So I saw Hamilton. Given the anticipation and expectation of this event, this adventure is going to warrant at least three posts (sorry). This is a post for Act One, covering the notes from Hamiltome and my experience watching the musical. There will be separate posts to discuss Act Two and an overall post about the theater-going experience.
Let's go song by song:
Alexander Hamilton: Basically, what you saw at the Grammy's. And yes, everyone screamed when LMM came out as Alexander Hamilton. Additionally, some enterprising young woman in the front row yelled 'Fuck me, Daveed,' when Daveed came out. Still, there was a moment of excitement as each character came out for the first time. A moment of , 'OMG, I really am seeing this, in the room with these people.'
Hamiltome sidenotes: The essay accompanying this song is about the White House performance, which remains awesome and inspiring. In the notes, Miranda points out what is evident in the White House video: this started as a Burr monologue and eventually became the song we know, introducing all the characters, ala Sweeney Todd. Excellent improvement!
Aaron Burr, Sir/My Shot/Story of Tonight: I will not be beholden to the track listings! For me, the staging was much more plot-driven than the soundtrack on its own. We start out with Burr and Hamilton walking in the streets, then move to the tavern, then back to the streets, wrapping up again in the tavern. The lighting and turntable and bare-bones settings do a great job of demonstrating the movement and excitement of the songs. Additionally, they serve as a great introduction to the main characters outside of Hamilton. A side note: the gang onstage create much of the music themselves, from pounding on the table to beat boxing. It has a very 'ruffian' vibe that fits the characters in Act One. Burr is off to the side for the most part, watching as the revolutionaries gradually warm up to Hamilton, starting with surprise and interest in his ideas and moving to warmth and friendship by the end of the fourth song. Hamilton himself grows, starting off tentative and almost shy and ends in the middle of it all with a crowd around him, literally leaning in towards him. Another side note: for the 'death' speech, Hamilton is off to the side by himself, while the other dancers are frozen in the middle. It's effective and demonstrates how in his head Hamilton is, how much quicker he is than everyone else. Finally, so many of the show's major themes are here just in the first fifteen minutes - Burr's unwillingness to commit, Hamilton's martyrdom, Hamilton's genius and ambition. Also: they do a lot of shots, which I was wondering about, given the title of the song.
Hamiltome sidenotes for "Burr" and "My Shot": The article accompanying this one was about Tommy Kail, the incredible director. In addition to introducing everyone to Kail and his brilliance, whom everyone agrees was instrumental in the completion of this musical, it also features an example of gchat between Miranda and Kail As someone who has entire relationships built on gchat, I appreciate this insight into their thought process. From the annotations of the songs themselves, Miranda mentions Frances Tavern's Hot Toddies and reminds us that Burr's father was president of Princeton when he graduated in two years. He also makes his second Harry Potter reference (the first - Hamilton basically discovers he's a wizard when he gets his education opportunity in "Alexander Hamilton" and the second - Burr is Hamilton's Malfoy in the meeting of "Aaron Burr, Sir."). Sadly, I think it might also be the last Potter note. The "Showtime" reference in "Aaron Burr, Sir" will always remind me of the two guys who danced in my subway car the Sunday before I saw the show. The New Yorkers on the train were annoyed but this tourist was charmed. It's the subway's Rockefeller tree, guys! For "My Shot", all the annotations from Miranda are excellent and should be sought out. It took him a year to write this song and there is so much precision and care in each lyric. There's references to hip hop legends and musical heroes and rhyme upon rhyme upon rhyme. This song is also one of the most exciting build ups in the show, and he describes how much time and collaboration it took to get from his lyrics to the final product.
Hamiltome sidenotes for "Story of Tonight": The essay for this one is about Ron Chernow and his role in the process and the historical accuracy of the show. Basically, Chernow seems like a cool guy and good job, Miranda, for caring to get it right (mostly). In addition to annotating this song (the melody came from a song he wrote when he was sixteen called 'I've Got a Bridge to Sell You'), there's also an excerpt of the moleskin notebooks he made his original annotations in. It's fascinating to see the writer's initial thoughts. Some of it is right there, like his Act 1 outline and King George.
Schuyler Sisters: This is actually not the real introduction to the sisters - they show up in the opening song and are also listening on the balcony for a good portion of "My Shot". But hey, here we go! As "Story of Tonight" ends, Laurens and Hamilton walk off stage as Burr immediately moves into this song. This is something that I was not prepared for - quick movements from one song to the next with no introduction or break. I guess I am more used to talking scenes in between? It's an excellent choice though, keeping the energy high. I honestly was on the edge of my seat (literally!) the entire show. Not just because of the obscene amount of money I had paid for my ticket, but also the energy and excitement from on stage. Enough of that, back to the girls. Renee Elise Goldsberry is amazing, her voice just as strong as it is on the album. All three sisters are charming and exciting to watch. Throughout the song there is a lot of affection among them. When Eliza asks Angelica what they're looking for, her arm is draped over her shoulder. They're believable as sisters but, more importantly, as friends.
Hamiltome sidenotes: The essay here is on New York City as an additional character, which sounds about right. This is really the love letter to the city (the greatest city in the world!). And let's take a moment to celebrate the set. It's almost timeless, representing the young city (and nation) as scaffolding and bare brick and minimal set pieces and lots of ladders and rope. As for annotations on the song, my favorite bit is Miranda's summary of Peggy, who disappears in Act Two, which is convenient for the actress who then gets to play Maria Reynolds: 'She married rich and died young, in case you're wondering where she is in Act Two.'
Farmer Refuted: This piece was so natural. Hamilton and his friends are baffled by Seabury's words and Hamilton is gradually encouraged by his friends to take the stage against him. It's funny and enormously effective in demonstrating Hamilton's brilliance with words and also his new role in his group of friends. He's their secret weapon and he is all too ready to jump up on the box (after some fun with the box itself) and debate with the inferior Seabury. It also serves to remind the audience that independence isn't universally loved or assured. And the Schuyler sisters watch from the balcony (I tried to keep track of who was on the balcony when; overall use of the balcony was a great accompaniment to the drama on the stage itself).
Hamiltome sidenotes: This essay is on the producer Jeffrey Seller and his involvement in the production. There's also a cover page of 'Farmer Refuted' by Alexander Hamilton; yay, history! As for the song annotations, my favorite part of this song, and probably the hardest to write, is how Hamilton matches the cadences of Seabury.
You'll Be Back: And then everyone scampers off stage for the King's introduction. For George in general, I'm sad I missed Groff, though Rory was excellent, hilarious every time he took the stage. The lyrics themselves are humorous but there was a lot of physicality in the role I wasn't expecting, a shrug here and a sashay there. He was always entertaining and a moment of brevity of the drama (political or military) going on back in the colonies. Let's take a moment to note that the British monarchy is used as comedic relief in a musical about the American revolution and the country's early years.
Hamiltome sidenotes: The essay here is on Alex Lacamoire, the orchestrating maestro. It's his job to take Miranda's recordings and turn them into actual things other musicians can play. As for song annotations, it's everything you're looking for: Hugh Laurie came up with the you'll be back idea! The Boston Tea Party gets name-dropped! King George did eventually go mad!
Right Hand Man: The costuming, especially the jackets, are important and not a moment of superfluous-ness to them (think the green and beige of Breaking Bad). In this sequence, Burr gives Hamilton a military jacket. Again, this song is very plot-driven, even more so than the music itself suggests, as this piece seems to span months, from Hamilton's introduction to the army to his ascension to Washington's right-hand man. The 'steal a cannon' moment is more effective here than in music alone, as Mulligan and Hamilton are off to one side. They're clearly separate from Washington's circle at this point, more a freshman stunt. Additionally, Chris Jackson's introduction as Washington is incredible. He's fine on the soundtrack but unbelievable live as he really embodies the Washington of the show - this big brother, a calm and respected and strong presence among these green kids. Also, I've been buried in Chernow's Washington biography for awhile now and, yep, I basically just picture Jackson now.
Hamiltome: Chris Jackson gets his due in the essay prior to this song. As for the song itself, Miranda reveals that his school required chess lessons. I have never heard of this and am impressed - all I know if chess is a rushed instruction from the class geek (term of endearment) on our way to a scholar-bowl-type event in middle school. Also, friendly reminders that Hamilton and Mulligan really did steal those cannons and Washington really did say "Are these the men with which I am to defend America" (I saw it in both the Washington and Hamilton biographies!).
A Winter's Ball: Again, a very smooth transition from RHM to A Winter's Ball. Lots of cute dancing among the main guys and ensemble ladies. The 'that's true' aside is endearing. Angelica and Hamilton meet here as he whisks her away from Lafayette. More dancing.
Hamiltome sidenotes: The accompanying essay discusses the history of rappers dueting with R&B soloists and includes a very lovely poem that Alexander wrote Eliza, which she kept in a necklace for her entire life. As for the song annotations: there's a comparison of chess and religion (sounds about right) and admission that the 'that's true' bit about the tomcat is actually just made up by John Adams. Pfft.
Helpless: Eliza is really in the middle of the scene. She's narrating her part and it swiftly moves through the entire courtship. There isn't a still movement as they rush from dance to preparing for the wedding to married. Cutest off-album moment: after the acceptance from Philip Schuyler and a quick dance with each sister, LMM did a little mini celebration dance. It was adorable and endearing and I love them. Throughout this song, he's almost shy and very humble, practically begging Eliza to marry someone more worthy at one point. Again, it's on the album but much more evident on stage. The wedding itself was lovely, with lots of affection. I mean, Hercules is the flower girl.
Hamiltome annotations: I think this is pretty well known by now, but basically we owe this song to Miranda's wife, Vanessa, who was honest when his first attempt was not the best. Thanks, Vanessa! There is a hint of his first attempt in "Yo, this one's mine." Also, Angelica really did suggest she and Eliza 'share' Hamilton - I read it in Chernow's biography! Also real: Hamilton apparently wrote Eliza a letter describing why she shouldn't marry him. Oh, Alex.
Satisfied: This honestly may be the most impressive piece of the entire performance. It is awesome. The song starts with a rewind to the night everyone meets at that winter's ball. Then it starts to fast forward to the wedding and ends at the toast. The cast is so talented. I have no idea how they could precisely control their bodies like that but the effect is incredible. The ensemble is also excellent here, accentuating the emotions of Hamilton and Angelica. This is a cold dousing after the sweetness of Hamilton and Eliza in 'Helpless.' It ends with Eliza and her new husband leaving the stage, Angelica warning them both that they will never be satisfied. Renee, you are a powerhouse, cast you are amazing. So good!
Hamiltome sidenotes: The article here is on Renee Elise Goldsberry, who is perfect as Angelica and apparently took some convincing to even try out for the role. Glad she did! Kail recalls that she was the first actress to try out that didn't act like she was just trying to rap fast but that she was really thinking that fast. Basically, she is Angelica. As for annotations, Miranda mentions Karen Olivio and calls out the genius of the choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler (they go all the way back to "A Winter's Ball", which is the song in which the two actually meet for the first time). There's also a "My So-Called Life" reference, which every 90's girl can appreciate. Finally, friendly reminder: Philip Schuyler actually had a ton of kids, including more than one son. Oops.
Story of Tonight (Reprise): This one actually is about what you expect listening to the music... Everyone is a little drunk, poking fun, first at Hamilton, and then Burr. Like other songs, everyone is surprisingly affectionate. Laurens drapes himself over Burr when he cajoles him about his girl. And there are drinks and shots, of course.
Hamiltome: This doesn't get a separate article but it does get annotations! One annotation compares this exchange to high school friends meeting college friends and that is just a perfect comparison. In just a couple of words, the writer perfectly encapsulates a feeling and a hundred different recollections.
Wait For It: This is the song where everyone else takes a break and Leslie earns his inevitable Tony. The other cast members are on the balcony, providing vocal support, but he's on the stage alone, just belting it out.
Hamiltome sidenotes: Obviously, this is where we really sit down with Leslie Odom, Jr. Leslie's involvement with the show is one of my favorites. He saw an early staging (that guy from Pitch Perfect and member of Freestyle Love Supreme originally played Burr) and fell in love with the show, especially Burr. And then Burr grew as a character and suddenly someone with more musical prowess was needed and the team reached out to Leslie. And he spent the next year or so waiting for the role to be taken away from him. But now it's his! He's on the album, he's got the Grammy. He'll probably get the Tony. He admitted in another interview I read that he'll probably be singing this song forever. As for song annotations, the story of "Wait for It"'s creation is top-notch: Miranda was on his way to a friend's birthday party in the subway when the whole thing fell in his lap. He had to Google to make sure it wasn't already a thing. This is inspiration: a train to and from Williamsburg and half a beer.
Stay Alive: Bullet-girl gets introduced here in the beginning - she will be important later! This is a plot-heavy song, starting with Hamilton alone at his traveling writing desk (I think that's what that was?). The entire stage is used. Hamilton does whatever George needs. Hamilton takes over narration to demonstrate Lee's ineptitude. They all watch as Lee is a jackass from the balcony.
Hamiltome notes: The article accompanying "Stay Alive" and "Ten Duel Commandments" describes how Hamilton is very much an intersection of two of Miranda's passions - hip hop and musical theater. No song draws from hip hop more than Ten Duel Commandments. Dueling and selling crack have so much in common! As for the songs, in "Stay Alive," Miranda notes how the narrator changes throughout this song. As Hamilton's frustration mounts, he takes over from Burr. For "Ten Duel Commandments", Miranda notes how this is one of the most complex songs for the stage manager (there's a Ham4Ham on this!). Lots of people take over narration. Dueling becomes very 'everyday thing.'
Ten Duel Commandments: There are a bunch of lighting changes and the turn tables are all over the place. And it's effective, creating a tense, exciting couple of minutes. The lyrics and the dancing and the lighting all combine to make a very strict code of the thing of dueling. It also does a good job of creating varying degrees of space when it's all really on the same small stage.
Hamiltome: see above.
Meet Me Inside: This isn't the most exciting song but it a very tense, well-acted scene. Washington and Hamilton stomp off to the side as the two men basically yell at each other while Hamilton insists he is no one's son. Did Hamilton throw away his shot here?
Hamiltome notes: The article for this song is about Oskar Eustis, the director at Public theater, and how the Public gave them (Miranda and team) a deadline to really get to it (they didn't have a second act at this point...). Eustis compares Hamilton to Shakespeare, which is always nice. In the song annotations, Miranda mentions The West Wing. For me, this song and the Cabinet Battles are the most West Wingian. Just really smart people having intelligent discussions where they disagree. And being a little funny. He also mentions that this scene really varies every night between him and Chris Jackson. For my show, Chris was basically screaming at him. Bartlet would never!
That Would Be Enough: But now we're back to slow, calming music as Hamilton faces his wife. His pregnant wife. There is a lot of stomach-touching in this scene. Hamilton is much more excited to be a dad on stage than in the music alone. In general, Hamilton is a pretty emotional dude in this scene. Eliza is too, but this is really Hamilton's song as he thinks about his legacy. It's a lovely scene but we already know he's back in the thick of it less than two songs from now.
Hamiltome: Here, we take a deep look at Phillipa Soo. The problem with Hamilton adaptations: Eliza is basically a Mary Sue. Everyone likes her and she's goodness and lightness, personified. Luckily, Tommy Kail found the solution when he saw Pippa in a show in 2012. Also interesting - Eliza goes through so much in the show, maybe more than any character. By the end of the finale, she's really the star of her show, with Pippa's gasp closing it out. As for song annotations, Miranda claims to have written this in about 45 minutes. There's no historical presence here, just dramatic needs.
Guns and Ships: More narration from Burr. Lafayette starts off on the table top. And Daveed Diggs is amazing. Just super fast and talented, jumping around the stage while also, I think, breaking the sound barrier. And Lafayette is such a good friend, trying to bring Hamilton back into the fold. The famous letter makes its way around the stage to get Hamilton back. The turn table creates movement and drama as Eliza puts Hamilton's military jacket back on.
Hamiltome notations: The article for this song discusses costumes. The article is interesting - before you realize the perfection of 'neck down, period, neck up, contemporary, what the hell do you do? Also, the jackets the characters exchange through the show are incredibly important, especially Hamilton's. As for the song, Miranda talks about the evolution of Lafayette's rap skills: it's part comical, as the guy who's barely speaking English is now kicking ass, but also just Daveed being amazing. He is the fastest rapper on Broadway, after all. Also, the last line Miranda added to the entire show was one more super-fast verse for Daveed.
History Has Its Eyes On You: Back to the two dudes. This is super simple: just two men talking. This time George gives Hamilton a sword rather than a pen - he's ready, with a scabbard. He's finally got that command. Hamilton is ready to run out and fight but George still has wisdom to impart. Everyone is watching at this point. What is a legacy again, Hamilton?
Hamiltome notations: One thing that's great about Lin-Manuel: he really explains his narrative process and for him, there's one thing that really helps him understand a character. For Burr, it's his relationship with Theodosia (willing to wait for it!). For Washington, it's his initial brush with fame, when he embarrassed himself in the French and Indian War. Which leads us to History - this is a guy who is buried under the weight of what will come of his legacy, his actions. And we get a Shakespeare quote: we strut and fret our hour upon the stage. And that's all the bit we have control over. People will make of our time what they will.
Yorktown: This is another song of which a huge chunk has been put online. There's the famous 'immigrant' line. He has his men surrounding him. He starts off ready to die but there is a clear moment when he remembers that his wife is expecting and he's about to be a dad, so maybe don't die. Hercules has his moment (which is good because this is really the last of him). Battle battle battle. And then a week of fighting is done and Britain surrenders. And then they're all on stools or boxes. Here's the revolution, here's the new nation. They won! They might be on pieces of furniture but they did it, they won.
Hamiltome notes: Per the annotations, the "immigrants, we get the job done" line continues to get the best reactions. We are all indebted to Busta Rhymes. There are a few historical inaccuracies here but, again, dramatic reasoning! Also funny: Miranda mentions the 'World Turned Upside Down' song. This was a real song that the Brits supposedly sang. But apparently it's a bawdy drinking song. Not the lovely, dramatic tune Miranda wrote. The more you know!
What Comes Next: King George continues to be hilarious while also a reality check (hey, ruling is really hard). The switch to blue is a nice touch, when he claims to be 'so blue' (he would control the lighting cues). At the end, he very much has a 'eff it' moment and stalks off.
Hamiltome notes: Basically, "Yorktown" would have been a great act one finale. But you gotta have a reason for the audience to come back. And that's not, 'hey, we won the war.' So we add a couple of more songs to act one: check in with the King, check in with the new dads, and see how everyone is doing now that they've got control of themselves. As for "What Comes Next", this is a great reminder that, sure, America won the war, but that's just the first step. As Washington later says, winning is easy, governing is harder. America's future greatness is not preordained. Ruling kind of sucks. And hey - Act Two proves he's mostly right!
Dear Theodosia: a moment for babies! This is just really lovely. They both stand, then sit. They're alone on stage. It's all very intimate. Both men are emotional. Probably the most human of the whole damn show. Also, a very telling moment that both these guys experience fatherhood for the first time together, right after the war. Growing up in a new nation and all that. Also a call back to Hamilton's previous question: does this mean independence or a lot of fighting and blood for our descendants? One more thing, Hamilton's hair is down and he's wearing green. That was a quick costume change.
Hamiltome notes: It's also interesting to look at these guys, one of which is literally described as a Founding Father, to be at the start of a new life but also a new country. Hey, they'll come of age with our great nation. In the notes, Miranda describes it as the calm in the storm of the show, which sounds about right. It's just a nice song, everyone happy for just a moment (and what comes next, literally, just a moment later).
Laurens: Poor Ham doesn't even get a break here. He's barely wrapping up his love song to his new son when his wife comes on to read him the John Laurens letter. Ramos is off to the side, lit up in blue, singing his good-bye song. Don't worry, Ramos, you get to die in the next act as well! Lighting is top notch here, creating not just separate spaces but also separate levels of existence. Also, friendly reminder that John Laurens died after the war was complete.
Hamiltome notes: This isn't on the cast album; it's a scene, not a song, and it's a bit of a surprise for those seeing the show for the first time after memorizing the album (me!). Also, Miranda mentions: this is a great 'what if' of the Revolutionary War. Laurens was a big opponent of slavery and from a prominent southern family and a hero of the Revolution. He died for no real reason, after the war was over. What would have happened if he had lived? Also, in the play and historically, Hamilton was somewhat silent on the death of Laurens. For a guy who talked a lot, his silence is not insignificant.
Non-Stop: The change from Laurens to this is almost violent, as Eliza runs off stage and Hamilton throws on his shiny green jacket. There's no break for this guy; after all, he is running out of time. It starts with the first murder trial of the U.S. Hamilton cannot sit still, jumping up from his place next to Burr to continue arguing the case. Hamilton is giddy at the prospect of being at the Constitutional Convention and is very proud of himself for 'practically perfecting it.' While he provides his new form of government, he talks to the convention, his back to the audience, while Burr narrates. And then he's asking Burr to participate in the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers are presented excellently - two empty chairs and Hamilton. Sure, the empty chairs may be in part to keep Madison from the stage until Act Two, but still effective. So much happens here. Washington picks Hamilton as Treasury Secretary in another great bit - Washington is on the balcony, waxing poetically on what the future holds and what his role shall be. Hamilton is on the ground, impatient, ready to get going on whatever it is Washington gives him. And then, at 'let's go,' he says good-bye to Angelica in an additionally great use of the turn table. Seriously, how did they manage this? But then things go poorly as Angelica and Eliza continue to badger him for a more realistic role in the world. He will not have it (he cannot throw away his shot!) and ends act two basically running away from the Schuyler sisters to the top of the stairs with Washington.
Hamiltome notes: Going from the album to the stage, the most impressive change (along with lighting) is the cast movement, courtesy of Andy Blankenbuehler, who gets the essay for this song. In the essay, he comes across as a detail-oriented guy, putting everything into his work. As for Non-Stop, it covers six crazy-productive years in Hamilton's life. Also in this article, we learn that each character has his or her own seal and every newspaper and pamphlet the actor looks at is real. Other tidbits: Hamilton moves in arcs because he is open-minded while Burr is all straight lines. Also seemingly against my assumption: dance should be a framing device, not the main focal point. Andy's also the dude we can thank for those fantastic turntables. As for song annotations, nothing more interesting than the song (which is excellent) but a few points: when Burr describes the Federalist Papers, we switch to speech, because the facts are crazy all by themselves (51!). Additionally, this section really underscores how ambitious Hamilton is, as he throws Eliza's and Washington's themes back at them. Miranda kind of describes this as chaos, as they try to bring all of themes from Act One to a head. Effective! I couldn't wait to come back to Act Two...