'Hamilton', basically

So here we are in 2017, and I have come to think about the 'annual' blog posts I do (aka pretty much the only posts I ever do): The 'Books I Read in...' and 'Top 20 songs of...' the previous year. The problem is that before I can do either of those posts, I feel like there is another one I need to write to make the 2016 ones make any sense. And the problem with that is that there is just far too much to say. There are too many words to dedicate to the subject I need to address, and yet there are far too many words dedicated to this subject on the Internet already. But here I am, so I'll give it a go.

The subject I need to address is 'Hamilton: An American Musical'. Without being too dramatic, this musical has completely changed my life in very real and wonderful ways - and I haven't even seen it.

This is not the place for another think piece on the show and why it is good, or important, or revolutionary, or anything else that it clearly is. Open any newspaper or magazine or website, listen to any pop culture-related podcast and you'll get enough of that already. Plus, I am not nearly qualified to talk about anything too deep, on quite a lot of levels. I can only talk about my personal experiences with this show.

Firstly, a small(-ish!) primer. In short, it is a new sung-through musical with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, about the life of one of the USA's previously slightly lesser-known Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. He was the first Treasury Secretary, he's on the $10 bill, he was George Washington's right hand man, and he was involved in what is regarded as the first sex scandal in American politics. The story is told through a wide variety of musical genres, but primarily through hip hop and rap, and the main cast is made up of people of colour for the most part. It won the Tony Award for pretty much all the categories it was possible to (but not quite!); it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Michelle Obama called it "simply ... the best piece of art in any form the I have ever seen in my life."

But why does this matter to me?

My very first interaction with 'Hamilton' came on a Monday in August of 2015 when I was reading the Evening Standard over someone's shoulder on the tube home from work, and this article caught my eye. I think I was drawn in by the fun picture, and the mention of Broadway and history. I picked up my own copy, read the article, thought it sounded cool, and that was that.

Months later, I was reminded of this musical somehow online - and I don't remember how! It's funny how the origins of something that had such a massive impact can fade away so easily into the mists of time. My best guess would be that it was the Twitter feed of Retta (possibly this tweet, based on the dates), who I followed at the time, and who is a vocal advocate of the show. I know that I had a initial listen to most of the soundtrack in early November. The Original Broadway Cast Album had been released in late September that year. I listened to it at work, and really liked it, and then sort of left it at that, intending to listen again at some point when I could focus properly. I was then definitely reminded later that month by this Retta tweet on a Friday evening (specifically because of the hashtags - I remember thinking, "I do not remember this part?!"), and that evening and entire weekend I fell down the 'Hamilton' black hole, holed up in my bedroom listening to every single song with a growing sense of astonishment at how truly, unprecedentedly incredible it was. Even thinking about that weekend is making me feed giddy; it was such a wonderful experience. There is something very, very special about discovering something new to fall in love with for the first time. The first time you hear a song that instantly connects, or when you see a new film at the cinema that moves you in amazing ways, or that first episode of a television show that you just know you are going to love. The entire weekend was a delirium of "I can't believe every new song keeps being this good," mixed with "I am so lucky to have found this," mixed with "how am I only just finding this," mixed with "everybody in the world needs to hear this immediately."

That Sunday evening I downloaded some of my initial favourite tracks ('Alexander Hamilton', 'Aaron Burr, Sir', 'Satisfied' and 'It's Quiet Uptown') onto my phone, and went for a long, long Christmassy walk by the River Thames with them on repeat. It was the perfect end to the weekend, and cemented my... excitement? Anticipation? What is the exact opposite of 'dread'? I was so looking forward to getting to know the album better.

I think I lasted about two days before just I deleted all other music off my phone to make space and downloaded the entire thing. Oh, and I didn't mention - this is an album with 46 songs on it, which takes nearly two and a half hours to get through its 20,520 words. There's a lot to get into.

14 months later, and here I am, still learning the words, still being surprised by quirks in the lyrics and musicality. But there is so much more to 'Hamilton' than just the cast album - and of course the stage show. It is sometimes described as the first blockbuster Broadway show in the age of social media, and while I can't claim to have any idea what it was like around the time of 2007's cult hit 'Spring Awakening' or 2011's 'The Book Of Mormon', it is certainly true that the Internet has a lot to offer the curious 'Hamilton' fan. The cast album is available on Spotify, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the show, is a very prolific and hugely entertaining tweeter (when the show opened in August 2015 he had around 70,000 followers, by December of that year he had over 160,000, and towards the end of last year he hit over one million), and then there's the phenomenon that was #Ham4Ham.

#Ham4Ham grew out of the lottery that was run each day at the theatre from when the show was still in previews back in the summer to give people the chance to get great seats for $10 each - i.e. the dollar bill with Hamilton on, hence the name. There were such big crowds that Lin-Manuel decided to put on small, impromptu performances (of all sorts of things, a vast range, from cast members - both of 'Hamilton' and of their various Broadway neighbours - singing songs, to him answering questions from the crowd in only 'Les Miserables' quotes) to give something back to the gathered crowd, most of whom wouldn't be winning a ticket. These performances were generally recorded and uploaded to YouTube, either officially, or by fans. This meant that by the time I jumped on the Hamiltrain in November there was already a wealth of these videos to catch up on, In the new year the lottery moved online as the crowds were unmanageable in downtown Manhattan, and the #Ham4Ham moved online as well, in the form of regular scheduled YouTube videos each Saturday evening. This was my favourite era of #Ham4Ham because the performances and guests they got were so good, and it meant that each weekend I received a fresh dose of Ham. This one is my personal favourite: a mash up of my all-time favourite with my new love. Leslie Odom Jr's voice is out of this world.

#Ham4Ham still continues very sporadically - it was really Lin's baby and after he left the show it wound down as a regular feature. Plus, it was presumably a lot of extra work for very busy people, and it was totally unnecessary in terms of drumming up interest or popularity - just something to do for the fans (and themselves too - everyone involves always looks like they're having an amazing time).

When I came back to London this time last year after a Christmas spent at home building jigsaw puzzles and evangelising 'Hamilton' to my (at that point) indifferent family, I decided that the best way to honour this newly-reignited passion I felt for musicals (which, by the way, has an origin story blog post in the works, you'll be no doubt thrilled to hear...) would be to take advantage of my current situation and location as much as possible. Sure, I don't live in New York City, and certainly don't have the means to propel myself there any time soon, but I do live in the world's best city for theatre, and a 20 minute tube journey from the West End. Lin-Manuel Miranda is very vocal about how his lifelong love for musical theatre, as well as hip hop, inspired him in his work, and I felt that the most 'Hamiltonian' way to spend my time and money while awaiting the London production would be to see as much theatre as financially possible and responsible.

Incidentally, from the very first time I heard of 'Hamilton' it was in the context of it transferring to London at some point in the next couple of years, so it was never a question of 'will it?' but rather 'when?'.

I went to see eleven musicals and three plays last year, which sounds sort of ludicrous, especially when I tell you that four of them were the same musical, which I saw for the first time in December 2015, and the last time in January 2017 (aka six times in total), on its closing night. I really liked that one... There will be more on that one and how it brought me into the same actual room as Lin-Manuel Miranda one fateful Sunday evening.

The experience of being a Hamilton fan truly defined my 2016. As soon as I heard it, I started trying to encourage everyone I knew to listen to it too, and it was one of the great joys of the experience every time I got a message from someone saying that they finally understood what I'd been going on about - or better, quoting it at me! There are several relationships which were particularly affected by a mutual appreciation for this show, especially one of my newest closest friends/former colleagues. I moved jobs in January, and a love of this show kept us inextricably linked through our endless WhatsApp messages sharing the hundreds of articles and silly pictures and lovely Lin-Manuel tweets. I met up with a friend from choir just to talk about our shared love of 'Hamilton' and we transitioned from people who caught up once a week at choir to people who met up for coffee, and went to a show together, and she invited me to her hen party, and wedding (livestreamed from Australia to my bed!). My oldest closest friend finally got on board after being ground down by both me and also what sounds like everyoneeeee she knows, because it's so obviously her thing. My lovely university friend got on board after I gave her the soundtrack for her birthday, and my big brother finally got on board, and even professed to becoming a fan of musicals in general, which is quite the turn-up.

I feel like I've expressed myself enough on this introductory chapter of my endless writing about 'Hamilton' and its ripple effect through my life. There is so much more to say.

Final thoughts/preview of what else might be to come...

  • Songs/lyrics/quotes
  • Grammy night/morning
  • TONY night
  • The West End announcement
  • The Biography, or, I'm a history buff now
  • The Hamiltome
  • Hamilton's America
  • The Mixtape
  • MBMBaM
  • The White House
  • 21 Chump Street
  • Moana

Comments

  1. Oh hey it me! 😊 That Hamilton brings people together like this is just proof of how special it is. You should totally do another Hamilton post now that you've seen it!

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Popular Posts