The Hamilton phenomenon

posted by Jeff | Thursday, December 1, 2016, 10:34 PM | comments: 0

I have to confess that I'm a closet theater nerd. I minored in theater for a year in college, but was turned off by all of the strange snobbery associated with it (and with art in general... that if you're not a hardcore student of it, you're not good enough to be involved in it). There's something very different about live performance that can deeply affect me. I'm not sure why I rarely went to see shows outside of traveling. I mean, Cleveland is one of the biggest theater markets in the country. Fast forward to recent years, and I married a union stage manager that worked in New York and Cleveland, and now we support the local arts facility in Orlando and see lots of shows.

I still don't pay close attention to "the scene," but I remember hearing early last year about this hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton. It blew people away enough that it quickly went to Broadway. At that point, I kind of dismissed it because the rap angle sounded like a gimmick, and frankly I didn't recall anything interesting about Hamilton from high school history (history being one of American education's greatest failings). But a funny thing happened over the last year, in that Hamilton did not go away, tickets were scarce, and it sure did win a lot of Tony Awards. When I saw the Tony performance, it still didn't completely grab me, probably because it compressed the middle of the show into five minutes, but I was intrigued.

At some point in recent months, Amazon added the soundtrack to Prime, and I finally got around to listening to it end to end a few times. It's really dense as it moves the story forward, but it's also not without its big chorus moments. I got pretty hooked, because it's a great story about so many of the things we value in American culture, set in a critical and bloody point in our history. It's tragic, and written in a way that romanticizes the passage of time as a reminder to make the time count before you die. There are a ton of themes that repeat throughout the show, and they bind the whole package really well. It's really brilliant.

One of the more remarkable things about the phenomenon that this musical has become is that it's a vision mostly from the head of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the guy that we were first introduced to by way of Sesame Street. I still hear that bit sometimes when I hear the Hamilton soundtrack. ("Where's it at? The beach! The beach! That's a habitat!") Had I known that he co-wrote a musical inspired by the movie Bring It On, I might have totally written him off, as that's sacrilege. He famously performed an early version of a song for Hamilton at the White House in 2009, and it didn't debut until 2015. That's commitment. I wonder if he's working faster for all of the stuff that Disney has and is paying him for.

Now all that remains is to actually see the show. A second production opened in Chicago, and it starts to tour next year. They've announced two long runs in San Francisco and LA to fill 2017, but I wonder if they're going to run more than one company. So far, Cleveland and Seattle are announced without dates. Nothing in Florida yet, but I'm always looking for an excuse to go to Seattle.


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