I really despise musicals. Probably because my mom made me watch them when I was a kid, and they just were so boring! I’m also way too cynical to think people singing and dancing is happy entertainment. However, I saw the movie of Rent and saw that musicals didn’t have to be all happy and cheesy. I never saw Rent on stage, but I did see a dvd of the stage play, which was really great. But then stuff like Wicked comes around, people say how great it is, but I just need more. I need some sort of depth and importance to the story. Book of Mormon just doesn’t even count in the traditional musical category, in my opinion, because it’s so offensive (and I loved every second of it) and funny. And then there’s Hamilton.
I was very skeptical when I first heard about this hip-hop musical and how great it was. I was familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work, though. I’ve been to NYC a sum total of one time and saw two musicals while there- Hair, and In the Heights. My BFF was living in Washington Heights at the time and drug me to see it. And I liked it. Sadly, Lin wasn’t performing that night, but the show was still enjoyable. But Hamilton had so much hype that it made me skeptical. Rolling Stone said it was one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. Then the Pulitzer. Then the MacArthur Grant. What?? That just doesn’t even seem possible. So, I reached out to a musical nerd friend of mine and asked her if it was really worth it. Her short answer was YES. So, I got a clean version (so I can listen in the car with little kids) and went from one song to the next, taking me a few weeks. And by the time I got to “It’s Quiet Uptown,” I was sobbing. Yes, it really is that good.
I mostly listen to Act I upbeat stuff because my kids really don’t want to hear the sad songs (and honestly I can’t listen to them on a daily basis) and I think we’ve listened to “My Shot” about 100 times. My 5 year old is obsessed with A.Ham, Washington, and NYC in general. I’ve shown him Lin’s SNL performance and assorted YouTube videos of the songs. He says our next vacation is to go to NYC and meet the guy who plays Alexander Hamilton. (Anyone want to make this happen? You would make his little heart burst with joy). But what strikes me most isn’t just the story, since it can easily be found in a number of books, but Lin’s brilliance as a writer. His ability to craft a phrase is second to none. I’ve never read such clever word play in a musical. My favorite part is his ability to use a phrase in so many ways and how he assigned these phrases to Burr and Hamilton to be repreated through the entire musical. Rise up, talk less, write like you’re running out of time, throwing away your shot, etc. And the music associated with these phrases is repeated in various songs as well. As soon as a Hamilton song comes on, my 5 year old knows what it is because of the familiar melody. The consistency, yet ability to keep it fresh is amazing. I just can’t rave enough about this piece of art.
And then there’s the book. Every song is included, along with annotations by Lin. And he’s so clearly a product of my generation, referencing the same rap artists I listened to growing up, Harry Potter, and Jordan Catalano. The pieces of background information were written by Jeremy McCarter. He clearly did his research and conducted a number of interviews with the cast and the behind the scenes people like the costume designer, set designer, and choreographer. This book made me see the musical as a whole, rather then just the words and music. It was truly a fascinating insight into how much work and thought people put into this amazing musical. So, even the most skeptical people (myself included) should give this musical a chance. Every award Lin won was much deserved and I look forward to his future endeavors, whether they musicals or not.