It finally happened. I got to see it.
In a word? WOW.
If you’re new to this space, you should probably know that I’m a “Hamilton” fan. And unless you’re new to planet Earth, you’re probably aware that I’ve got a lot of company, including many of us who have yet to beg, borrow or steal our way into “The Room Where It Happens,” also known as a live performance of the Broadway smash.
That changed on Independence Day weekend. In a world where everything’s gone remote, the hip-hop history of the early republic followed suit, jumping feet first into streaming television. For two and a half hours we could see the show as it was on one night in 2016 … you know, back about a million years ago, when masks were something from a Jim Carrey movie?
I jumped in with it. And got hit with several tides at once.
First, of course, was a bit of heartbreak for a personal passion. Thanks to the coronavirus, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to touch live theatre – to see faces play off faces, actors play off audience, the perpetual cycle that creates something unique to the moment yet timeless in the memory. For an amateur actor like myself, to have even the shadow of that was powerful, even while it evoked the yearning for something more.
And then it touched something more subtle.
Watching the faces, you see, means watching reactions. Seeing thoughts and decisions. Having the impact of choices made physical and real.
In a story like this, that’s vital. Because this is a story about stories.
And it’s one that’s achingly relevant to now.
A bit of background: the musical sets up Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton as foils to each other. Burr waits for the right moment; Hamilton tries to create it. Burr is cautious about what he says; Hamilton produces a flood of words at every moment. Burr weighs what his audience wants to hear; Hamilton speaks and writes with brutal honesty.
And yet, at the start, they’re more alike than different. Both are focused principally on themselves. True, Burr is considering how he’ll be perceived now while Hamilton instead looks forward to how he’ll be remembered. But it’s still “all about me.”
Burr rarely gets beyond that. When he finally puts his cards on the table, his aim is simply power for its own sake. To be at the center of the decision-making, regardless of what the decisions wind up being.
Hamilton, in the play, finds the seeds of something more. Not just because he has something he wants to build. But because he’s reminded – often in painful ways – that his story isn’t just HIS story, that the choices he makes have an impact on others.
That’s a valuable reminder at any time. And especially now.
In a crisis, it’s easy to get caught up in the personal. After all, there’s so much of it. It’s human to feel the blows, to mourn the changes, to chafe at restrictions and scream “When do I get the life that I want back?”
We all feel it. And we know it’s not that easy.
In blizzards, in wildfires, in pandemics, the choices we make for ourselves can make life-or-death differences for others. That’s always the case, really, but a disaster underscores it. A moment’s carelessness can mean a pileup on icy roads, an out-of-control canyon blaze, or, yes, an outbreak that snuffs out lives and livelihoods on an epic scale.
And when we consciously look out for others – that’s when we’re at our best. That’s when we become neighbors and communities. It’s how we recover and build. Not by pushing ahead to what we want or deserve, but by watching for the needs and concerns of others and meeting them, even when it’s inconvenient.
That’s a story worth joining.
I wonder if we can get Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the music?