A few years ago, when it felt like every person I knew was posting excited photos of themselves holding a playbill for Hamilton, I googled “how much are Hamilton tickets?” I quickly realized that this musical phenomenon that everyone was checking out cost between a car payment for nosebleed tickets and more than a mortgage payment for decent tickets. Front row tickets rivaled the cost of a Space X trip to the moon. As a father of three working in education, and moonlighting as an author, I remember thinking “Biggie, Tupac, Kurt Cobain, and Elvis could come out of the grave and put on a show, and I still wouldn’t pay that kind of money.”
But I must admit, I was jealous. I do love live theater, particularly when it’s well done. I felt left out as people gushed over the production, so like many people, I was pretty excited when Disney+ released a recording with the original cast.
Now, I know there are going to be a million Hamilton nuts that will probably challenge me to a duel for admitting this, but I watched it over the weekend in three installments. No, I didn’t have time to sit down and watch it all in one take because as mentioned above, I have three kids, and it’s a pandemic. Plus, when I pitched the idea of watching a musical about one of America’s founding fathers, my kids had a small revolt and we all ended up watching The Floor Is Lava, a show that I would not recommend watching with your children if you have nice furniture in your home, or respectable drapes.
30 minutes into Hamilton and I was exhausted for the performers. As a child, I was in a production of The King And I. I had one line: “Why are other countries so big, and ours is so small?” That one line, with all the dancing, and songs, and getting dressed, made me exhausted, so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to more or less be in a musical that falls just shy of a three-hour rap battle.
I must say, the mix of history, hip hop, as well as R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes was this odd soup that really shouldn’t work. But it does. Just reading the above sentence seems like a long shot for a musical, and yet watching it performed, it’s difficult to not describe Hamilton as a work of genius.
But outside of the beautiful collision of genres, the multiracial cast is downright inspiring. Jefferson, Washington, Burr, and even Hamilton were all played by men of color, and it was refreshing. And sure, I’d heard about the multiracial cast, and yes I knew to expect it, but seeing it made me want to pump my fist in the air, because it was just awesome. And Phillipa Soo’s performance of Eliza Hamilton … I mean, wow! When she is burning those letters from Hamilton after she found out about his affair, try and tell me you didn’t get a little misty with rage-sorrow-empowerment tears. Go ahead and try. I’ll wait.
In fact, the only white man of note in the production was Jonathan Groff, who played King George as a controlling creepy and at times toxic ex-boyfriend to America. And for those of you who didn’t make the connection, Jonathan Groff does the voice of Kristoff in Frozen, so that’s just fun.
Altogether, this play not only brings our founding fathers to life, but it also shows the mixed bag that was Alexander Hamilton. Now, I am aware that there’s many an online thread discussing the historical accuracy of this production. And I’m not going to go into all of that here; it’s hard to squeeze every historical fact into two hours and 50 minutes, and it’s a creative interpretation, not a documentary. But what is undeniable is that this musical humanized Hamilton in a unique way, for the good and the bad. And yes, he did some bad. And like so many Americans, before watching Hamilton, I’d heard his name before, but knew little about his contributions outside of his name being mentioned in foundations of US history while in college, and the interesting anecdote that he died in a duel. So yeah, I do feel a little smarter after watching the musical, and well… that’s a nice feeling.
I know. You’re curious if I got all boogery at the end, when Hamilton dies and all the characters are talking about how awesome he was. No, I didn’t. But I thought about it, and that is about as close as I’ve gotten to getting boogery at the end of any movie in a long time.
However, the real question is: Now that I have seen the Disney+ production of Hamilton, do I wish I could go back in time and pay all that cash to see it performed live, with the original cast? That’s a tough one, and I’m going to give it the same answer I often give my children, a solid “probably.” Even if it would be in the nosebleed section. And that, my friends, says a lot.