I saw Hamilton: An American Musical on Saturday and it was everything I dreamed it would be and more. My family’s obsession with the musical has spanned the entirety of 2016; we’ve listened to little else besides the soundtrack for the last 256 days (exactly as many days as I am deep into my 365-writing project). This grand opus by Lin-Manuel Miranda is a tributary behemoth to American history and musical theater and has served as my inspirational anthem for the year.
Every day, I’m “writing like I’m running out of time.”
My family arrived at the theater earlier than we have to anything in our life (including our wedding) and as we sat in our seats, I turned to my kids and said, “this is what it feels like to see your dreams come true.” My daughter declared it the best day of her life, having chosen tickets to the show over a trip to Disney World.
The chills on my arms erupted from the first beat of the opening line and never left. I was drowning in it all and couldn’t take it all in; the creative intricate set, the period costumes with fabrics which seemed to shimmer as the actresses swayed. Every actor had an intonation and movement connected to every beat. Each word uttered in the song was sung with intention and heart and it pierced through the audience and entered ours. I was at the best concert I have ever been to and my head was rocking to the rhythm.
The choreography. My eyes couldn’t keep up with what their bodies were doing. It was everywhere and it was outstanding. Each physical action had a reason for its movement. The artistry behind the ensemble was like a fluid, yet constantly altering background.
I had memorized the lyrics and the voices so I was worried that the new cast members voices may sound “wrong” rather than different. Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. They sounded amazing. The experience all together wrapped me up and I didn’t think about anything beyond that room, that story.
During intermission, I exhaled and descend from theater la-la land for a minute. The whole family said, “it’s going too fast” at the same time. “Make it slow down,” my kids joked and I pointed out how this is yet another metaphor for life. This musical is chock full of lessons on: life, love, death, forgiveness, legacy, jealousy, passion, and regret.
As soon as we got into the car, we put the soundtrack on again, because now we could attach a visual to every lyric. We could sing loudly imagining Aaron Burr raising his eyebrows during Wait for It or else how he stared directly into my eyes during Dear Theodosia. Now when we listened to The Battle of Yorktown, our eyes darted around our memory trying to recapture what we saw. How did they fill up a stage so elegantly? It was like watching the inner workings of a Swiss clock with the gears all supporting one another.
Since we’ve seen the show, every time we’ve listened to the soundtrack, we break down the scenes and try to remember idiosyncrasies of who did what … but there was too much to take it all in. Still, every listen reveals something new. Either I’ll hear a line I never heard before or else I’ll obsess, yet again about the genius rhyme of a line like “You made the wrong sucker a cuckold, so time to pay the piper for the pants you unbuckled.”
If there could be a cherry on top of the best Broadway experience of my life, it was the following day. I got to spend three hours on a boat ride around Manhattan, chatting with the Tony-award winning choreographer of Hamilton, Andy Blankenbuehler (who will hopefully never read this). It was such an impactful and memorable moment in my life. I felt like a reporter without a notebook or tape recorder interviewing Michaelengo spontaneously asking him the creative process behind the Mona Lisa. What I didn’t expect was his questions back to me.
“You must be so tired of hearing people gush to you,” I said apologetically because I didn’t want to feel like I was verbally suffocating him and he couldn’t get away because we were on a boat.
“Most people are too overwhelmed to remember any scene and just say it was all great; it’s great to hear specifics. That’s why we have so many repeat viewers,” he explains. “Which scene’s choreography surprised you the most?”
I was put on the spot. I couldn’t remember it all – it was too much. It was ALL amazing. My mind rushed through the scenes trying to come up with something original to say. I was a groupie meeting her rock star idol and I was a writer whose vocabulary diminished by half; I was using words from 6th grade. Finally I kind of skirted the question, “The scene I had looked forward to seeing the most was Angelica singing, Satisfied. I had imagined how you could do the choreography to indicate the reversal of time. Also, the bullet scene.”
I could have said it more eloquently.
“The Satisfied scene took me the longest to choreograph,” he said and followed up with, “Which bullet scene?”
I wish I could have given him a better answer, but instead, I said “both,” just like a six-year-old. Lucky for me, my 14-year-old, like a kid in class with his hand high in the air, recounted specifics about the different chairs (which was more props than choreography, but that’s OK).
We disembarked from the boat walking on a cloud, humming “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”
Hamilton is more than a musical version of historical facts, it revolutionizes our perception of history, of musical theater, of life. It is an experience, which like the euphoric high you get from a drug, takes you outside yourself and your reality. My family’s insatiable obsession has evolved into an addiction and I realize the only cure is SEEING IT AGAIN.