There are moments when destiny reaches out its blessed hand and touches a soul – sparking inspiration, igniting passion, and setting action to courses that will ripple through the spirit of humanity. Such a moment happened when Lin-Manuel Miranda was struck with the concept of Hamilton: An American Musical. It is beautiful in creation and its story is a resounding one. Of course, we have the brilliant talent of Ron Chernow to thank in assisting such an inspiration. And we cannot go on without taking off our hats to bow in reverence to the one who lived the life that inspired both men. Alexander Hamilton – the man whose passions live on and serve us still today through Manuel’s artistry – 212 years after his death. I like to imagine that part of him knew – had hoped – that his story would be used in such a way. And that he is glad for it.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the indescribable pleasure of seeing Hamilton live in Chicago. Now, allow me to set the stage for you (if you’ll pardon the phrase). After hearing so much about the musical from me, and knowing my fondness for musicals in general, my husband bought me the Original Soundtrack about 9 months ago. And it has been playing in my car – and at home – nonstop ever since. Even our 11 month old son knows the lyrics by heart (in case Philip ever needs an understudy). You can come to learn a musical quite intimately through just its sound. You can hear the passion in the voices and see the playing on stage in your mind’s eye – and Hamilton is both brilliantly written and performed to allow just that.
So, when I had to part from my family for the first time for a business trip to Chicago – I couldn’t let the moment pass without paying homage to the creation that has captivated my mind and spirit.
I was staying in a suburb of Chicago. After dinner one night, this very much not-big-city gal jumps in her rental car and navigates her way into the depths of Chicago city. I say this because it is part of the journey. As one might do in a new place (with lots of construction), I took a wrong turn and quickly found myself in a neighborhood after dark that I will admit made me check twice to see if my doors were locked. I’m a first generation college graduate whose first home during childhood was a thin trailer house with a single coal burning stove to keep the family warm during those Northeastern winters. So, please believe me when I say there was no judgement here – but the irony hit me about the nature of the artistry I was about to behold and how I wished I could bring everyone in this neighborhood with me to witness its great battle cry! This was theirs even more than it is mine.
At last, I made it downtown. I parked in the garage, double checked my ticket and made my way to the ground level. The elevator brought me to a large, open and modern lobby to an office building. Hurrying through it, I made my way toward the doors that would open up to reveal the splendor of the lights and fanfare of the PrivateBank Theater and the marquee signs that read HAMILTON!
The sight took my breath away – and I would not regain it until well past the closing of the curtain. I joined into the herd trying to escape the bitter cold and make their way to sit in front of the glory of the set before the show. I was tucked under the mezzanine between a beam and another young woman who was also there alone – and decidedly not letting such an opportunity pass to be a part of history.
Filing into the gilded house with red velvet seats, the crowd’s energy could be felt building with anticipation and excitement. Then, at the queue of dimmed lights, the crowd calmed and all eyes were captivated as Mr. Burr donned the stage.
Again, I feel like I know this play backwards and forwards – like so many other Americans that have become captivated by Hamilton. I sing it in my sleep. My husband and I enact scenes to entertain our baby. We even had our own two man performance at the site of Yorktown a few months prior – baby didn’t quite get it, but it made him laugh. But nothing – NOTHING – prepared me for its full glory. The cast, crew and swings filled my heart to its absolute fullest.
There are a few elements that completely took me by surprise – one being the crucial role of the lighting. I have seen musicals on Broadway in New York City, but this was a whole new level. It went beyond completing the imagination of the set. As a movie’s soundtrack serves its emotional pace, the lighting of this show captivated and controlled every moment of emotion on that stage.
The second amazing element to behold was the quintessential role of the dancers. Time and time again, I found my attention drawn away from the main characters – captivated by the cleanness of moves and execution. (It didn’t help that I developed a lady crush on Samantha Pollino.) The beauty of their completion of the action on stage is something you cannot get from the soundtrack. The joy, energy and perfection of the dancers brought the musical yet another step above its counterparts.
Then there is the humor. You can hear the word play and tone through the recording, but to witness the joy that performing this musical brings to the cast kept me in constant euphoria. Alexander Gemignani made King George completely his own and played with the orchestra and audience. Chris De’Sean Lee was brilliant as Lafayette and Jefferson – and Wallace Smith as Madison was more than I could handle!
It is hard to call out just few of the cast members with a good conscious, because each member has put their heart and soul into their role, and I can say that confidently because it emanates from the stage and wraps around the audience – inviting us into the family that has been created by them.
And that brings me to the crux of the matter – the larger than life impact of this masterpiece that truly hit me during Yorktown. Beyond the brilliance of the composition and lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creation, this play is brilliant in that it reaches into your very essence and unlocks liberation.
233 Years ago – the men and women portrayed on that stage gave their lives and fought to ultimately create a country for the liberator, and the song struck me – particularly after the play’s most recent press attention… the Revolution never ended. The United States has her independence, but we have not yet stopped fighting for the ideals and freedoms of each other. And now is not the time to.
A subject not mentioned in the musical, but is discussed in Chernow’s book, is the New York Manumission Society that was formed to fight for the freedom of slaves after the war. Hamilton didn’t stop the pursuit of abolition when it was not included in the original negotiations of laws for the establishment of this land. And when the sad irony was brought to the forefront that members of this very organization still owned slaves, Hamilton wrote an immediate and decisive plan to liberate them. As with many bold notions Hamilton wrote, it was rejected, but the point stands. This was not a man simply of ideals but of action – as is perfectly portrayed by the sentiments expressed by Burr in Hamilton as we follow their relationship to Hamilton’s death.
For Lin-Manuel Miranda to resurrect such a man and bring his story to life with this style and casting is no coincidence. It is not merely an act of progressivism. It in itself is an on-mark tribute to who Hamilton was and a beautifully perfect reflection of the aspects of Hamilton’s life for which he would want to be remembered best.
In an era that may seem tumultuous and uncertain, take heart in this story that shows the true American dream and has served first hand in passing it along to others. The voice of the people is loud and waiting in the wing united. We stand united with you. We are Hamiltonians who are not afraid to voice our beliefs with steadfast conviction and unyielding certainty. This is a country for those who believe in the prosperity of all, and we are a nation of fighters.
Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for bringing this story to such life and for giving us a ballad to ignite the fires and remind us that it is never over – NOT YET.