That would be enough?

More swirling thoughts on Hamilton from the recesses of my brain, this time coming to you from my dad’s hospital room, where we are waiting out serious lung complications after what should have been a pretty routine surgery. Typing with latex gloves on, so forgive the blunders and thanks for the distraction!

Much has been made of the character of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, portrayed on stage by the almost ridiculously lovely Phillipa Soo. Some even suggest that–especially given that she closes out the whole damn show with a list that’s three miles long (no doubt) of all the crap she did after everyone else died–that the arguably ambiguous title Hamilton is supposed to signal she is the hero of the story as much as Alexander is. For reasons rambled on upon at great length elsewhere, I think it’s clear almost by definition that Alexander is our hero. But regardless of how, precisely, you categorize her role, there’s no denying that Eliza’s an incredibly important character, and the one whose development is, perhaps, more quietly interesting than anyone else’s.

I hadn’t thought much about this on my first 10,000 listens to the album–I took her for granted as the virtuous foil to A. Ham as well as Angelica (if Angelica is dazzling the room, Eliza must, by contrast, be full of boring if lovely domestic virtue/nagging, yes?)–until I listened to the excellent Theater People podcast interview with Soo. When asked about the song “Burn,” which seriously still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, Soo talks about the trajectory of Eliza as a character, saying that she’d had a “slow burn” going over the course of the whole show.

I mean, of course I’d noticed Eliza’s increasing frustration with Alexander (that desperate bum, bum, bum…Alexander… Bum, bum, bum…Alexander! In Non-Stop), which peaks with “Burn,” apparently simmers down into forgiveness in “Quiet Uptown” (though in fact she doesn’t speak in that song at all), and ultimately glows into romanticized adoration in the finale.

But what I had not noticed until I started listening just for her was the subtle tension between how we assume she is, how the people surrounding her tell us she is, maybe even how she thinks she is…and what her words tell us about her. Continue reading

“Yay Hamlet!”: Hamilton as Shakespearean Tragedy

Hamilton! Awesome! Wow!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, five months later (“…I’m writing a letter nightly”) and my love for Hamilton has not abated. Rather, like a happy marriage or a fine wine, it has matured into something even richer and more complex.

And so it took a new arrival to the private Hamilton chat group I’m in (you guys should see the Hamilton stream-of-consciousness-commentary I don’t post to Facebook) who said today, with all the wonder of Eternal September:

I can’t wrap my mind around the genius of this album. It’s perfection. Every single song. How did he do it? I don’t remember the last time something knocked me over like this.

to get me really thinking again. And? She’s right. Genius is an easy word to throw around. And certainly the breathlessness and hype over this show is enough to make any thinking person sit back and say, enough already! But there is something real here. Like this: I don’t know a single person who has seriously spent time with the show who can choose a favorite song.  And more telling, I think, is not that they have “more than one favorite” or that they “like the whole thing,” but that in fact on repeated listening, and depending on what’s happening in the world and in the listener’s own life, different songs resonate from week to week. It seems like there is always something new to hear, a quotable quote for the week. The play is not just the thing, but a living thing.

And–I swear to God this isn’t just me–once you really know the show, you can’t help but hear and speak in shades of Hamilton at all times. Everyday phrases–wait for it, sometimes that’s how it goes, you are the worst–speak volumes. Following the cadence of someone’s conversation–about anything at all–will suddenly lead you stumbling dactyl over tetrameter into I’M in the CABinet I am comPLICit in WATCHing him TAKing that POWer and KISSin’ it. You find yourself waking up with lines repeating in your mind–and the thing is that you don’t mind.

In just over a year, Hamilton has both captured the imagination and infected the minds and language of its fans (admittedly a small group, with respect to the whole world, but a large one I would argue, compared to the usual audience of a one-year-old musical). It’s changed the way we think and speak. This is beyond catchy, beyond trendy (“our odds are beyond scary”)–there is something monumental here. But what?

Hm, let’s see: Hamilton is an old story, lifted from the chronicles of our nation, re-packaged and re-told in a contemporary voice for a contemporary audience. It’s almost entirely in verse and loaded with every shade of allusion. It is the tale of a promising and successful man raised high and laid low by his ambition. Or his fate. Or both.

In other words: Hamilton evokes a Shakespearean tragedy and that, I think, is why it feels both familiar and fresh, why it resonates in such a significant way.

Oddly enough, though, amid 8 million gushing think pieces,I haven’t seen much about Hamilton and Shakespeare at all–except of course the infamous Lin-Manuel Miranda tweet that spawned the hashtag #yayhamlet.

So, why not? Is it because it’s too obvious? Like, Hamilton tells us this himself in Act II when he refers to “another Scottish tragedy”? Or because drawing such a comparison sounds so over-the-top–Lin-Manuel is Shakespeare now, heavens preserve us, no, that’s not what I said–that no internet critic wants to imagine the backlash? Or because we’re distracted by the fact that Hamilton is a musical, which tend to play by different rules?

I dunno. But in any case, it was a new idea to me, on my evening commute home tonight. So, just for fun, let’s see how Hamilton (and by Hamilton I mean the cast recording, of course, since that’s what I have access to, though I know there are a few important moments missing from it) maps onto Freytag’s five-act structure of a Shakspearean tragedy. Of course, one could break the acts anywhere one wanted, and one could probably tell any number of compelling narratives about why one did so. (Do it! In the comments!) This is just one way of doing it. Here goes: Continue reading

Perfect Pairing: “He will never be satisfied!”

If you’ve spent more then 12 seconds of real or virtual time with me in the last two weeks, you will know that I have gone off the deep end re: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the hip-hop / R&B infused musical interpretation of Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. (got that?)

You can hear the whole thing on Spotify, here:

Go listen to it 10 times. I’ll wait.

This show is awesome in all kinds of ways, and gets better and better the more you listen to it. It has pervaded my mind to the extent that I’ve been forced to reference it in meetings at least three times this week.

I’m kind of sort of for real plotting a trip to New York in the spring to see this business on the stage

(How could I not? OMG.)

So if you want to come, “Riiiiise Up!”.

Wolf_Hall_coverBut meanwhile, from home, if you’re looking for a even more to think about while you’re rapping “Bonjour, mon ami, je m’appelle Lafayette…” I recommend pairing Hamilton with Hilary Mantel’s fictional interpretation of Tudor right-hand-man Thomas Cromwell, in the massive novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (BOTH books won the Man Booker Prize, by the way, which I believe is unprecedented).

I know these books have now also been miniserialized…I’ve not seen that yet.

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Cromwell have remarkably similar stories: both came from undistinguished roots, grew up in unfortunate circumstances, and were on their own by their mid-teens.

Both were self-educated, incredibly clever with language and money, driven by unbelievable energy, bound by their own (and only their own) definition of ethics and honor, and above all deadly ambitious.

Both rose through the ranks of government, so effective at getting shit done that they proved themselves indispensable to the man in charge….but made plenty of enemies along the way.

Hamilton captures how precarious was the fledging democratic government. It’s terrifying how close the whole thing came to falling apart. Mantel’s series captures how precarious were the tempers of Henry VIII. It’s terrifying to see a whole government trying to adjust to the whiplash of the king’s whim–or lose their heads in the trying.

Hamilton and Cromwell, while similar in their talents and ambitions, have to operate in somewhat different ways in order to survive their respective settings. (“How lucky we are to be aliiive right now!”)

Ugggggh….baby’s crying–talk about a tyrant–so I can’t get into Anne Boleyn and Angelica Schuyler. So let me sum up: Listen! Read! “Write like you’re running out of time!” And I hope I’ll see you in NYC (“The greatest city in the woooorld!”)