May 12, 2017

Hamilton [the musical]


This is a bit of a special post because in case you've been living under a literal rock and have never heard of it, Hamilton is the hottest Broadway show right now. And even though I usually only review movies, I thought I'd make an exception.

By some miracle, I was able to get tickets to see it when it came to San Francisco, despite being #76,000+ in line (seriously), which also tells you how insanely popular it still is, even 2 years after its debut at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

So I anxiously waited until it was time for the show, watching friend after friend on Facebook post selfies with their programs and rave about how amazing it was. And even though I've seen Lin-Manuel Miranda perform and appreciate how talented he is, as the months passed, I started to doubt that the experience could be that amazing. Surely it couldn't possibly live up to the hype, right? Could a historical musical really sneak past my cynical reflex to rip apart everything people can't stop raving about?

Well folks, this might be the least snarky review I ever write.

This musical surpassed every expectation I had, and then some. There's a reason you can't find a negative review of it. It's flawless.

First of all, Miranda's musical style is so distinct and engaging it borders on addictive. Despite the re-cast, the music is so unmistakably his style it took me almost the entire first half to stop imagining him in the role of Hamilton.

Speaking of the re-cast, I imagine it had to be nearly impossible. Sure, Broadway-types are all super talented, but how many singers can also rap, and do it articulately enough that an entire theater of people can understand the words? Some of the actors were more successful than others in this, but to be honest, the lyrics are flying by so fast there's really no way to catch them all unless you've already memorized the soundtrack. (Which, by the way, was the case of the couple sitting next to me, who sang along to nearly every song. It was excruciating.)

I think the reason this musical has been such a surprise hit is because people seem to be under the impression that history has to be boring. Usually we see historical events played out in serious, dramatic movies or drawn-out mini series we feel obligated to watch because of critical acclaim but deep down dread having to actually sit through. (I'm talking to you, John Adams starring Paul Giamatti.) Here, Miranda has transformed what could easily become a dull history recap into a relevant, deeply engaging, and irresistibly catchy musical that appeals to nearly every demographic. (I say nearly because I saw some very bored looking children in the audience.)

It's truly amazing how we are still battling the same issues of the 1780's, 230 years later, like immigration, race relations, States' right, income inequality, and even feminism. Nothing, it seems, has changed, except the increased prevalence of non-white people in our country's influencers.

Hamilton is revolutionary in its decision to reflect that cultural shift in the musical. In the version I saw, black actors played nearly every character on stage, including the title role. In an American history largely scrubbed of any references to people of color, it was transformative to see well-known historical figures like George Washington and James Madison portrayed by non-white actors. It felt almost like vindication.

But what makes the Hamilton experience so shocking is not the casting, or even the story, which itself is incredible. For one of our most influential Founding Fathers, very little is taught about Alexander Hamilton is schools. Some might argue it's because he never became president, but that wouldn't explain why every school child in America can list Ben Franklin's inventions and discoveries while probably none of them could tell you that Hamilton was actually an immigrant. Some might argue that's precisely why we never learned about him.

Either way, the reason Hamilton is so successful is really due to Lin-Manuel Miranda's singular talent. It's overwhelming. When you stop to think of the fact that he composed not only all the music, but all the lyrics to a 2:45 minute show in which there is ZERO talking (all singing), it blows your mind. I had to actively ignore that fact just to be able to concentrate on the plot because otherwise I would miss huge sections of dialogue. There is no time to breathe, no time to let your mind wander during the performance. It is wall-to-wall engagement, but done in such a smart way that allows for emotional ups and downs through changes in music and tempo--not just a three-hour rap concert. I really cannot wrap my head around the fact that he wrote all of this. He's so talented it's almost sickening.

When it was all over, not only did I immediately want to see it again in case I missed something, but I wondered if there was a documentary about the making of Hamilton because if there were, I would watch it. (It turns out, there is--I'm putting on my watch list immediately.) I've been to plenty of musicals and I generally walk out happy and satisfied (minus Cats. WTF was that?) This is the first time I've ever walked out speechless.

Final word: Best. Musical. Ever.

24 comments:

  1. Damn it! We have been trying to get tickets here for two years. The rich people keep buying them up and seeing it time and again. Knowing how you usually rip apart over-hyped shows and you loved this now I know I must figure out getting tickets!

    Also, I HATE when people have to sing along every word, even at concerts. It's like they need the whole audience to know that they're a bigger fan than you. Ugh, insert eye roll here.

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