This weekend marks somewhat of a culmination of over a year of hype for me.
Yes, a little over a year ago, I was sitting in my AP U.S. History class, discussing the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debate, when my teacher put on a NPR documentary about a peculiar little musical soon to hit Broadway, “Hamilton.”
At the time, I regarded the segment with mild interest. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a history or musical buff, I have a passing interest in both topics, and even though I’m very much not a fan of rap, the melding of these three ideas was so out there I couldn’t help but pay attention. The video sparked an interesting conversation regarding the differences and similarities in ideology of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, and also, unknowingly, a curiosity in the back of my mind.
Several weeks later, while browsing Twitter, I noticed a great deal of hype surrounding a familiar name. It seemed that NPR had uploaded the entire soundtrack of “Hamilton” to its website as an early look. I was assured by many sources that, since almost the whole musical is in song, I could hear the entire story just from listening to the soundtrack. Remembering the video clip from class and how it intrigued me, I pulled the NPR page up on my phone and set myself to listen to all of it.
It did not click immediately for me, in all honesty. On my first listen I was confused about whose voice was whose and didn’t understand a lot of the story. (For example, I thought Angelica and Eliza were the same person, making “Satisfied” an incredibly confusing first experience for me. Didn’t she just get married to him? Why is she complaining about giving him away now?)
Yet, when I reached the end I found myself oddly moved by this modern take on the life of Alexander Hamilton, and some of the songs appealed to me enough on the first listen to persuade me to listen through a few more times. Suddenly, I found myself texting a few friends in something like confusion, lamenting why this “Silly rap musical about Alexander Hamilton” had so neatly taken over my thoughts and time.
Goaded on by the first group of enthusiastic fans of the musical, I tried to convert a few of my friends. It was easy enough for me, honestly, since I know a lot of people who love musicals. For one friend, I played the soundtrack for her on the bus to one of our marching band competitions, and it soon became a tradition for the two of us to share earbuds and loudly sing along to the entire soundtrack. For another friend, it was just a matter of constantly talking about it and pointing out how much it would appeal to him as a fan of both history and musicals. For a few others, it was rambling to them over text about the musical and constantly talking about it – it wasn’t hard, because it was a singular obsession of mine for an extended period of time.
Suddenly, it seemed all of my friends had come over to the cause of “Hamilton.” We would spend hours at parties quoting the lyrics, discussing the story, and starting impromptu sing-alongs. We would assign certain characters to each person so that the parts were split evenly for songs featuring a large cast. We even had a short-lived but surprisingly serious plan to do a “Hamilton” group cosplay.
And of course, I told the teacher who showed us all the clip in class about the entire soundtrack being available on NPR, and I was the reason she became a huge fan of the musical too. That was me, even if she would later give the credit to a certain someone.
And then, just as our personal hype was dying down a bit, it seemed the rest of the population of the world caught on. Every social media site was filled with excitement about it, and I got to feel the smug satisfaction of being one of the first to call myself a fan. The Tonys rolled around, and I organized a fancy dress party with a few close friends. We snacked on fancy hors d’oeuvres and watched as “Hamilton” took home nearly every Tony it was nominated for. It seemed fitting that a musical that had taken over our lives was recognized on such a national platform.
And this weekend, I finally got to go see it.
Me and two close friends took a weekend trip to Chicago, getting a hotel, shopping, and checking off one of the things on my bucket list. And for this momentous occasion, I couldn’t help but take a moment to talk about how important this musical has been not only in my life but in the lives of clearly so many others.
I haven’t really talked much about politics on this blog – partly because it stresses me out pretty heavily and partly because I don’t feel like I’m enough of an expert to say anything particularly new or productive on it. But I don’t think it’s out of my comfort zone to say that it’s hard nowadays to consider myself proud of my country. There’s too much conflict and petty drama and injustice to feel anything but cynicism about America. Plus, I’ve had years of U.S. History classes to convince me that there’s nothing in our past to be proud of. With every small step forward we have taken as a country, it seems there are twice as many avalanches backwards. And to make matters even worse, most of the “movers and shakers” of the past are hard to connect with now.
Yet, each time I listen to “Hamilton,” I feel something that almost seems like patriotism. For a little while, the “American Dream” is in reach. In the fast-paced, frenetic beats of the music, between each beautiful performance from the talented actors, I can understand exactly what country our founders were picturing. And maybe that country looks different to me than it did to them – maybe there’s a bit more diversity, a bit more innovation, a bit more globalization – but the feeling is the same. A feeling of hope, that there’s something for us all to work towards. A feeling that I am capable of helping the progress toward that shining image.
It’s that feeling that has had such a profound effect on my life. It’s that feeling that drove me to share this musical’s message with all of my friends. It’s that feeling that made me so excited to finally see it performed in the flesh.
I don’t think I’m wrong to think that it’s that feeling that has propelled “Hamilton” to success. In this time of conflict and division, of fear and sensationalism, that feeling is so important to so many people. We need that kind of hope and drive if we are to move out of our current sad state of affairs. For that reason, I expect to see this musical go down in history as something that united and inspired a nation. I am proud to be a part of that history.
(…Even if the show totally made me cry in public.)