“Sometimes it seems/
We’ll touch that dream/
But things come slow or not at all/
And the ones on top/
Won’t make it stop/
So convinced that they might fall”
– Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
I wasn’t expecting this. I really wasn’t.
With my bad luck, I’ve come to accept that there are certain things that, as much I’d love to do them, I just never will:
- I know I’ll never see New York
- I know I’ll never see real snow
- I know I’ll never get married and have kids
- I know I’ll never land my dream job
- I know I’ll never finish the book 2666
- I know I’ll never have a strong relationship with my family.
Up until last week, that list would have included “I’ll never get to see Hamilton”.
For a show I’d never seen or heard, Hamilton has occupied a strange place in my life, lo these past 3 ½ years. My first professional stage show was an ACT staged reading with Daveed Diggs, who originated the roles of Marquis and Thomas Jefferson, so I felt something of a personal and professional obligation to see it. Yet, I have a rule of not seeing a musical (or, sometimes, any stage production) for the first time other than how it was intended: on stage.
As my colleagues raved about the songs, I refused every bootleg link they sent me. As the show won award after award, I had no interest in watching any of the ceremonies. I was glad everyone was so happy, but if I was gonna see it, I wanted to do it right. Hamilton held the same position for me as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, in that my only experience with it is through everyone else’s extreme reaction to it.
When the show first arrived in SF a couple years ago, I did the Lucky Seat lottery every single day in the hopes of getting tickets. Every. Single. Day. Not once did I even come close, despite both of my e-mails. When the show returned this year, I found myself playing the lottery again out of, I dunno, masochism? It became my daily routine and I never for one moment thought anything would come of it.
Then I got a text…
Is… is this real?
Is there is a God, they’ve got a wicked sense of humor if they’re fucking with me right now…
I honestly can’t remember the last show I saw at The Orpheum. I know the last SHN show I saw was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that was terrible. I do remember seeing Wicked at The Orpheum ten-or-so years ago with Eden Espinosa as Elphaba (say what you will, I love that show), but would have to look at my old programs to see what else.
Nevertheless, there I was – $10 ticket in hand, provocative t-shirt across my chest, themed cocktail (“Founder’s Old Fashioned”) in my SHN cup, and notebook at the ready.
I tried my best to steel myself, to lower my expectations. I mean, this has been the most talked about – and most expensively ticketed – show of the past few years, what it turned out to be 3 hours of bullshit? What if the songs sucked? What if it collapsed under the weight of its own PoC casting gimmick? What if, what if, what if?
Then, it began… “How does a bastard, orphan, son-of-a-whore and a Scotsman…”
Usually, this is where I’d put a plot description, but that seems a bit redundant in an historical show of such prominence (Spoiler: the Titanic sinks and the Hindenburg explodes). Instead, I can sum up my reaction to the show in four simple words.
I get it now.
I could barely get down any notes because I was too busy trying not to miss what happened on stage. Besides, I bobbed my head so much, I could barely read what few notes I did get down. I laughed at every joke, I clapped at every “Ohh!” moment and immigrant shout-out, I got choked up at every death, and I stood up as the cast took their final bow.
Most importantly, I finally understood the title. The full handle is Hamilton: An American Musical. This is Lin-Manuel Miranda imagining the story of early-America wherein the Founding Fathers resemble the slaves and servants. He told his story through hip-hop, the most American musical form since jazz and rock – all of which, you may have noticed, were created by the descendants of slaves. It’s putting us front-and-center of a story from which we’re often excluded.
And it proves the fundamental hypocrisy of excluding us from that story in the first place: the story doesn’t lose any of its power or relevance.
Yet, the notes I wrote show me comparing the show to the other “traditional” musical on which both me and Miranda were raised. Its “We the People” spirit is pure Les Misérables, the character of Aaron Burr is a shade away from Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, and even the portrayal of history’s “old White men” as horny young upstarts is reminiscent of the tv show The Tudors. Miranda tossed them all in a pot and scooped out a gumbo of a mixed-race America just as flawed as the White Supremacist one we all know and loathe.
The last time I immediately connected with a show so strongly, that show (Passing Strange) became my all-time favorite. And considering that I saw this show just days after seeing another new favorite musical, it makes me glad to be alive as the genre evolves in new directions.
In case you’re wondering: yes, I bought the album in the lobby and have been listening to it a lot in the week since I saw the show.
Y’know what’s funny? Now that I’ve finally caught up on 3 ½ years on inside jokes and lyrical references, I couldn’t care less about how Hamilton stands in the public consciousness. Hell, I said above that I love Wicked and have always been open about how much I love Phantom of the Opera, so public perception isn’t a big to me. I like that this is a PoC-created work that has somehow resonated with a mostly-White audience that would probably stare at me in confusion if I mentioned the show Jelly’s Last Jam (aka “that old Black musical that isn’t Dreamgirls or The Wiz), but that’s not what gets to me either.
No, it’s simpler than that. I saw this show and was able to do the one thing I always hope to do whenever I see any show, regardless of budget or status: I saw a great piece of theatre. It doesn’t matter if it takes years or a few days, a good time at the theatre is a good day to be alive.
Hamilton: An American Musical is scheduled to run until the 5th of January 2020 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.
The show runs 2 hours and 48 minutes with a single 15-min. intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.