Just like any other red-blooded American male, I love musical theater. I have yet to find a musical that didn’t get me going or inspire me in some way. This is not to say that I’m obsessed with musical theater. I couldn’t tell you the top 5 musicals to come out in the last 50 years. I haven’t even seen or heard Wicked, although I’m sure I would love it. I have, however been obsessed with a musical that has had as much influence on Broadway since Rent. Maybe even Sound of Music, or some other similar musical, IDK. Hamilton is that musical.
Hamilton is a show about American founding father, Alexander Hamilton. It is primarily comprised of hip hop and R&B songs. It features a cast made up almost exclusively of people of color. And basically all of it is sung. Hamilton touches on themes as broad as fatherhood, political ambition, legacy, work-life balance, taking huge chances, and infidelity.
My Hamilton obsession started in April 2016. I was a little bit behind, since it debuted in 2015. I listened to the first act one afternoon and couldn’t get through it without crying through a song where Hamilton and frenemy Aaron Burr sing about their children. After that I listened to at least a few parts of the soundtrack every single day and couldn’t ever get through the hard parts without tearing up. It didn’t matter when or where it was on, it hit me right in the cry-box. I got to where I knew pretty much every single song word for word. Come at me if you can sing Guns and Ships all the way through. 😁
I gradually accumulated shirts, the official book on the making of Hamilton, a mug, and the Hamilton biography that inspired the musical to begin with. This is one of the first obsessions of mine I can think of where I have participated in fandom, purchasing memorabilia and going to see the show. My obsession hit a fever pitch when we went to see the musical in Chicago. (More on that in a bit.)
What I identified most with in the show were the parts about a legacy. I was (and still am) hurtling headfirst into my 30’s and don’t yet know what I’m doing with my life. Alexander Hamilton, both in the musical and in real life, was a force of nature who went for what he wanted at all points in his life. He was at times scrappy, overly insistent, abrasive, and argumentative. He was also a family man who deeply cared about what kind of legacy he left behind. One of the first songs in the musical, called “My Shot” is a combination call to arms and stereotypical “I Want” song. It’s all about not throwing away one’s shot and taking risks. This inspired me to be more intentional with what I want to do with my life.
Another aspect of Hamilton that hooked me from the beginning was the hip hop and R&B influences. Throughout the show Tupac, Bun B, Eminem, Ja Rule, Biggie, and many others in hip hop are referenced. For the most part though, Hamilton is comprised of catchy, deft, original raps, full of call backs, reoccurring musical motifs, and heartwarming vocals. The apparent energy and talent that went into writing and producing the musical is astounding.
At the helm of all of it was Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Washington Heights native who had previously written another musical hit called “In the Heights”. It turns out Miranda and Hamilton share a lot of similarities and this is perhaps why Miranda chose to pursue this project after reading the excellently researched and written biography on Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Both come from Caribbean immigrant families. Both have impressive drive and ambitions as well as ridiculous work ethic. Around the same time Hamilton had it’s first shows to the public, Miranda had a newborn at home. So there he was singing as Hamilton almost every night about his newborn son and the legacy we leave for our children.
My personal obsession culminated with a trip to Chicago to see Hamilton. My wife and I had made a deal that going to see the show was priority number one. We ended up a month later looking up ticket and flight prices and realized we could do it. We flew in on the same day of the show and barely made it in before the two minute house light flash. Seeing the musical in person was incredible. We were at the very back of the mezzanine section but it didn’t matter. We were lucky to catch Wayne Brady as Aaron Burr and the rest of the cast was amazing. I came prepared with tissues and ho boy did I need them. The entire show was over in what seemed like 10 minutes. I think I was so engrossed and knew the show so well that I didn’t really have time to absorb much. I would love to see it again, it will probably happen soon.
Fortunately my obsession with Hamilton pretty much ended after we saw the show in person. I haven’t listened to it much since then and no longer wake up singing it. Actually now I wake up singing The Book of Mormon, so there’s that.