Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put down your pitchforks. I know Hamilton isn’t technically a TV review, it’s a musical theater review. Unlike a lot of people, I never had the chance to see it in a real theater. Watching it on Disney plus is the next best thing I could get my hands on. Did I miss out on the full experience, yes. Absolutely. Watching a recording of a stage production means that you miss the energy and vibrancy of a live performance. That, and it’s all too easy to watch the three plus hours in small chunks over the course of a week. Some of the experience is lost there as well.
But, now I can join the ranks of those who have seen the show. For that alone, it’s worth it.
For those of you who have lived under a rock for the majority of the 2010s, Hamilton is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a impressive figure when it comes to the founding of the United States of America. Because it is history, I’m not going to worry about giving away spoilers at this point. I figured you had over 200 years, it’s fair.
We start the story with a young Hamilton trying his hardest to be the best he can be with his limited means. He’s ambitious and willing to do the work it takes to make a difference as the United States is taking shape and shaking off its ties to Britain. He meets Eliza, the woman who becomes his wife, and we see the conflict that causes in her older sister who is attracted to his drive and intelligence, not to mention his passion for the causes he chooses to support. We also see the beginning friction of his relationship with Aaron Burr as Hamilton is a man of action, and Burr prefers to wait.
The Revolutionary War is in full swing and America is doing poorly. They don’t have the supplies they need and enlist the help of France through the help of Lafayette. This leads directly to the victory at Georgetown and the end of the war.
King George isn’t amused.
The end of the war means nothing but work for Hamilton who puts his every waking hour into writing up documents and creating systems to enable the United States to finance her government and govern her people. Eliza goes upstate to be with family leaving Hamilton the time and space he needs. This leads him down the path into temptation and he finds himself in the arms of another woman who ends up blackmailing him to keep his infidelity secret.
Meanwhile, Burr is causing more friction by switching parties to defeat Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler. France is experiencing its own revolution, and Jefferson champions the cause of America going to its aid. Hamilton advises neutrality and his argument wins which puts him under intense scrutiny. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr want to discredit him before Washington.
All of this leads to the publication of the Reynold’s document, written by Hamilton himself and detailing his affair and subsequent blackmail. He chose to come clean publicly to prove he didn’t misuse government money. This destroys him, his family, and leads to the death of his son in a duel gone wrong defending his father’s honor.
The last straw between Hamilton and Burr occurs after the election of 1800 when Hamilton endorses Jefferson over Burr. Burr demands a duel and the rest, well, is history.
I went into Hamilton not knowing what to expect. It is a musical that defies all expectations in so many aspects. When it comes to an American historical my first reaction is that it’s going to be just as exciting at the Hall of the Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, meaning not exciting at all. To counteract this, Hamilton was written for today’s young people. The music is fast and clever, lots of rap and hip hop music, lots of very contemporary humor.
That said, after watching the first 45 minutes I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Sure it was interesting, but at that point it wasn’t that interesting. Most of the music up to that point wasn’t memorable with perhaps the exception of Hamilton’s own iconic song that defines his character, “I’m not giving away my shot.”
What caught my attention was the use of choreography and dancers. In many musicals the dancers feel like a nice layer of frosting, coming in and out only when a point needs to be made. However, in Hamilton, they are actively used to not only add interest and dimension to what’s happening in the spotlight, but to also illustrate concepts that are hard to catch on stage, such as the path of a single bullet.
In contrast to the first 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes nearly ripped my heart out. We are confronted with tragedy after tragedy. Hamilton admits to is indiscretions and nearly loses the love of his life as a consequence as we watch her take all of his letters and burns them. His son dies after being shot in a duel to defend his honor. And the culminating blow, Hamilton himself knowing he is going to die and confronting each of his decisions and wonders if he made any difference.
It’s at times like these that I’m glad I watched this in the dark comfort of my own home. Lots of tears shed.
Considering everything, Hamilton is every bit of the success it has gained. There is a huge emotional payout, a mother load of talent, and in the end several catchy songs that stick in your head.
While this is intended for today’s audience and has plenty of pop culture influences to make it fun to watch, it does have a few mature elements that I’d blush to share with my kids. They don’t shy back from relating the tale of Hamilton’s infidelity, in song no less. That, and the subject matter itself is complicated enough that even I struggled to keep track of who was doing what and why.
However, I think that all high school students should watch it so they have a better understanding of what the Revolutionary war and our cry for independence meant for the people who lived it.
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