Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Hamilton Review

The next post on this blog was supposed to be an in-depth one on aphantasia, but that is a seriously big project so I'm going to go for something slightly less heavy-duty and review Hamilton!


I've loved Hamilton since my friend Chloe first introduced me to it on the plane back from London in March, so I'm going to attempt to dissect my reasons for that a bit here. I'll go ahead and assume you know what it is already because honestly, you should. If not though, go to Spotify and listen to Hamilton - Original Broadway Cast Recording before reading.

Fun fact: it's so good that I know pretty much the whole thing off by heart.

Author/Composer/Lead: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Rating: 5/5

Overview: Hamilton is an absolute work of genius, and has been deservedly recognised as such by the Tony awards, a MacArthur Genius grant, the Pulitzers and more. In 46 songs over 2 hours and 22 minutes, this revolutionary ;) musical eloquently and passionately tells the life story of Alexander Hamilton, First Treasury Secretary of the United States - in other words, someone I otherwise would never have heard of, even though now I see the name Hamilton everywhere, and not just in relation to the musical. Hamilton is mostly told through rap, with only the occasional song sounding like a conventional musical. It follows Hamilton from his disadvantaged birth (opening lines: "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor, somehow defeat a global superpower?"). 

Reasons I Love It
1. Wit

Hamilton is lyrically inspired. It's difficult to express just how witty it is - really, I hope you've listened to it. It's bursting with inventiveness and style and rhythm, and is extremely fast-paced - the fastest verse, which occurs in Guns and Ships, has 6.3 words per second, with a total around 20,000 words sung over 2 hours 22 minutes. It's incredibly dense; there is just so much packed into its runtime. Nevertheless, I'll list a few lines that I love for their lyricism.

My Shot - "I'm past patiently waitin', I'm passionately smashin' every expectation, every action's an act of creation! I'm laughin' in the face of casualties and sorrow - for the first time I'm thinkin' past tomorrow!"

Wait For It - "I am the one thing in life I can control! I am inimitable I am an original."

The World Was Wide Enough - "What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see."

Hurricane - "I wrote my way out of hell, I wrote my way to revolution I was louder than the crack in the bell. I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell, I wrote about the constitution and defended it well. And in the face of ignorance and resistance, I wrote financial systems into existence. And when my prayers to god were met with indifference, I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance!"

2. Musical Talent

The beautiful lyrics would be pretty amazing on their own, but it's the music that really takes this over the edge. The beat, for example, is absolutely on point at all times - everyone stays in time and so the musical has this incredible sense of furious pace. 

There are also some gorgeous soaring melodies, particularly in Burn, which is sung by Hamilton's wife Eliza. 

3. Identifying with Hamilton

Aside from how obviously talented everyone in this musical is, I adored it because I deeply identify with Hamilton in many ways. I think you can most easily see why in Non-Stop, Alexander Hamilton, Hurricane, My Shot and Satisfied. 

I really identify with Hamilton's ambition, drive, passion and sharp, engaged mind. If anyone reading is, like me, ambitious as hell, listen to Non-Stop and My Shot to get incredibly fired up and ready to work. 

Non-Stop - "Alexander joins forces with James Madison and John J. to write a series of essays defending the new United States constitution titled the Federalist Papers. The plan was to write a total of 25 essays, the work divided evenly among the three men. In the end, they wrote 85 essays in the span of 6 months. John J. got sick after writing five. James Madison wrote 29. Hamilton wrote THE OTHER FIFTY-ONE." 

Non-Stop - "How do you write while you're running out of time? Write day and night like you're running out of time? Every day you fight like you're running out of time like you're running out of time are you running out of time? How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you're alive every second you're alive every second you're alive?" 

My Shot - "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 I am not throwing away my shot! Imma get a scholarship to King's College. I prob'ly shouldn't brag but dag I amaze and astonish. The problem is I got a lot of brains and no polish I gotta holler just to be heard with every word I drop knowledge, I'm a diamond in the rough, a shining piece of coal. Tryna reach my goal, my power of speech unimpeachable. Only nineteen but my mind is older, these New York City streets get colder I shoulder every burden every disadvantage I've learned to manage I don't have a gun to brandish I walk these streets famished. The plan is, to fan this spark into a flame ... "

4. Relationships

There are some really interesting relationships in Hamilton, particularly between Alexander (Hamilton) and Aaron Burr, between Hamilton and the Schuyler Sisters and between the rebels and King George. 

The frenemy relationship between Hamilton and Burr is a huge theme throughout the musical - Burr's songs act as bookends to the whole thing; Burr's life story shares a lot with Hamilton's and yet Hamilton became incredibly successful very fast "even though we started at the very same time, Alexander Hamilton began to climb". So it's this really intense rivalry that's part of the musical's pulse, with this huge contrast between Burr's reticence, charm and hesitation and Hamilton's daring, fiery conviction and certainty, even though they're both highly intelligent and ambitious orphans. Burr ends up killing Hamilton in a duel though he doesn't really want to "this man will NOT make an orphan of my daughter!" and only later realises "the world was wide enough, for both Hamilton and me"

Hamilton also has a really interesting relationship in the musical with Elizabeth and Angelica Schuyler. I think Hamilton and Angelica hit it off immediately, and that ambitious, intelligent Angelica would be the better match for Hamilton, but he ends up marrying Eliza. Throughout his marriage with Eliza, both keep in close contact with Angelica and it's honestly, at least emotionally, more of a triangular relationship. 

The relationship between the American revolutionaries and King George is, of course, fraught. But I just want to draw attention to one of his three songs, in which he sings "I will kill your friends and family ... to remind you of my love". It's such a jovial tune, and I think it's really thought-proving that he says it's his love of which he's reminding them, as if England loves America and that's why they want them part of the Empire. So his "love" is really just ... colonialism. 

5. Repeating Motifs

Hamilton is full of repeated motifs that tie the whole thing together. Counting to ten (in English and French comes up in several songs, whether it's the countdown to a duel or Eliza teaching her son Philip to play piano), and "wait for it" vs "taking my shot" is repeated often to symbolise the Hamilton-Burr conflict. But my favourite motif is --

"Death doesn't discriminate, between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes" which is repeated with slight variations like replacing death with life or love. 

6. Colourful Side Characters

I'm going to count everyone except Burr and Hamilton as side characters just so I can discuss them here. Hamilton has tons of great side characters; my personal favourites are Lafayette, Angelica, Eliza, and Washington. Lafayette aka "America's favourite fighting Frenchman!" is incredibly stylish and raps fast, which I enjoyed. Oh, speaking of style - Jefferson in What'd I Miss just epitomises it. I love Angelica for her brains "I've been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine - so men say that I'm intense or I'm insane - you want a revolution, I want a relevation, so listen to my declaration" and Eliza for her ballad (Burn) and the orphanage she set up and campaigns she ran late into her life e.g. against slavery. 

7. Theme of "Time"

Time is an important theme in Hamilton all the way through. From my favourite song (along with Burn and It's Quiet Uptown), Non-Stop, where Hamilton writes like he's "running out of time" to the very end, where Eliza ruminates that God "gives me what you always wanted, he gives me more time!"  and "I'm still not through, I ask myself what would you do if you had more time".

8. Revitalizing History

You'll all probably know that I detested History in school, but this makes it all about the people and makes them real and fascinating, in a way they just wouldn't be had I been reading about them on paper instead. Cabinet Battle 1 and Cabinet Battle 2 are great examples of this; the Founding Fathers thoroughly(ish) explain the issues they're debating ... through rap battles. This is from their debate on whether to get involved with the French revolution: "You must be outta your goddamn mind if you think, the President is gonna bring the nation to the brink, of meddling in the middle of a military mess a game of chess, where France is Queen and King-less. We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket, would you like to take it out and ask it? "Should we honor our Treaty, King Louis' Head?" "Do whatever you want, I'm super dead""


So there you go: It's a hell of a lot of Hamilfun (blame that one on Chloe) and Lin-Manuel Miranda is a blessing on this earth. 

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