Another Writer On “Hamilton”
Oct 2015 22

As many of you know, I have a lot of Thoughts about Music, but I rarely get past the “that would be a good idea for a blog” stage. I’m always pushing my creative energies and time commitments to their absolute limit, especially these days, so sitting down to write something presentable for pleasure rarely gets to the top of the list.

But sometimes something has been on my mind so much that it just sort of bursts out in what should have been a short comment on Facebook, and in the spirit of “the world is wide enough,” here’s a quick overview (hopefully to be followed by some more in-depth analysis) of why this history-nerd theater-geek music snob (like so many others) is over the moon about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway phenomenon Hamilton.

I love musical theater. I even dabble in writing musical theater from time to time. But I don’t always like musicals. There are a lot of them that, even if I can appreciate them from a composition/craft standpoint, I just don’t enjoy listening to. And there are plenty that I straight-up dislike. I closet my theater-geekiness a lot for that reason.

But Mandy and I saw Hamilton in New York and we got the cast album and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it (I forced myself to go to something else so I didn’t burn out, so Miranda’s first Broadway effort, In The Heights, has been looping in my car all week instead). Hamilton is, of course, a groundbreaking work of genius like everyone says it is. More importantly to me, though, is that much like the original concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar (with Ian Gillan from Deep Purple as Jesus and Joe Cocker’s band as the bulk of the orchestra, one of my favorite records of all time), the Hamilton album functions as an actual stand-alone musical listening experience, and not an embarrassingly-produced souvenir from a Broadway show.

I was unsurprised to find out that Superstar had been a huge influence on Miranda while writing Hamilton; the recontextualization of well known historical/mythological figures both musically and in their physical representation as well as the narration of the story by the antagonist pointed to it. I’ve been majorly influenced by Superstar too, but that tends to manifest itself in music and drama that sounds and feels like Superstar. Hamilton is something else.

It’s a reminder of what great musical storytelling can be both onstage and off, and why I like taking part in it, and why I don’t like what I don’t like when theater writers try to be “hip” and “edgy” and wind up coming off as pompous and cringe-inducing. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work is self-aware without being self-important, and winds up being straight-up important to culture and art and I couldn’t be happier that we have a writer and a creative team that not only can but is willing to do this kind of work, and that we have a culture that is receptive to it.

I’m hoping this show will be a signpost for the future of the form, rather than a one-in-a-million shot. Even though the show, as a piece, feels like a one-in-a-million shot. Time will tell.

Immigrants. They get the job done.

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