America Has Always Been About A Fierce Battle Of Ideas
Let’s Include Women, Immigrants, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBT Communities And For That Matter All Minorities — Which Now Includes Disadvantaged White People — In The Sequel
Hamilton is not just the best musical I’ve ever seen. It may be the best thing I’ve ever seen. It kind of breaks the genre, like how Jordan broke basketball, Beethoven broke classical music, and Cher broke Twitter.
By now you may know the drill: it’s the story of the life of Alexander Hamilton as told by Aaron Burr, the lifelong frenemy of Hamilton who ended up killing Hamilton in a duel. The musical is set to an incredible hip-hop driven score, and it stars a largely black and Latino cast. In so doing, it re-appropriates the story of our country’s founding and makes it less about a history particular to white men and more about a history of the ideas that belong to us all. When separated from its context and placed in ours, Hamilton’s story has a modern day hip-hop narrative arc:
Started from the bottom now we up.
Watch for a reference in the opening song to just this sort of Drake-ism. The lyrical genius of Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not of this world. Well, it is of this world, in the way that Shakespeare and Tupac were of this world. The word play is unbelievable. It is confounding, it is inspiring — the references and the re-references taking you through back and forth through early American history, through the history of hip-hop and musicals, and back and forth within the musical itself.
February 20th I went, again, on the occasion of my 37th birthday. I came home and checked Lin-Manuel’s Twitter feed, and beamed with unmerited pride to discover I share that birthday with Angelica Schuyler, who was Hamilton’s wife’s sister. She would have been 260 this year and she is, for me, the show’s most wonderful surprise of a character. An original feminist. She sings a favorite verse, one star of many on a starry night:
So so so —
So this is what it feels like to match wits
With someone at your level! What the hell is the catch? It’s
The feeling of freedom, of seein’ the light
It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right?
The conversation lasted two minutes, maybe three minutes
Ev’rything we said in total agreement, it’s
A dream and it’s a bit of a dance
A bit of a posture, it’s a bit of a stance. He’s a
Bit of a flirt, but I’m ‘a give it a chance
I asked about his fam’ly, did you see his answer?
His hands started fidgeting, he looked askance?
He’s penniless, he’s flying by the seat of his pants
This flying by the seat of his pants thing resonated, literally. The real man flying by the seat of his pants is Hamilton as played by Miranda, who is doing anything but. He’s the closest thing I’ve personally seen to a modern day musical and lyrical genius. It is his not his standalone capabilities in each genre he traverses, it is his mixture of talents that is other-worldly. He’s at the center of the Venn diagram of two worlds which Stephen Jay Gould would have called ‘non-overlapping magisteria.’ Broadway and hip-hop.
He was both non-consensus and right, it turns out.
Daveed Diggs, the man who plays both Lafayette and Jefferson, is a budding hip-hop star in his own right, and has more fun on a stage than anyone. The Incredible Oak, who plays Madison in part two, brings a guttural Wu-Tang like vibe to the first half. Leslie Odom Jr. as Burr anchors the whole thing, with a silky smooth ability to sing, rap, or chat as required. He is vocally a mixture of Drake, Nas and a blues singer, and his three tunes Wait For It, The Room Where it Happens, and Dear Theodosia are my top three plays on Spotify other than Satisfied by the indelible Renee Elise Goldsberry and Right Hand Man which introduces George Washington. The traditionalist vocals of Christopher Jackson as George Washington and Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton are stunning in their own right — as much for the wisdom, soul, and integrity inherent in their performances as for their musical contributions. The comic levity of Groffsauce as King George III grounds the whole experience. He is the oppressor from afar, and provides a safe and slightly ironic home-base for the mostly older white audience to latch onto as recognizable with his old school pop-rock form.
It’s a crazily pricey ticket. For many, Spotify is the only option. That said I’ve heard plenty of people who I know can afford this experience improperly value it. Genius is expensive. It’s also incredibly rare to see a work of art performed by its creators, let alone one that will inspire us again, at a critical time, about what America can be. There won’t be many times in life where we get to see Beethoven perform the 9th. What would we pay to watch Shakespeare star as King Lear, or for one last time see Tupac to do the full end to end of All Eyez on Me?
Whether you go now, later or never, start listening. You’ll hear the voices of our founders. What they’re saying is this: America has always been about a fierce battle of ideas. When it happens, don’t say this isn’t America. Say it is.
Make America great again?
She was. She will be. She still is.