So I literally spent twelve and a half hours today traveling [*], except for the 2:45 that was seeing Hamilton, and my eyes are crossing and I ache all over, but I need to give time for the Tylenol to work and also I spent the last four hours writing this in my head, so if I get it out now I'll be able to do the things I need to do tomorrow. Right? Right.

So first general reactions and then I dump out everything I can remember about the staging and so forth, behind a cut to spare your reading lists and also in case you would rather discover that in person someday.

Here's the cast list for today's matinee:

cast list )

I knew that Alexander and Lafayette/Jefferson would not be the main cast, but I didn't know about Mulligan/Madison, which bummed me out a bit because Okieriete Onaodowan is one of my favorites. However, I was excited to see how other people approached the roles.

The theater seems pretty small and intimate, though admittedly it's been ages since I saw a Broadway show so my comparison may not be accurate. I had a perfect-for-me seat, orchestra row F basically center [**] — any closer and I would have had such a headache from craning my neck. (Well, it would have come on sooner, anyway.) The orchestra is underneath the stage, which I couldn't figure out at first, but toward the end, possibly during "Yorktown," I saw a bit of the conductor's hair poking up through the slot in the stage. (Here are two pictures, one of the Act I stage and one of the Act II stage (with the stairs in the center); I'm so sad I missed seeing them add the higher wall. The rectangular opening for the conductor is visible in the Act II photo.)

The start of the show was a little disorienting, or possibly it was only because I was so discombobulated: go in, run to bathroom, sit down, look around and attempt to post pic to Twitter (the cell networks were clearly overloaded by everyone else doing similar things, because it took about twenty minutes to post). Then a recorded King George is coming over the sound system to tell us to turn off our phones, another moment of darkness, and then right into it.

The performances. I'm not sure if Odom Jr.'s speaking/rapping voice was somewhat strained or if he was just doing something different; his singing sounded terrific to me. And his intensity is stunning, y'all; I swear I saw his hands trembling with rage during "The Room Where It Happens." The two understudies didn't quite pop for me during Act I; I'm not sure if that was just me acclimating (though I am pretty sure Stewart's French accent was very variably present), because they were great in Act II. (And very similar to the cast recording, to my ear, though admittedly I deliberately have not been listening to it recently; I wonder if the goal of the understudy is to mimic and if that is a little weird, or if a sung-through musical is going to enforce a lot of similarity by its nature. Obviously I know nothing about acting or musical theater.) Muñoz (as you know Bob) basically co-created the role with Miranda, is obviously very at home in it, and has a slightly more conventional, I guess, voice? And everyone else was amazing; I started listing actors and songs and then deleted it because I was just listing everyone and everything.

(Another I-know-nothing thing: many of the actors, at least, had mics (I don't know if the women had mics in their dresses or hair; I don't remember seeing any mics along their cheeks, as opposed to the men), but everyone still seemed to be projecting for the back and the effort that took was visible, which was a little surprising to me—not the effort but that they would still go for that volume with the mics.)

The staging. I so wish I had a holographic memory and could replay the show in my head and look at everything at leisure, because there was a lot going on most of the time and it was so interesting. Not just the choreography--though that was very impressive, especially with the double turntables in the stage. In a play we did senior year of high school, I gave an entire speech in the dark because I missed my mark, okay? (Emilia's at the end of Act 4, Scene 3.) I would straight-up kill myself trying to navigate those turntables. But there was also the use of both levels of the stage, people interacting and reacting in the background, the lighting and the props, everything. There were also a few transitions that aren't in the recording that I think really add to the show.

Even without added transitions, though, it was interesting the way a lot of the emotional logic of transitions between songs seemed to jump out at me much better on stage. It might be because, even though the cast recording is mostly pretty seamless, it's still tempting for me to think of it chopped up into songs? I'm not sure. But it felt more like a single whole thing.

Possibly related to that: it also felt like a lot, very fast. I think this may be because I'm conditioned by Disney movies to think of songs as intermittent things, big setpieces that take up a lot of emotional room; but Hamilton is like 99% songs, and so even though it has changes of pace and smaller moments, I still react as "song = intense moment." I dunno.

I think that's it for general reactions. Seeing it definitely added to my understanding and appreciation, and it was really impressive, but if that's not in the cards for you, it wasn't massively transformative of the cast recording, so don't be too upset?

Okay. I spent the first two hours of my drive in silence, because I felt sort of overflowing and wanted to let things settle. The next two I listened to the cast recording (only through "I Know Him"), remembering little bits. And now for the song-by-song rundown.

random details in bullet point form )

footnotes )
I am viciously angry about the news and discussion of the news in multiple directions and in ways that mean I shouldn't talk about it, so here is something deliberately light, a Storify about linguistics in Hamilton.
Okay, I graduated high school in 1994, which means that that four-movie run of sheer musical brilliance in Disney animation (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King) is literally the soundtrack of my high school years, and even though I know a lot of those won't hold up well I still have really fond memories of listening to those soundtracks over and over and over, and thus:



Lea Salonga, the original voice of Jasmine, joins Lin-Manuel Miranda to sing "A Whole New World." Text cannot convey my delight.

(And LMM does quite well, at least as far as I can tell through headphones because the kids are sleeping.)

(Now I just have to finish Steven Universe so I can tell you all about my second-favorite song from it that has peak Disney Princess voice from Deedee Magno Hall as Pearl while subverting classic-Disney-style stories in at least three different ways.)
Attolia sings "Fight for It " to the tune of "Wait for It."
Hamilton is a Broadway musical that posits that the music of the American Revolution and the early days of the United States would be hip-hop and tells the story of Alexander Hamilton through that lens, using a main cast that's all POC except King George III. It is musically brilliant and emotionally engaging and entirely not for everyone; I'm setting a timer (I am, in fact, going to write like I'm running out of time) and in that time I'm going to try and give you, dear reader, a sense of whether it's for you.

First, content notes: history is spoilers )

Second, well, it is about the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers, from the perspective that the project and the people were flawed but on the whole were positive. And if that's not a thing you want in your entertainment, that's cool. Here are some dogs photographed mid-air.

Third, the music. You absolutely don't need a background in hip-hop to appreciate this (though you'll recognize a lot of references if you do; ditto Broadway musicals), but if rap isn't your thing for reasons of taste, auditory processing, whatever, this is not going to work for you: not all of it is rap, but enough is that it'd be a dealbreaker.

Here's the bit that sold me, the third song, "My Shot." The entire album is on Spotify; someone's also put it up on YouTube, which might be authorized, so here's a link. The first song sums up Alexander Hamilton's life before he hits New York (orphaned, self-taught immigrant, came to public attention by writing a poem); you can hear an early version of it that the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, performed at the White House. The second song introduces Hamilton to Aaron Burr, who gives him the unwelcome advice "Talk less. Smile more." and brings in three supporting characters, the Marquis de Lafayette ("America's favorite fighting Frenchman!"), Hercules Mulligan (here aged down to a tailor's apprentice), and John Laurens (abolitionist).

Here are their introductions in "My Shot" and Burr telling them to pipe down, which are annotated over at genius.com (the album comes with lyrics, thank goodness):
lyrics )
And here's Hamilton's response, a.k.a. the bit that made me laugh out loud and love this forever:
HAMILTON
Burr, check what we got.
Mister Lafayette, hard rock like Lancelot,
I think your pants look hot,
Laurens, I like you a lot.
Let’s hatch a plot blacker than the kettle callin’ the pot...
What are the odds the gods would put us all in one spot,
poppin’ a squat on conventional wisdom, like it or not,
a bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists?
Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is!
I just. That's amazing. The end.

And yet, the same song, later on, combines both the reason why the form of this musical is genius and why its subject matter isn't for everyone:
HAMILTON
Scratch that,
this is not a moment, it’s the movement
where all the hungriest brothers with
something to prove went?
Foes oppose us, we take an honest stand,
we roll like Moses, claimin’ our promised land.
(The question mark is in the album lyrics; I wouldn't have transcribed it that way.) Because yes, hungriest brothers and the movement, and no, not your promised land, not promised to you, not your land, no.

Anyway. The music is catchy as fuck; I've already mentioned "My Shot," and while I don't love "Wait for It" the way some people do, "The Room Where It Happens" is growing on me, and I share the love for the Darth Vader Boyfriend Britpop of King George III ("and when push / comes to shove / I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!"). It's also very cleverly structurally, though my experience with musicals is limited so I'm not sure if that's an ordinary selling point for the form. You can understand almost everything by just the cast album, because everything but one scene (note: history is spoilers) is in it.

(Also, here's a cut rap dissing John Adams because I love it; NSFW because of audible cursing.)

Quick last thoughts:

Don't be like me and listen to the last several songs while driving! I knew it would be emotional but I was not just leaking tears but flat-out sobbing while driving, which was really stupid and unsafe. (It didn't occur to me to, uh, stop listening, because I wasn't thinking clearly.)

(Edit) Passes Bedchel by the skin of its teeth, but the women are amazing and I love Eliza and Angelica's relationship, and that Eliza gets the last word. (However I really hate the treatment of Maria, even though it's Alexander POV.)

Here are some more introductory links and discussion from [personal profile] rydra_wong. Here is a delightful (spoilery, naturally) summary of each song in one line in case you can't remember which song is which: side a, side b (as reblogged by Miranda himself).

#Ham4Ham is a thing where they do lotteries for cheap tickets, and sometimes do shows before the lottery drawings; this is one where they do a whole song, “Ten Duel Commandments”, with the stage manager calling the lighting etc. cues in the background, so you can actually get a sense of how the song is staged.

And now I'm out of time. In the sense that my timer has been beeping.
But in advance of the certain deluge of Hamilton/Burr hatesex from Yuletide, may I suggest to the slash writers Hamilton/Laurens, which is also suggested by the lyrics and has the advantage of being a genuine historical possibility? As in, here's an academic article (PDF) on the subject?

(I'll also be interested, in a sort of anthropological way, how much fic writers take up the blatant Hamilton/Washington daddy issues--not my thing, having recently-ish acquired a power-differential squick--but really, the lyrics are flat-out inviting it.)

I would also like to strongly encourage everybody-lives-and-nobody-cheats AUs; here's a delightful modern one from magneticwave called "the challenge demands satisfaction" (4k, teen and up).

*goes back to mentally practicing "revolutionary manumission abolitionists" while waiting for doctor*

May 2017

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