Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Everything's Coming Up Hamilton

I finally got to see Hamilton this past Sunday, several months after we purchased our tickets. After obsessively listening to the soundtrack, reading about a third of the biography on which the show is based, participating in a Hamilton-themed trivia night, and blogging about it several times, I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was to finally see the show. And I absolutely loved it. I laughed. I cried.

The whole production was very tight, with excellent blocking, a fantastic orchestra, talented dancers and singers, and creative use of a floor turntable, which added a nice touch to Hamilton's song, "Hurricane," in which he stood in the center, singing about the eye of the hurricane that was both a literal and metaphorical part of his life, as the cast swirled around him. In fact, the turntable frequently demonstrated Hamilton's approach to life - that though things happened around him, he was able to control himself and his response to it, using his words and actions to shape the course of events and maintain his place in the world. Though his mouth may have gotten him trouble a few times, he was able to accomplish a great deal because of his skill with words.

Even more, seeing the production got me thinking about different aspects of the show I've been toying with for a while. The choice to make Aaron Burr the stable narrator (with moments where other characters operate as narrator for a song or two) is an interesting one. Narrators usually fall into one of two categories: narrators who are absent from the action and are simply an onlooker (the narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is one such example), and narrators who are completely involved in the action (to use another ALW show, Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar). Burr is sort of a hybrid of the two - he's an onlooker who wants to be actively involved, and the title character of show inspires him, for better or for worse, to break out of the bystander role and become a key player. In so doing, he found himself on a path where he became "the villain in your history." Really, he has many similarities to Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, in that both shows did something interesting with a character universally recognized as villainous, by making them human and showing their motivations. While you certainly can't excuse either characters' actions, you can at least understand how they got there.

Chicagoans have been excited for the show since the moment they announced a Chicago production. Chicago Tonight spoke with Lin-Manuel Miranda about the production back in September (available here), where he shared the beginnings of his interest in Hamilton:
I wrote a paper in 11th grade, all I knew was that his [Hamilton's] son died in a duel and then he died in a duel three years later, and I remember thinking, “That’s weird” like a cautionary tale right in front of you … and, so that’s sort of all I knew, and it was a thing I did for high school and forgot about it and then when I was going on vacation, my first vacation from "In the Heights," I was in the bookstore with my then-girlfriend, now wife, and we were looking for books to take on our vacation (this was pre-Kindle) so I picked up [Ron] Chernow’s biography and saw the good reviews on the back and I remembered that paper and I thought, "This will have a good ending." And then the book grabbed me and never let go.
I also learned something new from this interview, that Lin-Manuel was the voice of a character from Sesame Street, with the adorable name Lamb Manuel:

It seems fitting that today in history was the victory at the Battle of Yorktown, the day "the world turned upside down." Given the length of this battle, Hamilton, Washington, and their troops would have been actively engaged in it on October 16, the day I saw the show.

Not only that, but the timing of Hamilton is well-placed considering what is happening currently in our nation, as Hedy Weiss from the Chicago Sun Times comments:
With performances of the show beginning on Sept. 27 — about six weeks before what, by any reckoning, is an exceptionally tumultuous presidential election season — a musical about the people who helped shape our system of government might be just what the doctor ordered. As the show’s lyrics also remind us, the Revolutionary War period resulted in a world turned upside down, and while it is one thing to win a war it is quite another to govern a country.

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