When I first heard that there was a musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, my gut reaction was ‘yawn’. I've been a huge fan of musical theatre ever since I can remember. But, for some reason, the thought of a history lesson taught through a musical didn’t jive well with me. However, Lin-Manuel Miranda has proven that a good story, well thought out plot and great music can make for a musical that is capable of changing the way we view musical theatre.
My mother tells the story of when I was around 3 years old, and my Zeida (Jewish grandfather) would take me to the row of benches overlooking the beach on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. He would lift me up, put me on a bench in front of all his friends and would tell me to sing a song from Annie. So, I would. Musicals were always being played in my home growing up. My favorites as a child were Bye Bye Birdie and Grease. I would put on my poodle skirt and act out the different songs. I remember seeing Fiddler on the Roof and Annie with my mother and Bubby (Jewish grandmother) at a young age. In the 5th grade my mother took me to New York City to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. I remember the lecture I received on the two hour bus ride from Philadelphia to New York very well. My mother explained to me that I was to not sing along with the show, for I knew every word, cord, and line by heart.
As I grew up my taste in musical theatre changed. I started listening to musicals like RENT (which I have seen in the theatre 6 times), Cabaret (one day I will write a blog post about my obsession with Sally Bowles), Sweeney Todd, and Hedwig (I was in the LA shadow cast for a year or so) to name a few.
When working in my studio I always have Pandora on. Usually it is on a 40’s station or a musicals station. One day, the song One Last Time came on the station. As I poured resin into molds, my attention was not on the work at hand, but the rhythmic discussion between two gentlemen. One, of which, was obviously George Washington. Washington dictates to (who I later learn is Alexander Hamilton) his farewell speech, and the musical immediately got my attention. I gave the song a thumbs up on Pandora and it wasn’t long until another song from Hamilton came on. This time it was the song The Schuyler Sisters, a peppy, upbeat tune about 3 sisters who disobey their father to mingle with the intellects of New York City. Now I was intrigued. I went inside to my office, opened iTunes and immediately downloaded the album. I listened to it over and over and over. I watched every interview I could on Miranda, every performance of the show I found on YouTube, and learned every word to every song. My poor husband (who dislikes musicals and suffers through them because he loves me) had to listen to the album on repeat on our many road trips. It engulfed my life. The music, the lyrics, the poetry, the story, the love all contributed to my obsession. The colorblind casting of the characters (though it can be argued was racist as when auditioning they put out an ad stating ‘Seeking NON-WHITE men and women and the only Caucasian person in the show is a back up dancer and King George) did not bother me, as there are no skin colors when listening to music.
For my 39th birthday I wanted to see the show on Broadway. I researched tickets, which of course were sold out for months and months. The ones that were available were thousands and thousands of dollars for one ticket. I was crushed, but knew that eventually the show would tour, and thus a few weeks later it was announced that it would be coming to Los Angeles.
Not long afterwords, my friend Amanda made a Facebook post about how her mother gave her two tickets to see the show right after their opening night. My pulse started to jump, my adrenaline pumping. I immediately sent Amanda a text message begging her if I could be her date for the show. I explained to her my obsession and begged her. Of course her husband Ken had first dibs on being her date, but she promised me that if for some reason he didn’t want to go (which she told me was very unlikely) that I could be her date.
The day the tickets went on sale to the public I sat with my computer, ipad, and iphone all on the Ticketmaster website hitting refresh over and over and over and over again. I knew the chances of Ken not wanting to go to see Hamilton was a small percentage. I had to see it. It became a Bucket List item at this point. After hours and hours of trying to get through to the Ticketmaster website on 3 different devices, I finally got through and managed to get 2 tickets in the mezzanine in the very very back. I did it! I scored Hamilton tickets. I did a dance for joy, put on the soundtrack and danced around my house full of excitement.
Then everything changed! Ken saw the Hamilton special which aired on PBS. The same special which made me cry, made him gag. He had no interest in seeing a musical which uses Rap and Hip Hop to convey the story of Alexander Hamilton. Amanda sent me a text message with the news, as Jimmy and I were driving into downtown Burbank to eat the day prior to setting up our booth at Scare LA. After I read the text I started to cry. Happy tears of joy because Amanda and Ken just made it possible for me to witness first hand the magic that is the musical Hamilton, and not from the make out seats.
I bought a plane ticket from Tucson to Burbank.
Dressed in Pin Up Girl dresses, we arrived for our late lunch at Musso and Franks, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. I could barely eat my fettuccine alfredo due to the excitement I was feeling. We walked up Hollywood Blvd, stopped into the Beetle Juice bar and then headed to the Frolic Room, an iconic bar that by walking through the doors, you feel as if you are in a film noir picture.
Then it was time to line up to get into the Pantages. Behind us in line were two girls. Each were eager to show their Hamilton tattoos to us. There was even a girl in a Revolutionary War costume, including her tricorn hat.
I clutched our tickets tightly in my hand, bouncing up and down with excitement as the doorman scanned out tickets and we were allowed into the grand Pantages.
There was already a crowd forming around the souvenir stand, and I needed to grab my merch. I believe that a few indecisive theatre goers might have gotten elbowed out of my way as I walked to the counter. Buying something to etch the memory of this experience into my mind was a must! I don’t know how much I spent because I refused to look at the total.
After my greed spree was over, we made our way through the Art Deco theatre to our seats. I waited as patiently as I could for the lights to dim and those 7 notes indicating the start of the show played from the orchestra pit. When they did the tears started to run down my face.
This was it. Bucket List item checked off my list.
The show was a million times better then I ever imagined it could be. The performers were perfection, the choreography was amazing and like none I had ever seen in a performance before. The costumes and sets were muted as to not distract from the performance. The lighting of the acts, which usually go unnoticed, played a huge part in setting the mood of the scene. Watching Hamilton live was like watching a piece of theatrical art for 3 hours. It made people laugh, cry, think, and forgive.
In the last scene when Hamilton gets shot by Arron Burr (and if this is a spoiler for you, then you need to revisit your American History text books or look up the Got Milk commercial from the 90’s) he states, ‘When Alexander aimed at the sky, he may have been the first one to die, but I’m the one who paid for it. I survived, but I paid for it. Now I’m the villain in your history. I was too young and blind to see. I should’ve known. The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me. The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me”
These lyrics rang so true to me, and hit me in my gut as if someone punched me. As a few days prior to flying out to LA, one of my designs had been copied. It happens more then I would like to admit or give these people thoughts in my head or tears from my eyes. Yet when it happens by someone who use to be someone you considered a ‘friend’ it hurts more then if it was done by a stranger (and I know you are reading this). Arron Burr was Alexander Hamilton's first friend. They had their differences, but was it worth Hamilton losing his life over, and Arron losing his dignity over? In a sense they both lost in that duel. If you copy someone’s designs or concepts do you win the duel? Or do you just lose your pride in exchange for popularity and financial gain?
The world is wide enough for everyone. For everyone’s designs, thoughts, opinions and ideas. The moment you let your ego get in the way is the moment you should aim your gun at the sky, call it a truce, shake hands, and live a life of love and creativity.
That is what I took away seeing Hamilton!
- Renee Harper