Happy Musical Monday! I had the pleasure of seeing Hamilton a few weeks ago, and I’m still, as the kids say, shook. So this week’s gonna be a little different…
I’ve been a semi-fan for a few years now, ever since the soundtrack started making waves across the internet. For the uninitiated, Hamilton: an American Musical is what sounds like a ridiculous premise: a rap opera about the life of the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America, the titular Alexander Hamilton. If that doesn’t sound like a failed 90s-era attempt to relate to the happenin’ youth of today, I don’t know what does, but the reality is so much better than you can even imagine.
Hamilton is especially accessible because, like operas of yore, pretty much the entire story is relayed through the musical numbers, so the soundtrack is the story. It’s practically an audio book, but with much less verbal stage direction, so the listener has to fill in some of the gaps themselves. But by listening a few times, you can pretty much follow the entirety of the plot. (side-note: I actually did basically this with my parents recently, where we each had the lyrics open while we listened to the soundtrack, and it required very minimal explanation….and you can listen to the full soundtrack on YouTube)
I was worried my near-memorization of the soundtrack would take something away from my actual experience seeing Hamilton on stage. But if anything, it enhanced it. Since I already knew the story, already had the dialogue in my head, I was left to focus on the differences of inflection or mood between the recording and the live performance I saw; and focus on the visuals.
And man, the visuals.
Having fallen in love with this musical entirely through the soundtrack (I actually avoided most images, aside from looking up the basic look of the characters), I didn’t expect it to be such a visual treat. But the stage was stunning, the choreography blew me away, and the subtle depth of the acting—from emotional moments between major characters to the small peppering of extras in the background—had me crying from the first song through to the last. I’ve seen a number of Broadway shows as they come through Portland, and this one blew them all away.
“Alexander Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s very hard to find actual footage of Hamilton performances, but I really wanted a visual for this. This is a version done at an awards ceremony, so it lacks the normal set, but it gets pretty close. Of course, it’s impossible to convey the grandeur of a stage performance in a recording, but you can use your imagination.
Although above is the opening number, my favorite song is actually “My Shot.” It’s the third song on the soundtrack, and the first time I heard it, I knew I was hooked. It’s so fast and so damn witty, with a great mix of longing and determination.
“My Shot” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
I have always been pretty abysmal at history. In fact, I generally suck at anything that involves memorization. I can follow logic, and I can understand a narrative, but I can’t memorize names and dates to save my life. The few times history really resonated in school was when the books we were reading in English happened to align with what we were learning about in History. If I’d had Hamilton as a teenager, I think my relationship with history would have been very different.
“I am not throwing away my shot
I am not throwing away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot…”