Even if you haven’t seen it, there is a 99.6% chance that you’ve heard about it, since it’s hard to think of anything in recent memory that has garnered as much hype and universal acclaim.
Well, almost universal acclaim:
While I often find Trump’s tweets to be more idiotic than accurate, this time … I wondered if he might have a point — How is it that Hamilton had seemingly risen above any and all criticism? Was Hamilton so hyped that people were now just mindlessly singing its praises, delighting in being able to tell people that they had simply seen it, been there? Maybe going to Hamilton was like getting into the latest trendy restaurant with a six-month wait — you don’t go, then go “Meh.”
Furthermore, in our culture of internet criticism and trolling, it seems that the inevitable backlash should have shown up by now (for more on internet trolls, cf. our recent conversation with Brendan Leonard). How could any play, musical, movie, album, ski touring boot — anything — that has been so universally and so loudly praised not be overrated?
There was one way to find out, and I happened to be in NYC this week. So two nights ago, my friend Amaryllis and I headed to Broadway…
Ten Notes on Hamilton
#1: It’s not overrated. At all.
For a ton of reasons, of which I am only going to touch on a few.
I don’t know whether Trump has actually seen Hamilton (I don’t think he has), but I can’t decide whether it would be worse if he had seen it and called it overrated, or whether it’s worse to call it overrated when he hadn’t seen it. Sigh. Anyway, moving on…
#2: It’s not just entertaining, it’s important.
Musicals aren’t typically my thing, but this one is generating major interest in the life of a man who played a critical role in the founding of the United States. I will never get over the power of art to bring the past into the present, and there is no question that this production is doing exactly that.
#3: Turning Kids on to History
Every kid in this country, at least, will at some point see the production of Hamilton — whether live or when it eventually becomes available on video. And if this is a way to get kids to care about history — hell if this is a way to get adults to care about history — then this production is worth seeing and celebrating. Case in point…
#4: A musical actually made me excited to read The Federalist Papers.
This is true. I wasn’t aware that anything could make me want to read The Federalist Papers.
#5: King George is great (and has a point).
In the current production, King George is played by Rory O’Malley, and while the character is very funny, he also performs the important role of reminding these founders that independence is not at all an easy thing to manage.
#6: Best use of rap battles ever?
The “Cabinet Battles” in Hamilton — where Jefferson and Hamilton go at each other with their competing visions for the country — are fantastic. And it makes you wonder whether the US Congress would be any less effective if we instituted rap battles. I bet a whole lot more people would at least tune in to see what was going on. Rap battles as the vehicle to a more informed citizenry? Seems dumb, of course, but I don’t have a better idea. And furthermore, a rap-musical about Alexander Hamilton probably seemed like a pretty dumb idea back in the day, too….
#7: How to Be Present and Benefit from the Past
Social media has us increasingly focused — overly focused, one could argue — on whatever thing happens to be happening right this second.
I’m all for living in the present. But with our growing appetite to document Every Single Thing that we are doing … the irony is that the perpetual need to record and share — or the perpetual need to be walking through life thinking, “Should I post this? Should I post this? — actually disrupts our experience of living in the present. We destroy it by attempting to preserve it. We’re busy recording moments that we never fully absorbed.
But maybe this is fine; maybe it’s just a different way of being in the world. And even if there isn’t one right or wrong answer here, it is at least obvious that each of us should wrestle with the question.
But Hamilton is grabbing all the buzz and headlines while also getting us to revisit a pivotal time in modern history — getting all of us, young and old, to fixate on something that happened more than 10 minutes ago. And that is another achievement worth celebrating.
#8: Go if you can, and don’t worry about where you sit.
Going is the main thing. Better seats are nice, of course, but don’t break the bank getting as close as possible. Being there is the main thing. Just go. You’ll see.
#9: If you can’t afford to go, don’t worry about that, either.
You can still ride the Hamilton wave and be in on the conversation — for literally zero dollars.
Go to the library and check out Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the biography that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical is based upon.
And if you’ve got thirteen dollars, you can purchase the book — it’s a long book, after all — and someone else might need to check out that library copy.
And for further prep, you could also check out or purchase Chernow’s biography of George Washington, and maybe also David McCullough’s 1776 to get further grounded in the backstory of the musical.
And then, after you’ve read all of these books and immersed yourself in this world, there’s a good chance that prices will have come down on the production, or a video of the musical will have become available.
Point is, whether you can afford to go or not, the excitement and buzz and hype of this production has created massive new interest in a major historical figure who has lived in the shadows of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams. And you can tap into this buzz — and I recommend that you do — and you’ll be in a fantastic position to really appreciate and evaluate the musical when you do eventually see it. Win / Win.
#10: I can’t wait for the inevitable spinoffs.
We live in an era where so many movies are remakes or sequels of other movies (Fast and Furious 16 or whatever we’re up to; Star Wars; etc), and it would be a wonderful thing if the success of Hamilton encourages writers, producers, and directors to think, “Let’s comb through history for more great stories; Hamilton is proof that, if it’s done well, people will go.” And thanks to the success of Hamilton, people may be more willing than ever to go. I find that exciting, and can’t wait to see what else the success of Hamilton inspires.
Every once in a great while, something comes along that lives up to the hype. Hamilton is one of those things. It is smart, it is fun, it is inspiring, it is an important cautionary tale, and there is reason to think that it will lead to other smart, fun, inspiring, worthwhile projects where popular art and compelling history mix.
Is Hamilton overrated? Not by a long shot.