Friday, April 1, 2016

Fangirl Friday: Hamilton

​I've mentioned this before in various other posts, but I am a theatre nerd. I've been involved in theatre since junior high and I actually have a Bachelor's degree in theatre. Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not an actor. I'm trained as a stage manager, which is basically the theatrical term director of operations for a production. I made the decision to move to Box Office work after college and I greatly miss being more intimately involved in productions. But, my love of theatre continues to this day. So, I always try to keep up with any news in the theatre community. I have recently become acquainted with a little musical you may have heard of called, Hamilton. It is INCREDIBLE. I am completely obsessed and am dying to see it. When I realized my turn at Fangirl Friday was coming up, I knew exactly what to write about. Keep reading after the break to hear me continue to gush about Hamilton!




First, let me give you a brief summary of the show, from Broadway.com:


Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the stage as the unlikely founding father determined to make his mark on the new nation as hungry and ambitious as he is. From bastard orphan to Washington's right hand man, rebel to war hero, a loving husband caught in the country's first sex scandal, to the Treasury head who made an untrusting world believe in the American economy. George Washington, Eliza Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton's lifelong friend/foil Aaron Burr all make their mark in this astonishing new musical exploration of a political mastermind.


One of the things I love most about this show is the story. In addition to loving theatre, I also love history. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote Hamilton, came up with the idea for the show, and used a lot of the information from Ron Chernow's biography on Alexander Hamilton. I would love to read this book now. My knowledge of Alexander Hamilton, before listening to this show, was that he was the first Secretary of the Treasury and he died in a duel with Aaron Burr, though I didn't know what it was about. Anything else I learned in school has been lost to time, but I am fairly certain that we didn't learn much more than that. I loved learning about Alexander, Aaron Burr, and all of the others. Now, I want to learn more about some of the other supporting characters that were clearly important to the Revolution and the other goings on of the time. Angelica Schuyler, for instance, is basically never mentioned in history books, but she was, it seems, fairly influential to not only Hamilton, but Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. The Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan were also important participants in the Revolution, according to Hamilton. They are also not touched on very greatly, from what I remember in school. Hopefully, I'm just remembering this inaccurately, but either way, I would love to learn more about these people. They led fascinating lives. One interesting thing I've learned in my little bit of research is that John Laurens was most likely gay and he and Alexander Hamilton had, at the least, crushes on each other, but were more likely lovers. This was left out of the show, as far as I can tell from the soundtrack, except for one line about Hamilton liking Laurens a lot. There maybe more reference to it in the script or in the performances, but alas, I haven't seen the show myself. So, I can not tell you. But, if you enjoy history, you will enjoy this show.


The Schuyler Georges
I was also surprised to learn that I really love the music in Hamilton. I'm not a huge fan of rap or hip hop, which most of the music in the show is, though, there are some more traditional musical-like numbers as well. But, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the music, makes it very accessible and wide reaching, even my parents, who are in their mid-60s, admitted to enjoying what they've heard. My two year old son LOVES it. He asks to hear it every day in the car and can sing along to parts of it as well. Lin-Manuel mixes rap, hip hop, pop, and that unique musical theatre style music perfectly. The lyrics are astounding also. The show spans many years of Hamilton's life and his "voice" in the lyrics changes from an intelligent, but immature 19 year old, to the man that he becomes. It is astounding to listen to. There is also a distinct difference in the language used by the highly educated Hamilton and Burr and Laurens, Layfayette, and Mulligan. And, even though the same actors play two different roles, each has a distinct sound to them. A testament to, not only Lin-Manuel's genius, but the performances of the actors involved. Which leads me to my next round of gushing.....


That's me, in the middle there.
Obviously, I haven't actually seen the show myself, but I've listened to it countless times, I've watched their Grammy's performance a ton of times because my son loves it. And, I've watched a bunch of other news/documentary clips, YouTube clips, anything and everything I can get my hands on. Based on the soundtrack alone, these are incredible performances. Everyone from the stars to the ensemble members gives 110% of themselves into this show. You can hear it in their singing/rapping. Like I said above, the ages of the characters span a great amount of time, and most of the cast plays at least two different roles. Yet, each one sounds unique and different. You have no trouble distinguishing Thomas Jefferson from the Marquis de Lafayette, even though they are portrayed by the same man. Speaking of Lafayette, Daveed Diggs, who plays that role, raps at 6.3 words per second in one song. 6.3 WORDS PER SECOND! That is incredible. What's even more incredible is that you can understand him at that speed and through his French accent. Jonathan Groff, you might know him as Jesse St. James from Glee, plays King George III and he is hilarious. His song, You'll Be Back, is one of my favorites of the show. Leslie Odom, Jr, who plays Aaron Burr, also gives a great performance. He is a show stealer for sure. Oh, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote the script, lyrics, and music for the show) also stars in it! The man is seriously a genius and he is outstanding as Hamilton. At the beginning of the show, Alexander is 19 years old. Even though, in my head, I know that Lin-Manuel is 36, I completely believe in those moments that he is actually a 19 year old kid. He's amazing and, literally, a genius. He was awarded the MacArthur genius grant last year. The rest of the cast is just as incredible as he is. I so dearly wish that I could see these actors rather than waiting for the Chicago production this fall. I'm sure that will be just as great, but to see the original cast would be a once in a lifetime experience.


Same, Jon, Same. These people are just too much.
Not only are the Hamilton cast great performers, they are also great people. Most Broadway shows (and a lot of non-Broadway shows) have what you call rush tickets. They are a block of tickets that are held back for sale on the day of the show, usually for a cheaper price. They are sometimes called student rush tickets, because some shows limit them to students. Hamilton has such a demand for their rush tickets that they hold a lottery drawing for them. When Lin-Manuel found out how many people were waiting for the lottery drawing, he started to come out and do little skits and songs for them while they waited. Soon, other cast members joined them and now, they are joined by celebrities, casts of other shows, President Obama, and others! Every Wednesday and Saturday, you can expect some kind of little live performance or, occasionally, a digital one. They named it the Ham4Ham show. It's named after the lottery, which is called Ham4Ham because you get to see HAMilton for (4) a HAMilton, since Alexander Hamilton is the face on the $10 bill. Check out some of the videos through that link. Personally, I recommend the Schuyler Georges. The producers and cast, along with the Rockefeller Foundation, are also working with the New York City schools to bring high school students from low-income schools to see the show. They are also creating supplemental educational materials so the show can be talked about and put into context in classes. Lin-Manuel Miranda said he was making it a priority to find a way to get poor and immigrant kids, like Hamilton himself, in to see the performance. Plus, it's a hip hop musical, the only one of it's kind that high schoolers might actually pay attention to. The cabinet meetings are held as rap battles. Can you think of a better way to get students to actually care about that kind of material? I can't. The cast also recently made a trip to the White House, so a group of  Washington DC students could see some of the show. Phillipa Soo, who plays Alexander's wife Eliza, has started something she calls The Eliza Project. It is based on the orphanage that the real Eliza Hamilton started in 1806. It is still in operation today under the name Graham Windham. It is a foster care, therapeutic school, and counseling service that serves over 4000 children. Phillipa is recruiting fellow actors, singers, and dancers to give lessons to the children served by Graham Windham. The Hamilton cast not only gives back to their community, they give to each other as well. Javier Munoz, who plays Alexander on Sundays, was diagnosed with cancer in October. He missed two months of Sundays to undergo surgery and treatment. Not only did the show not replace him, which most shows would have done, occasionally, Lin-Manuel himself would go on in his stead, giving up his day off to help out his friend and fellow castmate. In addition to this, Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, organized a food drive of sorts for Javier, so he would always have ready made food at home and didn't have to worry about cooking for himself. The cast and crew took turns cooking for him. This cast and crew are just all around good people. Every show should strive to be like them.


Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton
The last thing I'm going to talk about, before I leave you with some YouTube clips, is the shows casting. As I mentioned before, the show's creator is Lin-Manuel Miranda. What you may not know is that Lin-Manuel is Latino, specifically Puerto Rican. His other musical, In the Heights, features a mostly Latino cast. One would think that Hamilton, being about dead white guys, would be a mostly white cast. You would be incorrect, in two ways. One, Alexander Hamilton was born to a woman of mixed race, and he grew up in the West Indies, what we now call the Caribbean. So, it was highly likely that Alexander Hamilton wasn't as white as you might think. The other way you would be incorrect is that the cast of Hamilton has exactly three white members. Everyone else is of a different race. I said above that Lin-Manuel plays Hamilton. The other main characters are all played by people of color, with the exception of Jonathan Groff as King George III. Lin-Manuel is passionate about having a racially diverse cast for Hamilton. I read a great article about his show In The Heights, while researching this and Mr. Miranda's feelings on casting people of color when possible. You can read it here. I also read about a Hamilton production that is looking to cast a female as both George Washington and Aaron Burr. As it turns out, this casting call was a fake. But, Miranda is all for this and encourages all-female high schools to stage their own all women Hamilton productions when the rights are release. If anyone from my alma mater, Mother McAuley High School is reading this, keep an eye out for those rights. I want to come back and see an all female production of Hamilton at my school some day. But, minority casting is extremely important, in my opinion and I am elated that Hamilton is committed to keeping their casts diverse. I can't wait to see who will be in the Chicago production this fall.

So, now that I've bored you to death gushing about Hamilton, here are some videos to entertain you and, hopefully, fully convince you how great Hamilton is. I highly suggest you watch the Grammy's performance linked above as well. It's awesome.


This is the Hamilton cast performing their opening number at the White House.


My two year old's favorite, My Shot, also from the White House trip


My personal favorite Ham4Ham, The Schuyler Georges


Finally, an a capella group sings the score in seven minutes


I hope I have convinced you to give Hamilton a chance, even if hip hop isn't your thing. This is a once in a generation show that should be experienced by everyone! Have I convinced you? Or, are you already as obsessed as I am? Let me know below!


**All gifs from Tumblr, all videos from YouTube.

No comments:

Post a Comment