I mean, wow.
I can’t think of many musicals that when I finished watching, I was simply awestruck. Oh, sure, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin both always make me cry (the animated film versions, natch) and I’ve enjoyed some others, but as a general rule I kind of missed out on the gay musical gene. My general lack of interest in musicals, particularly stage ones, generally catches people off-guard; the stereotype, indeed, runs that deep. Some of my friends were stunned that I wasn’t an enormous Sondheim fan, for example. (They did turn me on to Company and Sunday in the Park with George, but while I recognize the ability and talent involved…I haven’t sought out others.) In some queer genetic DNA mix-up, I got the football gene instead of the musical theater one.
Hamilton, though. I mean.
Alexander Hamilton was always one of my favorite founding fathers. He literally came from nothing and nowhere to become one of the most important US historical figures of the Revolution and the creation of the country–the American monetary and financial system was his work. (It is definitely flawed, and has become much more so with the passage of time; unchecked corruption inevitably seeped in and exploited, and continues to exploit, those flaws, but it was still an enormous achievement.) He was killed in a duel, was the first Secretary of the Treasury, aide-de-camp to Washington during the war…truly remarkable. He was flawed, of course, as all the Fathers were. The development of the need for a mythology in which our founding fathers’ flaws were erased and they were raised to God-like stature over the centuries to come has inevitably clouded the necessary truths of history and papered those cracks over with lies and myth. The history I was taught, and read, as a child, was fictional.
I remember being excited when the Chernow biography was published to great fanfare and acclaim; I had a copy, but I don’t recall if I read it or not. That was during the cloudy times, and I am not sure where my copy of it is today else I was have spent most of the rest of yesterday rereading it. When the stage show debuted, to great acclaim and quickly became a national sensation, I was again happy, but couldn’t believe all the buzz and rapture I was hearing. I listened to the cast show recording and, while some of the songs were definitely catchy and memorable, it’s really an opera–and out of the context of the show itself…you literally have to listen to the entire thing to get it and appreciate it.
But watching the film yesterday was a revelatory. In context, with the visuals and seeing it all together–the lighting, the staging, the choreography, the performance, the costumes–it is truly a rousing masterpiece. I was moved to tears several times…and at the very end the number “Who Will Tell Your Story” reveals that the true hero of the show (and his life) was Eliza Hamilton, his wife. And what an extraordinary woman she was! She outlived her husband by fifty years, preserved his legacy, founded the first orphanage in New York City, and launched the drive to raise money for the Washington Memorial (with Dolley Madison and Louisa Adams), not to mention losing her oldest son as well in a duel–and the humiliation of the public exposure of her husband’s affair. The performance by Philippa Soo was exceptional (as was the young woman playing her sister, Angelica–and that number, “Satisfied,” with the rewind? Amazing).
My friend Pat Brady, a historian who wrote a biography of Martha Washington, always says that “women were the secret weapon of the American Revolution,” and she was right. Those American women of that time were just as exceptional as their men.
Was it historically accurate? Not completely, but not as inaccurate as offerings such as The Tudors, Reign, and The White Queen.
Now, I get the mania and the fandom. From the opening notes, I knew I was watching something different than anything I’d ever seen before. An excellent, highly talented cast; terrific staging and choreography…and an appealing story. There is nothing quite as American as the rags-to-riches story; because in our heart of hearts, we always think of ourselves being that underdog who is somehow going to take the world by storm and not miss our shot.
I’ll probably watch again at some point, but I am going to bask for now in the pleasant afterglow of seeing it for the first time.
Now I regret not seeing the original cast performing it live on stage. It must have been amazing to witness.