Due to being sick, by the time I even heard of Hamilton, the Broadway hiphop musical about Alexander Hamilton, it was the hottest thing ever and its fans were pushing it with so much zeal that I was actually put off. I figured it could not possibly live up to the hype.

Also, except for Sondheim, I'm not a huge musical theatre fan, and though I am a history nerd, I'm not much into American history in general, except for the Vietnam war and to a lesser extent the 1930s and 1940s. I find Hamilton's period particularly uninteresting. Hamilton would have to be a staggering work of heartbreaking genius to get me to like it at all. Previously, Gore Vidal's novel Burr, which is indeed pretty great, was the only work set in that period which I liked or even did not find excruciatingly boring.

So I am a little hesitant to put up a post which is inevitably going to make non-converts feel the exact same way I did, and make them even more reluctant to try it. However…

I consider Sondheim to be the genius of American musical theatre. In my opinion, no one has ever even come close to matching him, so far as my personal taste is concerned. Sweeney Todd is my favorite of his plays, and I also think it's objectively his best, insofar as that can be objective. I say this not to say that Hamilton is like Sondheim (though it does have noticeable Sondheim influences) but to explain my own personal standards when I say that Hamilton is the only musical I have ever heard that I think is as good as, and I already love as much as, Sweeney Todd.

I now see why Hamilton is so popular in fandom circles, and why its fans are so enthusiastic. For one thing, no one is going to listen to the whole thing if they don't like it early on, and it seems to be something that either people love or are totally indifferent to. So you only hear from the fanatical fans - everyone else didn't even finish it.

That aside, Lin-Manuel Miranda pretty clearly identifies with his own character of Alexander Hamilton. (When I mention Hamilton, I mean LMM's character, not the actual historical guy.) He wrote him as an immigrant and a writer, a man who came from nothing and fought his way up, a man who ran off at the mouth and was told off for thinking he was the smartest in the room (because he often was). He wrote Hamilton as writer, and as a misfit whose intelligence annoyed others even as it made him notable. No wonder so many fans identify!

I have never identified with a fictional character as much as I identified with Hamilton in certain songs and lines. One song in particular is not only a beautiful song, but is about the defining act of my life - the one moment, if I had to pick just one, that sums up the core of my self. It's a song about what makes me who I am.

I've written about that too, but Miranda wrote it in music, which I could never do. He wrote lines that I could never write, not because he's a better artist than me (though he probably is, and I say probably because, like his Hamilton, I do generally think I'm the smartest in the room so I'm not sure) but because only he could write them, just as only I could write what I write. Lin-Manuel Miranda's surely never even heard of me, but he wrote my soul into a song and put it on Broadway.

I assume that's because it's his soul too. I think it's the soul of a lot of writers and artists. Though the particulars are directly applicable to me in a way that's really unusual, and I would not be surprised if some of you have been biting your tongues not to say, "Rachel, you HAVE TO listen to Hamilon because you will identify SO MUCH, let me link you to this one song that is SO YOU."

I heard that song and I was glad that I lived long enough to hear it. I felt as if, had I died the day before, what I would regret most was that I never got to hear that song. I felt that way when I saw Sondheim's Assassins and Sweeney Todd, when I saw The Kentucky Cycle on Broadway, when I saw the first X-Men and Lord of the Rings movies, when I went to Japan for the first time and saw monks practicing kyudo in Kita-Kamakura and autumn leaves falling at Eikan-do temple.

Again, this isn't about my taste and whether it matches yours - it's about that shock of joy at something you experience for the first time, and fall in love with at first sight. It's as if you exist solely so you could experience that moment.

I'm not going to name the song because I managed to be unspoiled for the show, and so it came as the most amazing, poignant surprise. Maybe it will be for you, too.

(I'll talk about it later, in a spoilery post, along with other spoilery things. Obviously the historical events are known; I'm talking about artistic moments, and there are many delicious surprises there which I don't want to ruin.)

If you are unfamiliar with Hamilton, I think watching these two videos will tell you if you'll like it or not. I think if you don't like these, you probably won't like the rest either. I suggest that you watch the videos in this order. They both should actually be watched, as one is a performance and one includes lyrics.

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs an early version of the opening number at the White House

My Shot

The entire thing is streaming for free at Spotify.
umbo: B-24 bomber over Pacific (Default)

From: [personal profile] umbo


Yeah, I remember when it hit my twitter feed and I was all, really?

AND THEN I LISTENED TO THE BEGINNING OF THE FIRST SONG AND I HAVE NEVER BEEN THE SAME
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)

From: [personal profile] laurashapiro


IT IS THAT GOOD.

With you on Sondheim and Sweeney, absolutely. When I recommended Hamilton to you, it didn't occur to me that you'd find so much to identify with, and now I'm kinda kicking myself because OF COURSE you would.

Can't wait to see what else you have to say.

From: [personal profile] helen_keeble


I now have a suspicion as to which song it is, and I await with eager anticipation your spoilers post to find out if I'm right...

gehayi: (giving away the plot (ravemasta))

From: [personal profile] gehayi


I think I'm in the minority. It's...okay? Hamilton becomes infinitely more appealing if you think of him as a smartass and ambitious Latino immigrant, I agree, but I can't get very excited about the character from the musical because I had to do a fair number of reports on the historical person and the Central Bank from seventh grade through college. The impression I received from those reports was that Hamilton liked rich people, bankers, money, and society and didn't give a fuck about anyone else. So the character that Lin-Manual plays--who is very interesting!--just doesn't square with what I know of Hamilton the historical person...a Founding Father I have roundly disliked for decades.

Part of the problem, too, is the rap music. I can't listen to any music from any genre with a pounding, rhythmic beat for very long. (Any rhythmic beat causes me pain, unfortunately. Fireworks. Thunderstorms.) Even with the sound turned down, the beat reverberates in my ears and bones, and that HURTS. Because of this, I have yet to get through the entire musical; things seem to get a lot louder and more echoing in the second half.

So between my dislike for Historic!Hamilton and the fact that much of the music literally causes my bones to throb with pain, I don't think that I'm ever going to be a fan of anything but the stills on Tumblr.

I have found one song that I really like, however--"Wait For It." "I am the one thing in life I can control..." That I can identify with.
Edited Date: 2016-02-06 11:21 pm (UTC)
recessional: a small blue-paisley teapot with a blue mug (Default)

From: [personal profile] recessional


I have a similar thing. It's like "this would probably be great if it were . . . about anyone/anything else." I'm a Loyalist descendant with a strong awareness of that family's history, and Aboriginal Peoples' issues are too close to me on another level, so for me it's I . . . cannot have that kind of whoosh of feeling about anything set in and around the American Revolution or its drivers. (Or Canadian settlement and its drivers, or . . . etc). I can't get swept up.

For me, though, it gets into all of it - there really isn't a song I can divorce from those contexts enough not to be "meh" over. I think a lot of the concepts are fascinating and so is much of the style, but the musical itself, I . . . can't.

(And since people are so often crap about this stuff: I do not in any way mean that anyone else should have my issues or that knowing the historical context exists should change anyone's enjoyment, etc; god knows I do get swept up in stuff about eras that have their own problems, and a lot of them. Just, these particular ones stick in ways that ruin my potential enjoyment, is all that I mean.)

and will admit that the constant hype/etc makes it hard not to slide over into hate. >.>
Edited Date: 2016-02-07 12:04 am (UTC)
gehayi: (good God (mscongeniality))

From: [personal profile] gehayi


I'm a Loyalist descendant with a strong awareness of that family's history, and Aboriginal Peoples' issues are too close to me on another level, so for me it's I . . . cannot have that kind of whoosh of feeling about anything set in and around the American Revolution or its drivers.

My family hasn't been in the U.S. that long--both my grandfathers were immigrants, one in 1920, one in the late 1930s--so I have no idea what it's like to be aware of such a long line of ancestors. But I can imagine how tired you would get of the idolatry toward the Founding Fathers, especially since the rebels were dicks to Loyalists, beating them and often burning down their homes. As for the Native/First Nations issues...yeah, America has fucked those up royally right from the beginning.

For me, though, it gets into all of it - there really isn't a song I can divorce from those contexts enough not to be "meh" over. I think a lot of the concepts are fascinating and so is much of the style, but the musical itself, I . . . can't.

I can't really forget that Burr wanted to found another country in the center of North America (and/or the Southwest and a bit of present-day Mexico) and, hopefully, build an empire. Or that he wanted to capture Washington, D.C. and turn it over to Spain. So I have to ignore the character singing "Wait For It," or at least shove the context off to one side for the moment. (When I was growing up during the Cold War, I had to do the same thing when I heard songs by Paul Robeson, who was a fantastic singer and a Communist. People being Communists was a much bigger issue in the 1970s and 1980s than it is now.)

I can do that with one song, though. (It helps that Burr didn't pull that shit until after the duel.) But, like you, I can't do it with the whole musical.

and will admit that the constant hype/etc makes it hard not to slide over into hate. >.>

Oh, man, do I understand that. Hype does have a souring effect after a while, and I'm not sure why.

Edited Date: 2016-02-07 12:18 am (UTC)
coffeeandink: (Default)

From: [personal profile] coffeeandink


Have you tried "Burn"? It's the most traditional musical theater song in the play (even more than "Wait for It") and the topics are a personal relationship and the erasure of women from history, so it doesn't hit the same "seriously, dude is the patron saint of US capitalism" qualms.
loligo: Scully with blue glasses (Default)

From: [personal profile] loligo


I actually love the White House performance more than the clips I've seen of the show itself -- it's so intimate and personal.

I may be the rare person in the middle on this show. I can easily see its brilliance and I would go see it in person in a heartbeat if I could, but I don't feel like it was made for me. (If there's anyone in the show I identify with, it's Burr, which is not a great feeling. But at least he gets one totally awesome song!)
nestra: (Default)

From: [personal profile] nestra


I don't think it's any worse to identify with Hamilton than with Burr. They both just took things to extremes and learned the worst lessons from each other. The world was wide enough for both of them.
loligo: Scully with blue glasses (Default)

From: [personal profile] loligo


I went and listened to some selections again and realized that (1) my Burr feelings have grown deeper than I thought, (2) I forgot that Burr actually has *two* totally awesome songs, and (3) in my mind I tend to reduce him (and thus myself) to a Salieri figure, but he really is more than that.

But in the end, he's still "the damn fool who shot him," and that still makes me uncomfortable.
loligo: Scully with blue glasses (Default)

From: [personal profile] loligo


Oh, I don't mean uncomfortable in the sense that the play is somehow being unfair to Burr, because it's totally not. I mean in the sense that it paints a really dark picture of the places my flaws could take me.

(Not that I plan on ever challenging anyone to a duel.)
tibicina: Text 'If all the world's a stage', stool, bare stage, purple wash. (stage)

From: [personal profile] tibicina


One of the interesting bits of analysis I've seen is that the musical ends up being a master class in 'how to write a sympathetic antagonist'. Burr as presented isn't evil, he's just a politician who is trying to not get hurt/excluded by being unobjectionable to anyone without realizing that that can cause people to take exception in and of itself because it reads as insincere.

Oddly, the ones I end up identifying with are the Schuyler sisters. (Really, mostly what I've learned is that I should go find more information on them. Everything I've found so far has impressed me.)
nestra: The Wicked Witch from Into the Woods (wicked)

From: [personal profile] nestra


"The Room Where It Happens" is such a standout at first listen, it took me a while to realize how awesome "Wait For It" is.
brigdh: (Default)

From: [personal profile] brigdh


I identify with Burr too! And as much as the show demonstrates the dangers of both Burr and Hamilton's extremes, I think there's a very strong subtext of "if these two had ever teamed up, they would have been an incredibly successful pair". So there's as many strengths to Burr's approach as their weaknesses.

(And I sort of have to agree, since most of my close relationships throughout my life have been with "Hamilton" types. It is a good balance, if you can get along!)
selki: (Default)

From: [personal profile] selki


For intimate and personal, see this performance by LMM and Chris Jackson singing One Last Time at the George Washington Book Prize award ceremony (LMM got the award), along with Sydney Harcourt and Ian Weinberger.
http://www.c-span.org/video/?401579-1/award-ceremony-hamilton
Skip to 1:06:25 for the song (but I found the whole vid interesting).
"Lin-Manuel Miranda was presented with a Special Achievement Award from the board of the George Washington Book Prize. Mr. Miranda is the playwright, lyricist, composer, and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton. The musical uses rap and hip-hop music to tell the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. This was the first time the board presented a prize for a play."
rivkat: Mrs. Lovett: bright ideas just pop into my head (bright ideas)

From: [personal profile] rivkat


You have perfect taste in Sondheim; I have actually said something very much the same about Hamilton, against all my expectations, matching and perhaps besting Sweeney Todd in my favorites.

Now I need a Hamilton icon...
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


I heard that song and I was glad that I lived long enough to hear it.

Given everything else happening in your life, I am so so glad that you experienced that, and that there are things that can bring you that shock of joy despite everything.
taelle: (Default)

From: [personal profile] taelle


it seems to be something that either people love or are totally indifferent to.
Well, I rather like it, but hip-hop/rap/whatever is so hard to listen to that I am going through it at a rate of a couple of songs in one sitting.
Then again, compared to everyone else maybe I count as indifferent.
dafna: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dafna


Hi, I've just read all your Hamilton posts after I saw a link to them on Twitter. As a massive Sondheim fan, I am endlessly interested in comparisons with Miranda (eg is "In the Heights" more like "Company" or more like "Saturday Night" in terms of its structural place in their careers?) but the musical I found myself thinking about the most was "Sunday in the Park with George."

I mean, I'd probably agree with you that "Sweeney Todd" is a better show, but "Sunday," perhaps because it's also about an artist, has that same sense of being both tragic and inspiring, and specifically makes *you* the listener want to go out and stop wasting time and do great things, make great art, etc.

The other thing they have in common is the dramatic shift in tone between the two acts, whereas Sweeney Todd is more of a piece all the way through. I noticed this more when I saw the show then when I listened to it, as nothing breaks the spell like waiting on line for the restroom in a Broadway theatre, but it's clearly conscious. We haven't gone very far ahead in time, not like "Sunday", but from the moment Jefferson comes prancing in, it's clear that whereas the last act was the story of a struggling writer/artist, this act is about the challenges of success. I mean, I'm oversimplifying obviously, and of course "Hamilton" is much more tragic.

From: [identity profile] lorata.livejournal.com


It's so funny because I'm on both sides. I'd sort of half-listened to the first couple, skipping around a bit and not finishing sogns to get a feel for the musicality (note: don't do that), then decided while it sounded neat from a technical perspective, I probably wasn't going to lose my mind over it. But then I was stuck on a bus for 3.5 hours and figured this was my chance to listen to it all the way through, and it was all downhill from there.

(It's especially great because I made a friend listen to it, and she was skeptical at first and now can't stop. Hee hee.)

I'm still not looking for fanfic -- though I love all the art! -- and think I probably won't change in that regard, but man I've listened to Act 1 so many times I've entirely lost count. (Assuming I don't listen to 'Wait For It' 5 times in a row, Act 1 through to the Cabinet Battle in 2 is about the length of my morning & evening walks to campus, heh.)

I have an interesting relationship with Hamilton & Burr, as both are equal parts "wow that is really me" and "WELL NOT THAT PART, TF IS WRONG WITH YOU". ^_^;

From: [identity profile] jorrie-spencer.livejournal.com


Thanks for those links. I've heard bits and pieces, and have thought I'd really, really, really like to see the musical. (Not sure there's actually going to be a production here in Canada though!)

However, maybe I need to listen to the music without waiting for this less-than-likely event of a show within driving distance.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I would just start listening. Miranda mentioned becoming a fan of musicals by listening to the cast albums rather than seeing them (same as me and I'm sure many others) so he designed the album to be its own experience. You don't need to wait to see the show. Virtually the entire thing is sung (as is Sweeney Todd, which also makes that a very satisfying listening-only experience.)
gwynnega: (Default)

From: [personal profile] gwynnega


I'm not a fan of many musicals, but I think Hamilton is a masterpiece.

From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com


Does it make sense if you have no idea who this Hamilton person is?

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


You should probably know that he existed at the time that America was fighting England for its independence, was involved in that, and then held high political office in the early days of American government, when the country's politics were basically being invented by scratch. He was shot and killed in a duel with another politician, Aaron Burr. He's on the ten-dollar bill.

If you asked the average American what they know about Alexander Hamilton, that's probably what you'd get. Part of what's charmingly hilarious about the entire existence of this musical is that in America now, people do still know his name but he's not remotely one of our iconic political figures, like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Nor is he obscure enough to be cool. He's in the exact "Oh, one of those dead white guys" zones where nobody but a few history nerds cares.

From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com


Okay, thanks.

Huh, the first song is pretty good (and made sense to me).

From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com


I hadn't realized it was hip-hop until this post; I guess I had assumed it was light opera? I think I am one of the ppl who doesn't relate to it at all (it's all over tumblr) but I am glad you do!

From: [identity profile] tibicina.livejournal.com


It's mostly hip-hop with a large smattering of Musical Theater thrown in. and references throughout to a variety of musicals and hip-hop albums. (I largely notice the musicals and have to have the hip-hop pointed out, but I also grew up listening to musicals rather than hip-hop.)

From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com


I'm so glad you're enjoying this show as much as I do!

I finally got tickets to see it, and I'm so excited! Not until June, and I could only get a Sunday matinee, which means it will be the understudy playing Hamilton instead of LMM himself, but I can't wait!

From: [identity profile] neery.livejournal.com


I haven't been commenting much lately, but I just wanted to go back and tell you that this was the post that finally got me into Hamilton, which I'd been avoiding for much the same reasons you had (I figured it probably wouldn't live up to the hype, I don't care about the historical time period, and in addition I'm not a big fan of hip-hop.) And since then, it's brought me so much joy and so many good moments, so, THANK YOU.

Unfortunately, I also now have all these intense Hamilton feelings that I don't know what to do with! Usually I either read fic, which in this fandom is kind of a problem because there's just not enough and almost all the really good stuff is WIPs, or I write stuff. But I can't write Hamilton for much the same reasons I can't write Tony Stark. Dude is so much wittier than me. I can't write the kind of snappy, clever dialogue that fic would need. So mostly I just listen to the soundtrack a lot and have feelings. And refresh LMM's twitter.

(Part of why Hamilton has been so good for me is also that it's caused me to watch LMM's interviews, and it is such a comfort to me to know that an artist I admire that much is just as much of a self-admitted procrastinator as I am. I tend to get into a vicious cycle pf procrastinating, and then hating myself so much for procrastinating that I can do the thing even less. It's been hugely helpful to be able to tell myself "Miranda would have procrastinated on that JUST AS MUCH. You're okay! And then he would've got it done anyway, so GET IT DONE.)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Oh, that's great! That really makes me happy. (Fic: I really like scioscribe.)

I adore LMM. I am a terrible procrastinator myself, and yet I manage to get stuff done anyway.

From: [identity profile] neery.livejournal.com


Scioscribe is KILLING me with "fools who run their mouths off".

I think a lot of artists are Procrastinators Who Get Stuff Done (right before the deadline). That's why I try to have deadlines for everything I do.
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