In which I contemplate a pilgrim’s progress
I would bet a ten-dollar-Founding-Father bill that you expected my title to refer in some way to the room where it happens. Well, kids, I’m full of surprises. Besides, there is no longer one ‘room’: everyone who has witnessed the production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton available on Disney+ has created a happening in their own room. Funny the concepts that break down under quarantine restrictions.
I compare the experience—my experience, anyway—to a pilgrim’s progress in that it represents a milestone on my journey from getting to know the soundtrack to finally witnessing the show live onstage in the flesh. When that last will happen, at this point, I can’t even guess. But this glimpse into the mechanics of the show, the staging and the emphasis and of course the dynamic performances from the very cast members I’d heard on the soundtrack, goes a long way. Even if, until that in-the-flesh moment, I will never be satisfied. (Boom!)
One of the fascinating things about the sensation that is this show is that my situation represents most people’s: that of being financially (or otherwise) unable to attend a performance and thus bonding with fellow soundtrack devotees. We can sing it by heart, we know every drum triplet and handclap and syllable uttered by Lafayette/Jefferson, but beyond that we have only the odd bit of fan footage or official production still to go on for a visual reference. Polar-opposite to other shows, our common ground would be having not seen it, having prepared ourselves in every way possible for the moment that we could. Prepared not to throw away our shot. (Boom!)
I mean, until now. Disney+ is as much of a shot as we’re going to get for the foreseeable future. And what a shot it is.
The stream of continuous motion, from the revolving rings of the stage to the subtle motions of the ensemble dancers; the alarmingly fluid light cues that spot each person as if they were born to be in that place in that moment; the almost uninterrupted music, treating applause and reactions practically like afterthoughts—every element of the production serves to evoke a life that was truly non-stop. (Boom!!! Goes the cannon!) The constant driving energy highlights the standstills even more starkly, like the unanticipated emotional rawness of “History Has Its Eyes On You” or the breathlessness of the…Philip thing.
And yet the energy comes across differently anyway; it’s a special kind of transference when it is transferred to one girl alone on a couch in her apartment (for example). In this instance there is an overwhelming feeling of intimacy, a request for the sole viewer to take away what she wishes to, what applies most to her. So, while the triumphant collective “Yorktown” and the tender twofold “Dear Theodosia” are certainly thrills, it feels summarily like the moment alone in the shade that Washington envisions in “One Last Time.” All of this is for you. The nation we’ve made is for you. Take a moment, or two hours and forty-five minutes, to survey it, to ponder it in all its beauty and imperfection.
That’s what spoke to me. Along, I should say, with everything else.
Among my favorite of the performers, nigh-on impossible with such a stellar cast: Renée Elise Goldsberry, because I love a singer who really opens her mouth; Daveed Diggs, who not only raps circles around everyone else but struts circles around them too; Anthony Ramos, the most convincing nine-year-old-who-is-not-nine that I’ve ever seen; Oak Onaodowan, who goes from Tough (as Hercules Mulligan) to Stuff (as in “stuffed shirt” James Madison) with ease; and the ensemble member who plays The Bullet as well as a host of other fatal premonitions–she’s everywhere if you keep an eye out for her.
Oh, and Leslie Odom Jr.? I think I’m in love with that guy. Not in any practical sense, of course; but longtime readers will know that I have a weakness for singers who clearly exhibit effort, and the terrifically demanding role of Aaron Burr will occasionally leave him expanding and contracting like a balloon. A balloon of talent. That’s Leslie.
After all this, the Auteur himself comes across as the weak link, if only because he is surrounded by highly trained Broadway performers. Still, the material is his brainchild; he knows it better than anyone, and he uses it to his advantage.
Some other observations from my two-hour-forty-five-minute epiphany:
- Lots more equine talk than I remember. Hamilton writes to Congress about a starved Continental Army having “resorted to eating [their] horses.” Lafayette is famously “taking this horse by the reins.” And Hercules Mulligan warns “lock up your daughters and horses”—does that mean…is he…? You know what, let’s stop that Pony Express of thought right there.
- Nowhere is the revolving stage more effective than in “Ten Duel Commandments.” Well, almost nowhere. Anytime a duel is involved, really.
- Maybe there doesn’t need to be so much hopping up onto wooden blocks…
- I need to figure out how I feel about tenor belts. I’m not crazy about belting in general as a vocal technique. Even so, there’s no denying Jonathan Groff knows how to do it.
- King George is the piragua guy of this show. In and out a few times, a potential show-stealer if he plays his cards right. I do remember that character being my favorite part of In the Heights, so.
- All right, the women in “Non-Stop”…whoop, there goes Angelica, just rolling away…and here comes Eliza…what a stage, just watch them go
- I would have had Jefferson make his entrance during the instrumental break in “What’d I Miss” just before his vocal entrance, but that’s just me. I’m sure Thomas Kail (director) had his reasons.
- Aw, I wanted a bed in “Say No to This”! Let’s get sexy!!! (whatever, the song is pretty sexy as is)
- I wonder how many times those “Room Where It Happens” dancers accidentally kicked Leslie in the face. He’s looking all right, so I suppose not many.
- Lin wearing glasses looks like a Puerto Rican Benjamin Franklin. I was waiting for him to show up in all this.
- Somehow there’s more sitting down than I expected (the opposite of 1776). I guess I figured the energy of the music would keep everyone on their feet the whole time. But then I guess they might pass out.
Grand total: a spectacle so complete it’s sickening. The score is hard to beat, hard even to find fault with. It really knocks you off your feet. And, with today being the anniversary of the little duelio in Weehawken, there’s no time like the present to immerse yourself in it.
Don’t say no to this. I couldn’t if I tried. In fact, a second watch will be in order very soon.
Image: Lin & Chris; more where that came from