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

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!”)

Lullaby Grab Bag

We all think we have our favorite songs, the ones we know by heart.

But at 3:30 a.m., in the dark, when you’re only half-awake and a tiny person is screaming in your face, and some voice deep inside you says, “I should probably sing a soothing song,” and you open your mouth wondering what will come out….this is when the truth is revealed.

Which songs are actually written into the muscle memory of your vocal cords? That you can sing from your brain stem, when higher functions fail? Probably not the ones you anticipated, eh?

Here, I’ve learned, are my top 10:

10. I Just Can’t Wait to be King Not even close to my favorite Disney movie or Disney song, but there it is. Also, the babe really likes the “bada ba dum bum, bada bum bum” intro. You know.

9. Good Morning I mean, who doesn’t fantasize about waking their charming children every morning with this song? Oh, not you? This one ranks down here only because, bummer, I realized I don’t know it as well as I thought and I got stuck on a second verse loop that I couldn’t find my way out of. Songs you have to think about don’t make the cut.

8. Put on Your Sunday Clothes This is another one where I tend to get stuck in the middle. But for bucking up and powering through those Blue Mondays, it can’t be beat.

7. The Tree Song Sang this one in church choir every year for approximately a decade, though we did not have such jazzed up accompaniment, let me tell you! Are you a downtown tree or a riverside tree?

6. In My Life Clearly, the only song to sing in the wake of a major and permanent life change. Reassuring to all parties.

5. Reel around the Sun Not really singable, but apparently her favorite thing in the world.

4. My Love How was this simple, sweet, image-rich song not designed for parents to sing to/with their children? I can’t wait until she is old enough to sing this one with appropriate hand motions, which I will obviously make up! Replace “I want you more” with “I love you more” if that makes you more comfortable.

3. “Hey little squalling girl, why are you a squalling girl” This, in case you couldn’t tell, is a creation of my own. No Puddles the Clown covers have been posted to YouTube yet, but this is more or less how it goes:

Hey little squalling girl, why are you a squalling girl?

Hey, little squalling girl, why are you a squalling girl?

You don’t have to be a squaller, instead you could be a sleeper

You don’t have a be a squaller, instead you could be a sleeper

Hey, little squalling girl, why are you a squaaaaaallliiiiiing giiirrrrrl?

So, you know, it’s pretty profound.

2. Edelweiss I mean, obviously. Bloom and grow forever, little girl! Frankly, I always assumed this would be my number one, but under pressure, it turns out something else has consistently edged it out.

And, drumroll please…..

1. Wouldn’t it be Loverly Cockney accent optional. Never would have guessed it, but I now sing this song about 100 times a day. I think a combination of factors come into play here: I know it forward and backward. Thanks, 6th grade musical + Big Note Broadway piano book + watching the movie 8,000 times when I was little. The range is pretty small. It’s not a stretch for a normal voice, and it’s easy to sing softly. No belting required. And, frankly, it’s a very sweet song about simple pleasures that was perfect for this first long winter. Who among us doesn’t want an enormous chair, lots of chocolate, warm feet, and to never budge till spring? Right? When I remember, I change the words from “someone’s head resting on my knee” to “Daisy’s head resting on my knee.” Better to paint the picture of a faithful canine friend than an unknown male supplicant, amirite? 

So, what songs have been resurrected from the depths of your soul and called into action in times of need?

A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasbord!

As we continue our tour through the Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, I have lots to say about Oklahoma!, which turns into, I’m sorry to say, even more to say about Carousel. But in the meantime, a quick and easy report on State Fair.

This weekend, I watched the 1945 version, which is a musical adaptation of a 1933 film adaptation of a novel. And of course, the 1945 musical was re-made in 1962 with Ann-Margret–that version is in the R&H box set as well, but I haven’t watched it yet. (And we complain that “these days” there are no original stories at the movies!)

This is apparently the only musical that Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote directly for film, which puts it in an odd position: it was written after Oklahoma! and Carousel, but appeared on the big screen a decade before they did.

State Fair is fun. Brother and sister carry on mildly scandalous affairs at the fair, while their cheerfully oblivious parents win all the awards. Blueboy the boar gets a blue ribbon and finds true love.

Jeanne Crain’s sleeves are amazing in basically every single scene.

sleeves

You’ll never dream the things that you could hide within these sleeves!

State Fair is pleasant enough, but I can’t help but feel that Technicolor was wasted on this film. If it weren’t for those R&H tunes that sure do get stuck in your head,

(and let’s not discount those porcine sound effects) I think this would be one of those anonymous things that comes on Turner Classic Movies at 8 a.m. and sucks you in to watching when you should be doing work.

Surely I’m not the only one this happens to.

Anyway, the verdict? State Fair is basically…Charlotte’s Web: the College Years. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’d rather walk alone

For Christmas, my mom gave me The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, a DVD box set containing Carousel, The King and I, Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music (so now I have three copies of that!), South Pacific, and State Fair.

The outliers here are SOM, which I obviously watch in my dreams while I sleep, and State Fair, which I’ve never seen. All of the others I’ve seen, but only once or twice around 6th grade as part of a short-lived personal quest to expand my musical education. The truth is, at the time I didn’t really care for what I found down this road, and in the end fell back on my old (lighthearted) standbys: My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Guys & Dolls, Singin’ in the Rain, Hello Dolly…

Nearly two decades later, I guess it’s time to give R&H another try. Since they, you know, invented the genre as we know it. I decided to start with Carousel, because it was the first one in the box, alphabetically speaking, and because it was the one I dreaded the most: while my grandma and Time magazine agree that it is the best musical of the 20th century, as I recall, I fucking hated fucking Carousel.

This time around, I tried to educate myself and come to the show with an open mind. I learned that Carousel, which debuted on Broadway in 1945, was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second collaboration, after Oklahoma! It’s a musical version of the Hungarian play Lilliom. The 1956 film stars Shirley Jones and Gordon Macrae, who obviously also co-starred in Oklahoma! the year before.

OK, so none of this historical context does anything to help the fact that Carousel is basically Breaking Bad meets It’s a Wonderful Life. With songs. (Or the fact that Gordon MacRae spends most of this movie and Oklahoma! awkwardly copping some sideboob feel by grabbing Shirley Jones right under the armpits instead of around the waist.)

Continue reading