Hamilton has been the soundtrack of my life since June and I haven’t listened to much else the last 5 months. I haven’t seen the actual Broadway performance (hopefully someday!) but I could not love this cultural phenomenon more. My thoughts on the Hamilton/Pence controversy are at the end of this post, but first, why Hamilton has my whole heart right now.
Hamilton, written by Lin-Manual Miranda, tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the other founding fathers, the revolution, and the early days of our nation in the most creative, compelling way imaginable. It’s a history lesson, love story, sex scandal, and social and political commentary all rolled into one energetic masterpiece. I often think how amazing it would have been to have access to this in high school while taking US History.
There is no dialogue apart from the music, so just by listening to the soundtrack, you get the whole story. This is how the vast majority of people are experiencing Hamilton right now; the ticket prices and location (currently only on Broadway and in Chicago) shut most of us out from seeing the live performance. Just like anything else, the more you listen to the lyrics of the music, the more details and subtleties you pick up. So many of LMM’s lyrics have double and triple meanings, and if you are a nerd like me you can go to genius.com and read commentary about the words until your head explodes.
Hamilton isn’t a traditional Broadway musical. There are a few traditional show tunes, but a lot of the music is hip-hop, the language of revolution. There’s also pop, love ballads, and R&B music, and the musical styles correspond perfectly to the characters who sing the songs. There are 46 songs on the soundtrack, and it is impossible for me to pick a favorite (my favorite totally depends on the day and the mood). I challenged myself to pick my top 15, in order on the album (I tried to do top 10 and couldn’t do it): My Shot, The Schuyler Sisters, Helpless, Wait For it, That Would Be Enough, Yorktown (gun to my head, this one might be my favorite), Dear Theodosia, Non-Stop, Cabinet Battle #1, Take A Break, Hurricane, Burn, It’s Quiet Uptown, The Election of 1800, Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story. The music is addicting, and I’ve started actually thinking in Hamilton lyrics, and words in totally unrelated contexts will trigger me singing a line in my head!
Every character in Hamilton except for one (King George of England), is played by a person of color. This is a deliberate, crucial part of the show, and the casting, music and language all emphasize the role of immigrants and diversity in our country, as well as the spirit of revolution (there’s a lot that’s been written about the correlation between Hamilton and movements like Black Lives Matter). The themes of legacy, ambition, and revolution are all woven throughout the show. And Alexander Hamilton is a writer, and uses writing to process his circumstances and challenges, which I totally relate to. Hamilton is the story of the birth of our country, but so much of that story is playing out today in our current political climate, and we need to be paying attention, because history tends to repeat itself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my response to the Hamilton/Mike Pence controversy that occurred over the weekend. I realize my response is going to be biased not only because of my political leanings but because Hamilton is just about my favorite thing right now. But, I did try to think critically and consider both sides. Here are my thoughts:
- The audience shouldn’t have booed. That was rude and inappropriate (although considering the makeup of the audience, understandable).
- I wish instead of just making the statement that they did, they would have invited Pence backstage for actual conversation instead of just a one-sided message.
- The message they did deliver (from one VP (Aaron Burr) to another (Pence)) was heartfelt, respectful and totally appropriate considering how he chose to spend his Friday night.
- Mike Pence went to see Hamilton, a political show with political messages. He didn’t see Wicked or Mama Mia. Hamilton is entertaining, but anyone who sees it purely as entertainment is completely missing the point. I’m calling bullshit on Trump’s whiny tweet saying the theater should be a safe place. That’s not what theater is, especially for a show like this.
- The cast of Hamilton is representative of people who feel they will be marginalized and discriminated against when Trump and Pence take office in January. They had a platform to voice concerns respectfully and that’s what they did. Pence was elected on a ticket that is anti-immigrant, anti-POC, and anti-inclusion. He needed to hear the message of Hamilton, as well as the message delivered by the cast.
- Because revolution is such a central theme of the musical, I saw the message to Pence as a form of resistance that was in a small way revolutionary in itself.
- I’m not a Pence fan at all, but I do respect his response to the controversy. I think he and his boss need to talk more.
- Donald Trump proved once again he cannot handle the slightest criticism (he was whining about SNL less than 24 hours after whining about Hamilton).
- I could totally believe that this is a manufactured controversy to distract from more troubling issues: the settlement of the Trump U lawsuit, Trump’s conflict of interest with his businesses, children, and running the country, and his appointment of white supremacists and racists to his staff and cabinet. Hey Trump- Winning is easy, young man, governing’s harder.
- #boycotthamilton people, you are RIDICULOUS. You can’t boycott something that is inaccessible to 99.9% of the population. But I will be glad to take your ticket if you feel like you can’t in good conscience attend.