When I was in fifth grade, I put a heap of time into learning all the facts surrounding the Revolutionary War. I have always enjoyed history, but have also always struggled with holding onto all the dates, places, events, and people. The Revolutionary War in fifth grade marked the first time I remember dedicating lots of brainpower to my studies (except for maybe kindergarten – I cried at my teacher’s desk when I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of zeroes in subtraction. Bless Miss Springer’s heart for dealing with that). It became this big deal with everyone who sat around me. I think I bombed the initial quizzes or something and the BIG UNIT TEST was approaching and seemingly, I let everyone know how I was going to ACE it. And they all (and when I say “all”, I’m sure I mean only that one person who got stuck sitting in front of me or something) helped me by quizzing me every day. And I think I did ace it. Or, at least I did really well on it? I don’t know. That was a long time ago, folks. A Long. Time. Ago.
What I kind of loved about that super focused determination to learn and remember everything about the Revolutionary War (within the narrow confines of a probably horribly slanted fifth grade textbook), is that I grew fascinated with that time period and I did hold on to a lot of that material for many years after that. What sealed the deal on loving that time in history, though, was when Barry Bostwick became George Washington in that mini-series just a couple of years later in 1984. I loved that mini-series. I loved the dramatization of such a pivotal time in history. I loved Bostwick as Washington. (Or maybe I just loved Bostwick. Could be. I had unconventional older-man crushes when I was young. Stop judging, yo.) In truth, I know I especially loved that mini-series because it covered a lot of the Revolutionary War era and dang it, I KNEW MY STUFF.
I don’t know if there’s a chicken and egg conundrum here. I mean, did I love the mini-series because I knew so much about it already and it came alive on the screen? Or would I have loved it without that knowledge? Would I have dug watching that first, then learning about it in school? I think it’s the former, which connects to the next part of my story:
A few months ago, all the NY literary agents I follow along with many authors flooded my timeline with everything Hamilton. As in, Hamilton the Broadway musical. Seriously, it was EVERYWHERE in my timeline. And when I learned more about it, I understood. I’m not a Theater person. I mean, I enjoy going to plays, but I’ve never seen “Les Mis” (that’s what the cool people call it), Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, or The Lion King. When I saw what was happening with Hamilton, though, I truly understood the draw. A nearly all non-white cast. Hip-hop for the primary pulse behind all the music. Massive success. It’s pretty phenomenal. And if you’re still not sure why, exactly, this particular work is so important in its success, please read these four pages from Hamilton: A Revolution: (Seriously, do. It made my heart swell.)
Eventually I decided to go ahead and download the soundtrack to see if I could get on board. But, you know, it’s a little like listening to an audiobook – you have to actually pay attention to it as you listen and I don’t have long work commutes to help me with that. Plus, I don’t remember much of anything about Hamilton and have never had a burning desire to know much.
Now I wanted to learn. Because if a non-white artist found a white historical icon fascinating enough to write a musical about him, then maybe this is a piece of history I want to know more about. Plus, REVOLUTIONARY WAR, Y’ALL. Ah yes, now you see the connection.
So this is what I did:
- I checked out Hamilton: A Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda from the library.
- I got a feel for the way the book is set up. It’s the full libretto of the musical (“libretto” = full text of the vocal work and in this case, the entire musical since the songs are not separated with non-music stuff like other musicals might be) + margin notes by Miranda + introductory narrative before each song by McCarter.
- I read the narrative section, then listened to the song while following along with the printed lyrics in the book, then paused to go back and read Miranda’s margin notes. Then moved on to the next narrative section, etc.
- I finished and decided maybe I’ll need to own this book instead of getting it on loan from the library.
I read the whole book this way and it was so much fun. I loved finding out how this musical came to be, what made it unique, and the bonus historical notes (ie, what was changed, dramatic license, etc). The writer in me really enjoyed Miranda’s margin notes because the creative process behind such a work as this is pretty amazing to me.
And when I got to the narrative piece towards the end where McCarter describes opening night and the 30-second + long reception of Miranda when he walked out on stage to sing “Alexander Hamilton” in response to “What’s your name?”, I felt like I was right there, part of that audience cheering and clapping. I felt the pull of what makes people love Drama and Theater and celebrated what an accomplishment Hamilton is for all those involved with bringing Miranda’s work to life.
Sure, it would be great to see the actual performance – and maybe someday it will come to Minnesota (a girl can dream), but until then, I kind of feel like I was able to experience the next best thing. I know, some of you true Theater fans have your jaws dropping in shock that I could possibly compare this as a “next best thing”, but, *points to self*, *points to title of blog post*.
To partially redeem myself though: You know how English teachers try to help you make sense of things like Shakespeare and Faulkner? Wouldn’t it be great if this is how they could do it more often? I hope that English and history teachers are teaming up already to mine all that is possible with not only Hamilton, but the companion book, too. I guarantee you that I will now hold on to a lot of Hamilton and Hamilton era facts for quite a while, just like I used to have all of that info about the Revolutionary War back in the day.
And if you were on the fence about actually trying to jump in the fray of Hamilton mania? Leap. Download the soundtrack. Experience it with the companion book. I think you’ll dig it.
I kind of wanted to have the main video be the one where the cast performs at the White House, which includes a really great introduction by President Obama. Instead, I think it’s better that you can go ahead and click above if you want to see it, but more readily at your fingertips is the Tony Awards performance. A glimpse at the real thing is better, no?