As I sat there, mouth agape, and absorbed what I was seeing, and after frantically googling American history facts (like, they were in NYC? I thought it all happened in Boston…), this what my impressions are. Take it all with a grain of salt. EXCEPT: the sixth point. I am dead serious about the sixth point. Lin-Manuel. I am looking at you, and so are all the girls of America.
Race is a construct
The cast is extremely diverse and multi-racial, and it absolutely does not matter of what race the person playing which character is. I loved that. And it’s more than just, oh, this is our super-original take on an old classic, like the black Polyanna or the black Cinderella, or the black Wizard of Oz (which half the time, I feel like is the old classic in blackface, and I don’t see the point. Of course, I’m not black, so I probably don’t understand, so please forgive me. Just feels like a whole race of people needs their own stories out there as opposed to forcing old white stories on it…). Hamilton, though, I can’t even put it into words, why it’s so different. It’s organic; it’s not just a gratuitous skin color change. It’s the whole story turned on its head. As it says on the show’s website: “It’s the story of America then, told by America now…” and I would add FOR America now.
Except King George. He’s white, and British, gay, apparently, and hilarious. So “other” from us Americans, old worldly sitting back and watching the show to see what the hell the uppity colonies will do now with their “freedom.” “Washington stepped down. I didn’t know a person could… DO that. So, what are they now, just gonna keep replacing each other? (SCOFFFF)” Great Comic relief.
Everyone can relate to this
My husband, who has never seen a musical in his life, despite having lived in America for almost 20 years (my fault, probably, because I decided I don’t like them, and I’m the social chair in our relationship), loved the show. There were people there of all ages, races, and backgrounds. And it looked to me like the unconventional format made an impact on everyone. When stuff is good, it’s good.
It’s basically a classic sad Mozart and Salieri story
You know Mozart and Salieri? Mozart was a musical genius who effortlessly created innovative and beautiful works, while Salieri was a hard working drone of a musician, who was educated and had technique, but lacked spirit and was just… Not Mozart. So, eventually, he poisons the genius. It seems that Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had a similar dynamic, at least in this version of the story. Here comes Hamilton, some immigrant orphan, and suddenly he’s George Washington’s right hand man, while Burr, who’s been “Lying in wait,” according to one of the songs, is perpetually excluded from “the room where it happens.” Hamilton is daring if impulsive, opinionated, and aggressive. On the other hand, Burr is diplomatic to the point of being accused of having no opinions, and while he can play the game, “talk less, and smile more,” the law of diminishing returns dictates that he will never be… well… like Hamilton. And sadly, when the two sing their duet, when they become fathers, we realize that they’re really not that different. It’s a freaking tragedy, is what it is. That’s the point of Burr’s character. He was not a villain, but history has made him one as he disappeared into oblivion, and all because he lay in wait too long, and the one impulsive decision he made was the wrong one. And while looking back at history and saying, “the villain wasn’t really a villain, let’s see his side of the story” is fairly common, I really liked the theme of “you have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story…”
It’s also an Icarus and Daedalus story
Hamilton was absolutely unique and incredible, there is no doubt. Single handedly wrote 51 Federalist papers? He might have been a genius with ADHD or manic or something, at least in the show, as Eliza, his wife, says more than once that “he’s always writing like he’s running out of time…” we’ll never know. But all of it kept building itself up and up until he basically majorly shot himself in the foot as a result of what made him him: his opinionatedness, his aggressiveness, and yes, arrogance and hubris. I’m referring to the Reynolds pamphlet, and whatever it was he wrote about John Adams, essentially, decimating his own party. Washington warned him, and even Burr warned him, but while Burr was the other extreme, it seems like Hamilton could have used a bit of Burr’s reserve: “talk less, smile more.”
“It’s the story of America than, told by America now…” and FOR America now
Take history and put it in modern terms. And in today’s language. There is so much of this genius in the show, as well as so many private jokes and tongue in cheek references to today’s politics, I was elbowing my husband–get it? get it?–constantly. How about when Burr is running for office, and the public says, “I feel like could have a beer with him!” Or how about when Lafayette and Hamilton give each other five and say, “Immigrants! We get the job DONE!” Clearly, parallels are being drawn.
The multi-racial cast, and the constant reminder that we all, including the Founding Fathers, are immigrants brings today’s politics front and center.
And who can forget the pimp-ass Thomas Jefferson “doing whatever it is you do at Monticello,” (sung while doing obscene pelvic thrusts in the Chicago production).
And for some reason, I loved when Hamilton says, “We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket. Would you like to take it out and ask it? ‘Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?’ ‘Uh…. do whatever you want, I’m super dead!” I don’t know why, but this is pure pure genius.
Overall, I was amazed at how “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The dawn of the Nation, and what do we see happening, 250 years ago? Same shit, different pile: bitter partisan politics, mud slinging, sex scandals, prejudice, political flip-flopping. Freaking GENIUS!
AND MY MOST IMPORTANT POINT
The women. We need more about the women
That’s the thing I was a little disappointed about, though, of course, I realize that the play is about Hamilton, and there were only so many stories that could be included. But the female characters have so much backstory! And for once, it seems it was fairly well documented by correspondence etc. Can we please get the women on the stage?? Literally and figuratively?! If the playwright has done this much for multi-culturality, why can’t he extend the same courtesy and dedicate his talent to the women in this story?
Eliza is portrayed as this simple, “helpless,” loyal, understanding, doting wife, raising the children, playing the piano, waiting up nights. Angelica, her sister, on the other hand, is this worldly, witty, intelligent woman who is made out to be Alexander’s intellectual equal and support, as though the two sisters are two sides of the same woman. But when I actually went to read about the two women, it turns out that Eliza was incredibly intelligent, and very tenacious. She sat up with Hamilton when he was writing the Federalist papers, helping him, and some of his work is known to be written in HER handwriting. Clearly, she was more than just a standby witness when he was alive.
And IF Angelica is supposed to be his intellectual support, I feel like there needed to be more about THAT, and less about the apparent romantic or sexual longing he was feeling for her, and her unrequited love for him, which, I felt, muddied the picture a bit. Angelica could stand to be portrayed as more of a thinker and influencer, loyal to her sister till the end. Either that, or make the romantic part of it more of a story. Was there a love triangle? Feels like a story line worth exploring. In real life, it was never clear whether there was impropriety there or not, but this is art!
When Eliza, heretofore in the background, comes out with the number “Burn” after the sex scandal comes out, she makes herself known as extraordinary, as she declares she wants no redeeming words for her husband, and that the world does t get to know her pain. In light of recent scandals, which have been very public and somehow, always resulted in judgement of the WIFE, this was especially poignant.
And then, there is the heart wrenching scene where Alexander is shot, and it’s very sad. Very effective. But it’s followed by a number where Eliza basically sums up the next FIFTY years of her amazing life into a quick song, and then is redeemed when (presumably) Alexander’s light shines down on her from the heavens in the last moment of the play. FIFTY years. The woman lived to be 97! She did SO much. She re-organized ALL of his correspondence and writings, talked to everyone who knew him, and compiled a comprehensive biography, and had it published – as a woman!! She founded and ran the very first orphanage in New York, which, by the way, is still active as a children’s advocacy agency. She raised her remaining 7 children. She outlived all of her siblings. I mean, she was by all counts, and absolutely unique woman. Why isn’t there more about her?
I even want to know more about Maria Reynolds, the woman involved in the Nation’s first ever sex scandal, extortionist and essentially prostitute, whose doing, along with her pimp husband, eventually leads to Alexander’s downfall, tarnishes his reputation and kills any chances he had of becoming president – and, therefore, de facto destroying the Federalist party once and for good! And if you extrapolate, quite possibly led to his death in the end. All because of this Jezebel character whom we see for about 5 minutes on the stage. We need more.
The show starts with the Schuyler sisters saying “I’ma compell him to include women in the sequel.” I hope that is a hint!! Because if the stories of these women could not be included in Hamilton, there needs to be a sequel about the women. He could call it “The Schuyler Sisters,” or “Hamilton’s Women,” or even “Women’s Hamilton.” It NEEDS to happen. I have already tweeted him. Get on it, tweet him too.
**all gifs via GIPHY