Hamilton: Showtime, Showtime!
Many days I wake up with a song in my head — a message from a loved one, the universe, my Soul — often an answer to a question that’s been beguiling me, popping out of my memory and into my consciousness like confetti, fleeting, elusive, everywhere, then gone. More often it’s just that I’ve listened to a song on repeat so many times that now it won’t leave me be.
My love affair with music started early. When I was still in single digits, my sister and I would dance around the living room after Sunday breakfast to my dad’s records. We had a ginormous console, a beautiful blond wood cabinet that opened from the top. The record player sat inside in the middle with the speakers on either side housed behind patterned mesh fronting that allowed for sound to pass.
We had unlimited access to my dad’s vinyl collection: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. — the music spoke to me on a cellular level. I’d stack the albums like pancakes inside the console, my sister and I spinning like astronauts preparing for a space mission, laughing so hard we almost spit up the pancakes we just ate for breakfast, and in our altered states of consciousness — spinning does that to you — we’d fall to the carpet and laugh.
To this day I cannot hear the Sarah Vaughan song, One, Two, Three, without stopping to dance. Magic happened in that living room.
Over the past year, I’ve awakened with a Hamilton song in my head so many times I thought maybe I’d gone totally round the bend as my Aussie friend used to say. So I stopped listening to the soundtrack to see what would happen, but the music clung to me like sticky rice.
Tickets to see it on Broadway required a refinance on our mortgage so I bided my time until Hamilton arrived in Philadelphia then ordered tickets for just me and the girls — fie on my husband who had ridiculed our Hamiltonian devotion; and my son, well, he would rather do anything but see a play — and counted the days, tick tock, tick tock, until showtime.
And then the day arrived.
It was a perfect fall night. We had dinner outside at the Caribou Cafe a few doors down from the Forrest Theater, and then we were giggling in line, bouncing on our toes like elementary school kids waiting for recess, thrilled to be almost there, so close to our dream that it was visceral. We took our front row seats (OMG — front row!), the lights dimmed, and I was transported, the music moving me like I was still a kid dancing in my parents’ living room.
The set didn’t change much during the show: an enormous brick and scaffolding backdrop, ropes hanging from railings, stairways that moved up and down, and elevated walkways graced the stage from start to finish. On the ground, the actors would add a desk (for obvious reasons, lots of things happened at desks), a few chairs here, a street lamp there, but nothing elaborate, just a careful brick-by-brick construction like the slow growth of our nation. At the center of the stage were two rotating wooden circles, one inside the other that allowed for the look of activity, the actors walking and moving about while really standing still, and the walls had little niches where the actors stashed their props. From our seats, I couldn’t see the dramatic lighting illuminating the floor of the stage, but my friend sitting farther back said it was a stunning use of light to punctuate aspects of the performance.
Lin-Manuel Miranda had long since left the lead role; the women who played Eliza and Angelica didn’t have the powerhouse voices that I’d grown accustomed to on the CD; and we were in Philly, not Manhattan, but none of that mattered, because the overall effect was transcendent. By the end of the first act I was floating a few feet off the ground.
The hilarity of intermission — seven or eight hundred women being shepherded through a bathroom break in the space of 15 minutes by our “bathroom hostess,” holding her cellphone timer aloft like the Statue of Liberty. We made it back to our seats with over two minutes to spare. The second half, energized, emotional, profound, much sadder then the first. When the lights finally went down following Eliza’s final note, I laughed and cried at once, grateful for the darkness.
For three hours I had been mesmerized, captivated by every breath drawn, every surreptitious handkerchief to a brow, every spray of spittle illuminated by the stage lights, in a heightened state of awareness and emotion. Really, how often does that happen? Was it that I’d known every word that would be sung or spoken onstage before I walked into the theater or was it something else?
I’m going to say it was a combo platter.
Outside the obvious — that Lin-Manuel Miranda has created an unprecedented work of genius — I think there’s a similarity to the energy of the times then and now. As Angelica and Eliza sing in The Schuyler Sisters: “people shouting in the square”/“new ideas in the air,” two different takes on the world, one nervous and apprehensive of the tumult, one hopeful and energized by it.
Like then, our world is hungry for change, and like then, there’s a schism in the collective thinking about the best way to get there. It’s this schism that feeds our collective unrest. If we view our lives through the lens of fractal time, humanity is ready for a huge evolutionary leap forward, just like the revolutionaries in Hamiltonian times.
Isn’t it interesting that many of the same issues — race relations, gun control, immigration — still bedevil us?
We can improve upon our past by making societal changes that will benefit the whole of society, but this time, let’s do it in a peaceful manner through positive social discourse, and you know what that means, right? We have to listen to each other.
So, rather than revolve — from the Latin, revolvere, meaning to roll back— why not evolve — from the Latin, evolvere, to unroll?
It doesn’t take much to evolve, especially when the planet and her treasure trove of natural resources are pushing us in that direction. All it takes is an open mind and a sincere desire to do things in a way — read: differently — that will lead to improvement. The old ways, like the old days, are gone. If history teaches us anything, it’s that we need to absorb the lessons of what worked, toss away what didn’t and keep moving forward.
It’s a lot less work and we should give it a try.
Let’s not throw away our shot.
pam lazos 10.14.19