickets in late February.

Early February: Sarah and her friend (both with open minds and no expectations) saw the show. She texted me late (for East Coast time) that night, and basically told me I was going to lose my mind when I saw it, and that my impromptu NYC trip is possibly be the best decision I'll make this year.

So, at the end of February, the Sis and I left balmy 80F Los Angeles weather for North-of-the-Wall-cold New York City. You know the rest of our experience from my previous posts on the subject: NYC Trip Part 1 and Part 2.

Aside from the busy-times of March and April, this last post in the series is late because I've struggled to describe how much I LOVE the Hamilton musical and how thrilling it is that it's getting the buzz, hype, and praise it is because it lives up to all of it. I've fangirled about it more than once. I've tweeted my immediate reactions...

A bunch of publications, shows, and fans have covered why this show is so great better than I think I could articulate. And obviously, I don't want to say too much because I think it's almost better going into this thing with as blank a slate as possible.

But I do have to say a few things about why I loved it so much and why I think work like this is so, so important and inspiring.

I've often been confronted by people's bemusement with my love of U.S. History (specifically the Revolutionary period) and Alexander Hamilton, probably because history is to a lot of people boring and irrelevant the older it is. On a family trip to Boston during my teens, my dad asked me (jokingly) "What is with you and dead people?" upon my interest in visiting a Revolution-era cemetery.

I think the reason for this interest boils down to the fact that history is story and I am nothing if not a lover of stories. History has the added draw of being real but sometimes encroaching into the territory of myth - especially when we're talking about something like the American Revolution. But this mythic quality can make it feel irrelevant to the present.

HAMILTON recognizes both these things - the power of story but also the need for story (of whatever kind) to be relevant to its audience, and it addresses this beautifully by shifting the focus to the level of the individual and emphasizing the humanity of the participants and the broader strokes of the American experience. This is the Revolution told through the personal lens - through the dreams, fears, clashes, and ambitions of people. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (and to a lesser extent, the other Founders) are brilliant and still glimmer with that mark of destiny, but they're also clearly fallible humans with ideals, desires, insecurities, great big hearts, and petty rivalries.

What's more sympathetic and relevant than the struggle and striving of people in ordinary (and extraordinary) circumstances?

Not to mention everything about the production itself is so fresh and makes the history, people, and conflicts so accessible. The contemporary music and dynamic choreography infuses the Revolution with life, transporting and translating the vitality and energy of that time to the stage. As Lin-Manuel Miranda has said, it's "the story of America then, told by America now."

Which brings me to the diverse cast. How wonderful was it to see a cast that looks like the multiracial landscape of America now bringing the founding of this country to life? I still get these ridiculous, happy feels as I type this because it's such a statement without being a statement. The diversity is a given as if to say that the Revolution centuries ago also belongs to the people (whatever their background) of our nation now.

This laying claim to American history is something I've thought about in passing. My love of history aside, I know there's sort of a dissonance between my fondness for this time period dominated by white men (and to the men themselves in some cases) and my ethnic background. Like as the daughter of Taiwanese immigrant parents, why do I care so much about something that seems so unrelated to my life? What is my stake in this, and sometimes, what is my right to it?

It's the same breed of discomfort as feeling like an outsider because you either are or are perceived as one, even though this is the place you consider home or is the only home you know. It's the annoying feeling of having to defend your participation in something you considered to be yours. (Super weird and coincidental that in my Hamilton biography reread last night I read about how people perceived Hamilton as an outsider and foreigner, and therefore thought his motives could never be purely patriotic - and that Hamilton was especially sensitive to these perceptions of him and they plagued him. To some extent, I get this.)

So to see a cast like this implicitly saying that yes, this national history - regardless of who the original players were or what they looked like - belongs to everyone who is part of this nation now was incredibly important and affirming to me. More so than I thought it'd be because I didn't realized that it would mean something until I saw it.

And getting back to the man himself, I latched on to Alexander Hamilton in high school because he was such a complicated, fascinating figure. He lacked a bit of the flaw-hiding shine we tend to give the Founding Fathers, and then, you know, he died in one of the most dramatic ways possible - a pistol duel with sitting Vice President Burr. The Ron Chernow biography made me into more of a fan with all the new things I learned, but the play's framing of Hamilton as an immigrant and writer has endeared him to me even more. It's kind of magical that I'm finding now I can sympathize with this long-dead man in these new ways. It's another inventive aspect of the play, how it frames and reframes the Founders and history as we were taught it.

And lastly, I love stories about stories, and huge themes of HAMILTON is legacy and narrative.  The tagline for the musical's run at the Public Theater is "who lives, who dies, who tells your story." While that most obviously applies to Hamilton  (he's both a prolific writer and kind of obsessed with his reputation), it also applies to everyone in the play. There are stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell others, and the ones that others tell about us; and only so much of that is in your control.

Any of you who have read my book reviews knows that I love it when themes are explored in-depth and done well. So you can imagine how delighted I was (and am) with HAMILTON's.

Lastly (for real this time), I have to say the songs are so, so good. They run the range of smart, funny, catchy, clever, inspiring, and emotionally honest. They also teach a lot of history; for example, distilling down 1790s politics into potent rap battles. I mean, what is this brilliance? Cabinet meetings as rap battles. Think about it. This awesomeness does not let up. It is non-stop (like Hamilton).

I'm going to end here because I've basically written you an essay. (One of the very few things I have in common with A. Ham is that I am wordy as hell.) So TL;DR - I loved HAMILTON. It is probably the best musical I have ever seen, and to paraphrase my dear friend Sarah, I think it is impossible to over-hype. Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda for this wonderful, inspiring play (about some of my favorite dead people)!

Next time, I'll just post a sequence of key-smashing and flailing gifs because that would also be an accurate depiction of my feels.

Go see the show if you can; it's opening on Broadway in July. History is happening in New York!

P.S. Hamilton is my bae, but Washington's a bamf, Lafayette is my fave, and Eliza, oh Eliza! Her kind of "strong female character" is underrated and not praised enough. She is quiet strength, compassion, and love. She was Hamilton's "best of wives and best of women," and my freaking hero. Thanks for honoring her, LMM!

P.P.S. Read the book if you're at all curious about Alexander Hamilton. It's a daunting 700-some-page read, but it's a compelling narrative and just so, so good.


Connie Keller said...

Wow! So great that you were able to go.

I love history too--it really is all about story.

Kristin Hackett said...

Yes <3 <3 <3 I feel like my post is nowhere near as articulate as yours because I'm just so enthralled that I want to gush about everything! The cds are on their way to my house and they will officially replace my Guardians of the Galaxy cd as the official soundtrack to my car. Every time I think about Hamilton, I think about something else that I love about it and I see some extra brilliance and I just want to arm flail and talk about it everyone but sadly I only know you and one other person who actually saw it! I tried to talk about it to my lunch table and someone said "I never knew we had an Alexander Hamilton as a President" to which my face went :-/

Krispy said...

@Kristin No, I'm so looking forward to your post. I love hearing how people are relating to the show. And it you look at the date of this post, it literally took me 2 MONTHS of sitting on my feels to wrangle them into something that could be read, lol.

And it's so true. Now that I have the soundtrack and can really listen to the music, it hits me every time how incredible every aspect of the show is. Like just from the music, it's like how is it so dense and complex and catchy? The musical motifs throughout just kill me every time.

LOL to that lunch table comment! My friend who saw the show with me this October was listening to the soundtrack with her boyfriend post-trip, and she said the first thing he said to her was "Alexander Hamilton wasn't President, was he?" and she basically had the same face.

On that note, I am always here for the fangirling. ;)

Stacee @ Adventures of a Book Junkie said...

This is amazing. I'm so jealous that you got to see that amazing cast. Thank you for sharing!!