I’ve literally been listening to nothing but Hamilton for the past few days. It started on our drive from Lancaster to Pittsburgh. Isaiah and I listened to the cast album in its entirety. Then, the next day we listened to it again. Then the next day I listened to in in the bathtub, and the kitchen, and while cleaning. I’ve got it bad.
I was admittedly a little late to hop on the Hamilton bandwagon. Friends of mine were early adopters but I held back, learning just enough to get all the “I wanna be in the room where it happens” references but not digging too deep. I’m not sure what my hesitation was about but it must have something to do with the fact that I think myself a bit of a musical theater connoisseur due to some truly obsessive years in high school, so when Hamilton was getting a ton of hype I didn’t feel as interested in it as I would have if it was some sort of indie under-the-radar gem of a musical. It’s like when I was 12 and loved Wicked before it was famous and then everyone else found out about it and I started turning up my nose and sniffing haughtily at anyone who would try to sing “Popular” for an audition. Disgraceful.
But goodness, I was wrong to ignore the hype. Hamilton is just really good theater–ingenious, accessible, modern, smart, worthwhile. It’s really good. And it should be! Honestly what frustrates me about the hype Hamilton has gotten is that all theater that makes it to Broadway should be this good. Every single musical that makes it that far should be groundbreaking, even in small ways, smart in ways that push the craft forward, and worth cultural comment and New Yorker articles and widespread hype. This sort of quality on Broadway shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the norm. Lin Manuel Miranda is an incredible artist who worked very hard and had high standards and brought something to Broadway which was actually worth the crazy amount people spend for tickets. Hopefully this will spark more creativity and higher standards in theater artists. Hopefully we will see less jukebox musicals and half-realized revivals and instead see a new wave of truly modern musicals. Musicals created at the top of the artists’ intelligence. More like Hamilton. More like Fun Home. We’ll see. I really don’t mean to seem jaded, but I’m just waiting for someone to come along and be as compelling as Sondheim. And maybe Hamilton is the beginning of a renaissance.
It’s American in all the good ways. Celebrating the melting pot, questioning the history-book narrative, wicking imaginations, elevating scrappy, hard-working, persistent people everywhere, and finally even giving us back some of the revolutionary spirit that we started with and that still lives in American artists today. Making the ten dollar bill mean something, putting songs and a story behind the face we buy sandwiches with. New significance in what it means to be American. I think we need that now, in these wild Donald Trump for president are you SERIOUS days. America is still a special place, and very hard won. Or at least it started that way.
Still, as much as I’m into it, I must be honest and say that there are things I don’t love about the cast album. Most of the times the ensemble comes in with their choral voices repeating words the main characters sing make me grit my teeth. It takes some cheap shots, it loses its umph at times, it goes really fast, and it’s possible that sometimes the story gets a tad bit lost in historical nods and pacing, BUT, it is still just really really good. Really, really, really good. Better with every listen. And for me, it’s special to see more great work from Lin Manuel Miranda after being an In the Heights fan-girl in high school. It’s fun to see things that are common between the two shows, some signature Miranda moves, certain riffs, some of the talk-sing patter songs, chord progressions. That one riff in “Take a Break” that sounds like a Nina riff from In the Heights, and basically everything Chris Jackson sings, I can’t even. It’s a happy full-circle for me, a shameless musical theater girl.
So, I’m loving Hamilton. And I’m somewhat embarrassingly identifying myself as someone who cares a little too much about musical theater, but sorry not sorry, a girl’s gotta have passions. And you don’t just have to listen to me gush about it here on my little street corner of the web. There are some very cool things on the internet adding to the Hamilton conversation, and rightfully so. A lot of people are talking about it, and they have some pretty great things to say. Here are just a few.
The Official Annotated Lyrics. Scroll down for maybe the coolest thing ever. They’ve posted the lyrics for the cast album in their entirety including annotations by “Hamilton Geniuses” whatever that means and it’s addictive. I’m not even kidding. Because now I can rap along and see cross-references and nuances and all the little tid-bits that I’ve always wanted. Let the obsession continue. This is the ultimate companion to the cast album right here.
Track by Track Guide to Hip Hop References. This is also pretty cool, providing embedded cross-referencing between Hamilton and all the Hip Hop songs it references. Basically a lot of information that means nothing to me (hip hop is not my obsession) but probably will mean a lot to other people. But ask me anything about the musical theater cross references in Hamilton, I’ve got a whole list! Some JRB “Nobody Needs to Know” at the end of “Say No to This,” sorry I’m crying!!
“I have an opinion on every song in Hamilton“. This girl came out with her own version of annotating the lyrics and I’m loving it. She’s quippy and fun, and she makes some really good points, especially about “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Also, I’m really identifying with what she says about “Non-stop.” Here, “This song wins Most Likely To Create Stress-Induced Productivity among ambitious listeners. After graduating college, Hamilton became a lawyer and helped shape what would become the most powerful country on Earth. Other writers, like, say, myself, are currently working on a blog post that nobody asked her to write and for which she will not be paid. Sorry, off-topic.” I feel you, Elizabeth Logan. I really really feel you. In fact, I think we could be great friends. Lets go see Hamilton together.
This from the New Yorker is EVERYTHING. At least they’re mounting a Chicago production. I have a chance in the world! And hopefully not for an arm and a leg and $600! Literally, never have I been more pumped to be a Chicagoan.
Sad news on Ham4Ham. It’s the best thing that ever happened to ticket lotteries. Luckily, the digital version is only till March!
The Women of Hamilton. This from the New Yorker is a very worthwhile read. The women in Hamilton are exceptional, and I think some of their songs are the best in the piece. Hamilton does a really good job of trying really hard to portray strong women in a moment in history where women were pretty invisible. They’re called founding fathers for a reason, but Hamilton gives its women a fair shot at a real, fleshed-out life. Eliza is basically the best human ever, Angelica is strong as anything, and both of them display extreme selflessness while still not taking any crap. The play is about reframing America’s history, giving the narrative back to the people it belongs to, the people habitually forgotten. Including the women. Give it a read.
Also, if you’re loving Phillipa Soo as much as I am, check out this video of her performing “No One Else,” a song from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, a completely fascinating and under appreciated musical. This song, you guys. Sometimes I listen to it on repeat for hours. I’ll never get over it. More on the indie under-the-radar side of things so I sort of love it extra much.
Also, Eliza didn’t burn all the letters. Listen to “Best of Wives, Best of Women,” and then read this and weep. And then poke around on the website and get lost in Alexander’s letters like I did. He’s a flowery dude and I like him a lot. Here are all of the Hamilton Papers.
Speaking of Eliza, check out this article on The Eliza Project. Phillipa Soo contacted the orphanage, now the social service agency Graham Windham, that Eliza Hamilton started and forged a partnership between the cast of Hamilton and the agency to create a new arts program for the students. Very special, and exactly the way that theater needs to be used. A win for teaching artists everywhere.
I’m basically counting on catching the show when it opens in Chicago. It’s sort of a special experience I think to fall in love first with the cast album and then see the fully fleshed out performance. That is how I’ve encountered a lot of the musicals I’ve loved most in life, and honestly it’s almost never disappointing that way. Now, since I haven’t seen it, I can imagine all I want about it, direct it in my mind, see the movement and colors without knowing if my ideas match the piece. And then someday I’ll see it and it will be like a wonderful fulfillment of something I’ve only loved a piece of. For now, I’m content with the music. I want to imagine about it for a while longer. Yes, I’m obsessed, and I’m not sorry. Not sorry at all.