Why Hamilton Is Not Just a Fad

I first heard of Hamilton three years ago, from the teenagers at my son’s drama classes. They were all excited about this new show that none of them had seen, but for which they knew the songs and lyrics. Endorsement by famous people, including the Obamas, added to the spice. Then, after the election of Donald Trump, it became a form of political activism to support this show.

The steep prices and instant sellout when the tickets were put on sale for the London show almost put me off the whole enterprise. But my teenage son looked at me pleadingly and I found some restricted-view sets that only involved selling off one arm and leg instead of my kidneys too… So I gave in to the buzz.

Then we had to wait for more than a year.

I bought the CD with the original Broadway cast. My older son and I became obsessed with it, much to the dismay of the younger son, who is not a fan of musicals. We started reading up about American history, the founding fathers, Lin-Manuel Miranda, bought the book. It became an all-consuming passion and we marvelled at the research, hard work, cleverness, passion and teamwork that went into creating the show. We worried that we were so impregnated with the recording that we would be disappointed with the new voices in the London version.

We needn’t have been.

Seeing the show onstage is an electrifying experience. Not so much because of the audience reaction – although it was wonderful to see that, alongside the elderly white people who could afford the seats there were also young people and people of all colours. It is simply even more dramatic and poignant getting caught up in the whirl of things live. I didn’t think I would cry more than once perhaps (at the death of Philip) after knowing the whole musical by heart, but seeing it performed had me in floods of tears a mere 4-5 songs in. So yes, I did embarrass my son (although I had tissues on hand).

The voices were indeed different and it took me a couple of songs to get used to it, but it then allowed me to appreciate all the nuances and differences in interpretation. For all of his Olivier award, Giles Terera was good but not as suave and extraordinary as Leslie Odom Jr. in the role of Aaron Burr. Jamael Westman is charismatic, unflappable and perhaps almost too heroic for the role of Hamilton – he certainly demonstrates why people fell in love with him, but is perhaps not as impish and nasty as I can imagine Miranda might play him. King George and Lafayette/Jefferson made the roles their own and milked them for all they were worth, providing excellent comic relief, while Laurens/Philip was very close to the Broadway original and utterly charming. My favourite was Eliza (understudy Marsha Songcombe) – who started off relatively quietly and hesitant, but just grew and grew in voice, drama and stature. She brings all that is good and loyal, beautiful and sad to the play. Her final gesture of reaching her arms out for her husband still brings tears to my eyes.

It’s not just the cleverness of the lyrics, the staging, the singalong music, the charismatic performers that makes this a night to remember. It’s not even the almost impossible blend of high drama, excitement, farce, lyrical moments and profound sadness. It is absolutely true that this breaks the mould and shows us what is possible with musicals and cast if you are audacious enough and inventive enough. But above all, like all good plays and musicals, it takes something that is particular (about a person and a time) and makes it universal. We all know that feeling of ‘running out of time’, the need to leave a legacy behind. We’ve all wondered ‘when my time is up, have I done enough?’. And Hamilton forces us to acknowledge as well that ‘you have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story’.

Hamilton London cast on opening night.

The problem now is living with having seen it. It feels like there is nothing more to look forward to. Ever.

And if you too want to see it, there are £10 tickets available for lottery.

23 thoughts on “Why Hamilton Is Not Just a Fad”

  1. tu connais ?

    Le 14/04/2018 à 11:21, findingtimetowrite a écrit : > WordPress.com > MarinaSofia posted: “I first heard of Hamilton three years ago, from > the teenagers at my son’s drama classes. They were all excited about > this new show that none of them had seen, but for which they knew the > songs and lyrics. Endorsement by famous people, including the Obamas” >

  2. Lovely post, Marina. I’ve heard so much about Hamilton and was stunned when a friend told me he’d paid the $ equivalent of £300 for tickets in the States. We’re meeting in a few weeks by which time he will have seen it. I hope he feels the same way about it as you do!

    1. I paid significantly less (still way above my usual limit) because of the so-called restricted view – which turned out not to be restricted at all. OS and I were very chuffed!

  3. So glad you enjoyed it when you finally got to see it. My sister woukd love to go but ticket prices are just so high. I’m not a massive mysicals fan, but I think I’ll give it a listen.

    1. Even if you’re not a musical fan, it’s a great lesson in how to convey a lot of information in a condensed style, marry music with content, heighten things for dramatic effect. I could go on and on…

  4. I’m very glad you got the chance to see this, Maria Sofia. And I’m even more pleased that you enjoyed as well as you did. It’s a fantastic show, isn’t it? It’s good to hear fresh voices and different kinds of music in theatre, and I thought Miranda did an outstanding job with that and with the acting.

    1. Have you seen it, Margot, and where? it’s interesting that he created the show around some of the original cast members, playing to their strengths, and so of course in subsequent casts, they need to either look for those same strengths or allow them some leeway for their own interpretations.

      1. I admit I haven’t seen the entire show ‘officially’ live, Marina Sofia. But I have seen several parts of it recorded. I know, not the same at all, but still…. And it is interesting how different productions of it change a bit depending on the cast.

  5. I don’t know much about Hamilton; it is the type of thing I wouldn’t be able to afford so never paid much attention to the buzz. So this was interesting. Based on your description, I am sure I would love it given a chance. I am a fan of musicals, but mostly old movie musicals.

    And while looking into it more I learned that a favorite TV actor (Christopher Jackson in Bull) originated the role of George Washington on Broadway. I never knew he started out in Broadway musicals. How cool.

    I am an elderly white person (depending on how you define elderly of course, but I am 69 so I think that counts) who could not afford to go to Hamilton even though I and my husband are still working. But I should definitely listen to the soundtrack. I think it is wonderful that you made the effort to go with your son.

    1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound disparaging when I said elderly white people, but it just struck me that many of those in the audience were of the pearls and twinsets brigade and it made me wonder how much they really appreciated the music or if they just went because of the hype. I also love old school musicals, so was initially afraid this might be too hip-hop for my taste, but it was a great mix of styles, and all done with purpose.

  6. Everybody loves “Hamilton,” the musical. For those of us who can’t afford to see it in person and for whom there are no reduced priced tickets, I bet a movie version will come out after the play finishes. And then we can all see it.
    Lin Manuel Miranda is fantastic at everything he does. A real genius and a nice, genuine person.

    1. What was really apparent in reading the script/show origin book was how much this was the result of collaboration – yes, I agree Miranda is a genius, but he was not an egotistic one, he surrounded himself with smart, creative people and they just brought out the best in each other and created something that is so much more than the work of a single person could have made it.

  7. Oh no! Maybe Lin Manuel Miranda will write another musical someday. You can look forward to that.

    For people who cannot see it – I haven’t – the recording contains the entire show (or almost). The book is outstanding, too. The “libretto” is well worth reading.

    1. I agree – the recording and libretto are well worth perusing. I thought I knew both of them by heart, but certain nuances still only became clear to me once I saw it in performance (and apparently that changes night to night, depending on the audience etc.)- so that’s the magic of live performance! But yes, alas, not for everyone. In the US I know they took the show a lot into schools, but I doubt they do that in the UK.

  8. Am I the only person who had previously not heard of this phenomenon? I’m feeling quite cheated now! And very pleased that you’ve brought it to my attention, Marina. Since it’s most unlikely to be touring in Cornwall any time soon, I shall hope for a film release before too long 🙂 And I’m so glad that it lived up to its promise for you and OS. It certainly sounds special.

  9. You lucky girl! I’m glad that it lived up to your (high) expectations! I listened to the music a lot last year and I wish I could go (I love musicals) but it’s just not realistic. I wonder if they will make a French version as they do for a lot of shows. French people know absolutely nothing about American revolution except the bit where we French people helped (to spite the British, of course), so I’m guessing that would be a hard sell. For my 40th b-day my husband bought me a ticket to a London musical and it was electrifying (it was for Dreamgirls, last year when we saw each other).

      1. Lafayette’s lifestory is so romantic and dashing and sad – he deserves a whole musical to himself. But his rapping in Frenglish is hilarious!

    1. Well, it works both ways – Les Miserables became such a big hit in the English-speaking world. (Mine is an unpopular opinion, but I actually like the French original version more.)

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