The enduring love for Hamilton

posted by Jeff | Saturday, January 19, 2019, 1:32 PM | comments: 0

Hamilton's #PhilipTour is coming to Orlando for a three week run, opening Tuesday night. I'm excited out of my mind to see it again. I realized that it's been around for a long time, and it's crazy how the show is still popular after several years. Some of that is naturally the fact that you couldn't easily see it unless you went to New York, then Chicago and London. The touring shows started out with long runs on the west coast. Now there are three tours going at the same time, which is fairly nuts. Lots of people are getting to see it now.

Hamilton had its insane Tony run in 2016, notably the day of the Pulse shootings, and so a lot of people first met Lin-Manuel Miranda when he gave his "love is love" speech. At that point, I had heard a few songs from the show, but assumed that it wasn't more than some hip-hop gimmicks forced into a Broadway musical. (It would be almost two years until I would also see Waitress and understand how robbed it was of recognition in the shadow of Hamilton.) That Tony performance was intriguing though, and over the next few months I would revisit it from a distance. Mostly Diana was listening to it. Then on a road trip in December to Delray, where I got to be a bridesbro, we listened to it straight through and it really grabbed me. A drive down the Florida Turnpike that would otherwise have been forgettable comes to mind from time to time when I hear the music now.

I'm sure I've listened to it more than a hundred times in the two years since. It's the most dense narrative set to music that I'm aware of, and it includes everything essential to good storytelling. There's war, death, romance, affairs, history, triumph, tragedy... it's all there. Alexander Hamilton was literally and figuratively a bastard, his accomplishments eventually limited only by his ego. He was surrounded by all of the people who founded our nation, and compromised on what freedom could really be. The founding of the United States is such a great story of sheer will to create, tempered by the issue of slavery that would nearly destroy the country some decades later.

All of that density means that there are so many things layered into it to discover. There are the structural things, like the way Washington's cadence is slower and more deliberate, while Hamilton's is faster and more clever. There are the homages to classic genres of rap music. There's the historical context of the cabinet battles and how the financial systems came to be that we use today. Sure there's a lot of dramatization, but it's striking how it's still fairly grounded in the history as compiled in Ron Chernow's book.

When we finally got to see it last April, it's like everything came together. The action on stage filled in the blanks, and even having seen clips before, I was blown away at how good it was. When you take a bunch of period inspired costumes and combine them with modern dance and music, performed by a diverse cast that most certainly doesn't match the well-off white people they play, you'd think it would be jarring, but it all works.

There is, I suppose, a political angle to Hamilton, though what others find political I find largely matter-of-fact. The show reinforces that the nation was founded by immigrants and that this fact is a strength. It calls out the contradictions of our Constitution and the necessary process to reinforce it. As Hamilton's writings often pointed out, there is a fragile balance between democracy and chaos, and the people we choose to lead matter. I don't know if I would lean Federalist in those days, but Hamilton seemed to lean socially liberal (when it suited him) and fiscally conservative, a position I can definitely identify with.

Regardless, the thing that really makes Hamilton enduring is the music. It's really great, start to finish. In an era where music is disposable, hit driven and about the big singles, it's fantastic to encounter a coherent body of music that lasts over two hours. The story of the bastard orphan from Nevis is sad, but there's little question about his legacy. It's the most unlikely of pop culture forces. It gets kids into American history, and imagine what it will do when it can be licensed for amateur performance.


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