Hamilton on the Grammys

To be a broken record:
I cannot believe that I have lived to see this happen. That I am alive at a time when this is happening. When this game-changing show – about a man I have loved since I was 14, 15 years old – a man I have written more about on my site than another individual, including Cary Grant and Elvis – is becoming THE THING. Teenagers are into it. Teenagers are reading the Chernow biography. And those who may have a tendency to sneer at all of the Founding Fathers (merely because they haven’t been properly educated) are also discovering it, and discovering, too, the nuance in those Origin Stories that have been lost in the self-loathing cynicism of the last 40 years. Not to sound bitter. Or, yeah, I’m bitter. It’s one of the reasons I have written so much about all “those guys” in the way that I do.

I have … envy about the Hamilton thing … or anxiety … not sure the word. It’s like when you’re into something really cool, an early adopter, and nobody understands and maybe even they make fun of you for it. Like me wearing Doc Martens in high school. Or being into Nirvana because of Bleach. And then a couple of years later, everyone is wearing Doc Martens, and everyone figures out what you already knew: Nirvana is awesome. I can’t explain it better than that. But I am HAPPY that this show is what it is. That my dead boyfriend is not only having his moment in the sun (he already had it with the Chernow bio, as well as the celebrations on the bicentennial of his death in 1804) … but with THIS. A show that Eminem went to see, for God’s sake.

I feel so fortunate I got to see it and I am trying to finagle a way to see it again.

The song in the clip, by the way, is the opening number of the show. Ron Chernow, who acted as adviser to Lin Manuel-Miranda, came to see the first run-through. Or, a rehearsal, where they performed this number for him. Chernow said later, “I couldn’t believe it. They actually got the entire first 40 pages of my book into that song.”

Yup.

Listen to the ovation when Lin Manuel Miranda enters. My God. I can’t remember a Broadway show in my lifetime that has gotten that kind of response.

And to Supernatural fans: of course you will recognize Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, arguably the best role in the show. Hamilton does not exactly rehabilitate the man (how could it? Burr killed the hero), but it does help explain him and get inside of what Hamilton must have looked like to Burr.

Congratualations to all involved.

And yeah, to be a snot about it: to those who are just discovering now that Alexander Hamilton was an extraordinary man:

1. It’s about time.
2. Welcome. You finally get it.

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20 Responses to Hamilton on the Grammys

  1. John Vail says:

    Dear Sheila,

    I watched the clip this morning when I got into work and have been humming and singing the opening number all day. I managed to see the show a few days before Christmas at a matinee and although my sister and I were worried that in the run-up to the holidays that a lot of the cast might not be there for the early shows in particular, our concerns were unfounded as all the original cast performed. I then sat spellbound for the next few hours and even now a few months later am completely mesmerized by how amazing it was (the product of not just being at the show but of endlessly playing the cast cd over and over again). On the day, I felt torn in so many different directions and couldn’t decide where my eyes should go, which scenes and songs I liked the most (Helpless, The Room Where it happens, Cabinet battle 1 although that now changes daily), laughing uproariously every time the musical cues for King George began, or wondering how in gods name the same actor could play both Lafayette and Jefferson (it took me all the way through What did I miss before I realized). After a very difficult and emotionally fraught 2015, it singlehandedly restored my spirits and for that I will be forever grateful. The only show that has ever hit me with the same kind of thunderbolt was when I saw Gospel at Colonus back in 1983 at BAM (I went 3 times before the word of mouth got out and it became too hard to get tickets, twice more when it moved to Broadway and then at a revival five years ago In Edinburgh). What it did for grafting gospel music to classic theatre, Hamilton has done with hip hop and musicals. there’s no way I’ll ever get tickets to see the original cast again in NY (fingers crossed that you have better luck) so I have been obsessively checking the news for any hint that the show and cast will make it across the pond to London for if this proves to be the case, I may need to take out a second mortgage to pay for all the shows I will want to see. best, John

    • sheila says:

      John – woah, about Gospel at Colonus! Envious!

      I mean, Lion King was a phenom, for sure – and its presence on 42nd Street helped re-invent that street of despair/pimps/peep shows into the (nightmare) vision that it is today.

      But that seemed to be practically an anomaly (not to mention a score taken from the movie).

      There have been other hit shows since but they haven’t “hit” like this one, which is more like an 8.2 on the Richter scale. Not just in terms of the blind casting – which (honestly) should be the custom by now, the way it already is in college and community theatres. Broadway can be so ridiculously unimaginative. It took this one man to change that.

      Not to mention the revolutionary of-the-moment score. (Or, it’s “behind” – hip hop has ruled the airwaves for 20 years – and Broadway has ignored it completely).

      Lin Manuel-Miranda is a genius. I love, too, that he is PLAYING Hamilton. (The night I saw it, the understudy went on – and he was phenomenal as well.) I cannot imagine doing 8 shows a week of that.

      I know the US touring show is about to hit the road – so my friends in Chicago can barely wait for it to arrive.

      And oh, King George. How BRILLIANT was that conception? I’m curious to know how it went over with British people. :) They’re probably glad to be rid of us, in any case, but still: hiLARious.

      // it singlehandedly restored my spirits //

      Great art can do that and I am so happy to hear it did that for you.

      I WILL see it again. A friend of mine got tickets for October of this year (she bought them in October of last year) – and I have a new day-job so maybe I can swing it.

      It is an EVENT so worthy of the name.

    • sheila says:

      Actually, John, I realized that there actually was a production in my lifetime that tapped into some weird zeitgeist and became a hit with everyone, including teens who slept on the sidewalk on the off-chance there’d be tickets available the next day – and that was RENT.

      There’s a difference though. Hamilton can’t really be compared to much else – and it’s more radical because of its topic and the hip hop music. “Rent,” for all its creativity (I saw the show a bunch, I had friends in it) – and for all of its celebration of bohemian youth in a way that tapped into the hearts/souls of kids who were exhausted from the mainstream grind of college/jobs/internships/etc. … Rent was still a pretty standard musical/rock-opera. Hamilton isn’t.

      But Rent was also an EVENT of a similar order.

  2. Patrick says:

    I’m nearly as big a fan of that biography as you are, no, probably as big a fan – I remember reading it, and getting to really admire the guy as you go through the book, flaws and all, and then, knowing how it was going to end starting to get a kind of a sad feeling and wishing that somehow it hadn’t ended the way it did.

    • sheila says:

      I know – you can feel his self-destructive impulses, his absolute inability to tolerate a sneer on his honor – It just could not stand. His INSANE pamphlet about his sex scandal (the first in our nation. In that, as in so many other things, Hamilton was ahead of his time) – where he goes into practically pornographic detail (“she led me up to her bedroom” … Like; Hamilton: NO.)

      But what a mind. What a visionary.

      He was so young when he died – even in that day and age when people didn’t live so long. Imagine what he might have done.

      • Patrick says:

        Chernow places the blame for the duel pretty squarely on Hamilton, although Burr comes across as a pretty cold blooded guy once it got down to it. Pretty tragic really…

        Yeah, the mind – I’m reading another bio by Chernow, and this was also in the Hamilton biography of course – after Hamilton went into private practice and Washington didn’t really trust his replacement, he asked Hamilton to review a treaty negotiated by John Jay (pretty sure) and make his recommendation. Hamilton read it and gave him a 53,000 word writeup on the pros and cons.

        • sheila says:

          hahaha I remember the John Jay moment. And he turned that manifesto out in record time – I can’t remember how long it took to write that BOOK – but you can understand why Washington valued him so much.

          He wrote well and he wrote with super-sonic speed. And minimum sloppiness of thought. He was insanely gifted that way – not to mention his immigrants’ perspective on the colonies. He didn’t accept unquestioningly the way things were set up – as those who lived there did. His “and why not an American bank?” letter still blows me away, no matter how many times I’ve read it.

          And yeah, Burr-Hamilton were oil and water, both prideful men for different reasons – and Burr’s hesitancy to take a strong stance on anything (until he figured out which was the winning side) is, of course, DEATH to any hopeful politician (right or wrong) – and Hamilton seemed to have no use for him.

          But Hamilton had that Achilles heel – the carelessness and ferocity with which he defended himself.

          You read those final chapters in the book and yeah, you think … God, if he could have just let it go … Burr was a nobody at that point … but he couldn’t.

  3. Helena says:

    I was waiting for this post from you- I was following the Grammy’s online (first time ever) just to catch their spot from the theatre. And of course they won. Great acceptance speech too.

    Holding out for Hamilton in London 2017 (or 3017, possibly.)

    • sheila says:

      I know they’re gonna take it around the world – but yeah, they haven’t made too many announcements about dates yet. I think it’s gonna be like Les Miz, honestly. Which toured nonstop for 10, 15 years?

      It’s just so GRATIFYING when something so good, something so far and BEYOND good, wins the big prizes. I mean, it would have been equally as cool (and it was as equally cool) when Hamilton was playing in a small off-Broadway house, getting all this buzz – but to take it to the next level – to a high-paying Broadway audience …

      and to win all the prizes …

      Sometimes the best thing happens.

      I hope you get to see it!

    • sheila says:

      and how about our wonderful Supernatural alum? I feel like a proud Mother, which is totally embarrassing.

      He had that mega-watt smile in Supernatural that seemed so … sneaky and corrupt and charming … and Aaron Burr rarely smiles except when he’s trying to be ingratiating.

      He is also electric onstage. Not sure if there’s footage out there of the number that closes Act 1, which is his number: “The Room Where It Happens.”

      I have goosebumps just typing those words.

  4. John Vail says:

    Sheila,

    Adam Gopnik has a very interesting take that argues for Hamilton’s zeitgeist fit with the Obama presidency. Lovely article. Best, John

    http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/hamilton-and-the-hip-hop-case-for-progressive-heroism

    • sheila says:

      Thanks – I missed that one!

      It definitely seems to have dovetailed with the right time. The “immigrants get shit done” line (sung by Hamilton and Lafayette) brought down the house. (Although Lafayette wasn’t an immigrant. Just an illustrious visitor.) But still.

  5. JessicaR says:

    A Broadway musical is the hip new thing. And teenagers are eating it up and reading about the man it’s about, can’t help but think that’s a good, cool thing. I worry so much about cultural memory, about history and culture getting lost because it’s not “new”. So I really like things like this.

    • sheila says:

      Not just not “new” (although I agree with you there) but scorned/disrespected – as in: what do we have to learn from the Dead White Male brigade? It turns out, a LOT.

      Lin Manuel-Miranda has been going around to grade schools – I know in New York, he came to the school of a friend of mine’s kid – teaching the story of Hamilton, and all the other “guys” around him at that time – infusing it with excitement and passion (and the story IS exciting and passionate). My friend’s 15 year old kid is now reading the Chernow bio. This is INCREDIBLE. So maybe there will be some long overdue course-correction in the teaching of American history too – to not just wipe out the past because we’re ashamed of some parts of it. Dumb. Not to mention politically dangerous.

      So I’m thrilled that kids are discovering this – the humor and vivacity and sheer intellectual power of all of these guys and that time in history – through a thrilling musical with hip-hop songs about cabinet battles and political compromises and the constitution- not to mention a nail-biting production number about …. the writing of the Federalist Papers?? Have I died and gone to heaven?

  6. carolyn clarke says:

    I wish there was a way that I could send this email privately because no matter what, some people are going to think that I am trying to blow sunshine up your skirt, but so be it. Like Helena said, I watched the Grammy’s primarily to see the opening number for Hamilton after reading your incredible review and and other comments. I loved it like everyone else. But the first thing I thought when they announced that Hamilton had won the Grammy was how thrilled you would be. So there.

    • sheila says:

      Carolyn – Ha!!

      It’s like my friends who text me pictures of an Elvis poster in their barbershop or something – although that one is insane on their part, because it’s not like loving Elvis is this esoteric thing shared by one small population. (Obviously.) But they’re like: “SHEILA. LOOK.”

      It charms me.

      Now, if it was a poster of our SPN boys or something – I’d understand, because who the hell knows about them but us? (We get to share that lucky secret with a charmed few.)

      I’m glad you loved the number. And I’m glad you tuned in to check out Hamilton. YEAH. I think a lot of people did – the piece on Vulture said something like, “This may be the closest I’ll get to seeing Hamilton” – which is sad, and probably untrue – because of the touring that will eventually follow.

      But yeah. I definitely feel lucky to have seen this Golden Ticket of a show. And so early!! We bought tickets while it was still at the Public – and that totally worked in our favor.

  7. Kate says:

    Sheila –

    I have been reading your blog for almost 10 years now (ahh, how can that be true?!)– I came across it while Googling Alexander Hamilton for a history class report in the 11th grade. Got the “happy birthday to my dead boyfriend,” post. Totally hooked. Got the Chernow biography, and then it was all downhill from there. I have a file of some awful Hamilton fanfiction I wrote back then that I would publish if I were brave enough to do diary Friday.

    Anyway, I feel that too — that sense that I loved him first. But I’m so happy for him. A fitting monument at last. And I’m so glad it led me to your blog.

    Your writing’s been so influential for me in so many ways, so thank you.

    Kate

    • sheila says:

      Kate:

      // I came across it while Googling Alexander Hamilton for a history class report in the 11th grade. //

      That is one of the best things I’ve ever heard. Thank you for telling me!

      // and then it was all downhill from there. //

      hahahahahaha

      He is VERY worthy of fanfic.

      I’m glad he led you here too.

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