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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink the film of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
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- Deloping or “throwing away your shot”
- “‘Hamilton’ Would Last 4 To 6 Hours If It Were Sung At The Pace Of Other Broadway Shows” from Five Thirty Eight
I’ll just say this, Pete is not alone in being a new father who has complicated feelings about the show and especially “It’s Quiet Uptown”. My wife and I saw the stage play less than a year before our spontaneous triplets were born much too early and we lost our middle daughter after 70 days of life. In the NICU, we sang “Dear Thodosia” and since then, we’ve ordered our smart devices to play the more upbeat songs from time to time, but we hadn’t done a full run-through of the album.
We dutifully watched #Hamilfilm on Disney+ (TM) and were both reduced to unexpected tears at “It’s Quiet Uptown”. I had forgotten, or maybe just repressed, that element of Hamilton’s story. It’s not a song that slaps, but for a certain demographic, it packs a significant, unimaginable punch.
While I love the show (didn’t see it in the theater, but have listened to the recording more than a few times), I did have a couple of problems with it beyond just how hard it is to film a stage presentation.
The big one, as I think Matt pointed out early on, is that, for a show with an obvious (achieved and surpassed) goal of highlighting non-White talent in musical theater and a massive subplot about slavery, it’s awkward that non-White people only exist in Jefferson asking “Sally” to get something for him while he’s being introduced. I know that the cut songs at least give Hemings her full name and mention her history, but no other slave is mentioned, nor are the likes of James Armistead (Lafayette’s spy), the so-called Black Commandos who did the heavy lifting to free Charles Lee after his capture. I can understand the lack of Native Americans, since we were…not nice to the New York area tribes who largely sided with the British, but not even a mention of Crispus Attucks!?
Along the lines of the cut songs, by downplaying slavery and giving Daveed Diggs the most technically complex songs and a final line praising Hamilton, Jefferson comes out of this looking like he was supposed to be the hero and only looks bad because Hamilton was an evil genius undermining him, instead of…y’know, being a massive hypocrite as an “all men are created equal” guy who owned a mess of slaves and a “small government” guy who doubled the size of the country.
Lastly, it’s a little bit of a let-down to find out that the musical is mostly just the soundtrack with people. Granted, it’s hard to pull a continuous plot that can support a musical from somebody’s life, especially when it’s also trying to follow the history of rappers without naming them, but having nothing to link the vignettes feels like something is missing from the overall show. Even just having Leslie Odom or Jonathan Groff derisively read a couple of lines of Hamilton’s writing to set up the songs might’ve provided a more cohesive or continuous “story.”
The disjointedness reminds me a lot of Frank Wildhorn’s (ill-advised for SO many reasons, especially in retrospect) The Civil War, which–for the nearly-100% of people who haven’t seen it–pairs a letter home or diary entry from the front with an original song, alternating between Union and Confederate voices. A lot of the music is really good (not nearly the hit rate as Hamilton), but it feels much more like a concert or a presentation than a theater piece.
Again, it’s still great to watch it, and I can’t wait to see the effect on the next generation of musicals that are better positioned to synthesize the Broadway tradition with Hip Hop/R&B than a pioneer can.
As a non-American, I loved it. The turntable on the stage blew my mind. When they did the flashback during the Satisfied number, I was floored.
I think it was interesting that politics is depicted as people with egos going at each other’s throats. We tend to romanticise politics back then as very stoic and intellectual. And even though it was in many ways, in lost of other ways its still the same clash of large egos we have today.
To the point about the hidden themes in the songs, I thought of “Wait for It” by Aaron Burr, where he sings that if there’s a reason he’s still alive when everyone else has died, he’s willing to wait for it. But at the end, he’s hasty to shoot Hamilton because he doesn’t believe that he will throw away the shot, and hence failing to “wait for it”, to wait to find out. And he fails his central thesis just as Hamilton fails to not throw away his shot.
It was really illuminating the differences between stage and screen that you all pointed out. I hadn’t thought about that.
I don’t have a ton to add to what was a very good and interesting podcast, so I will comment that I finally got to watch on Disney+ (I didn’t get to see the play live, but my wife and kids’ incessant playing of the musical around the house for two years ensured that I know Hamilton forwards and back).
So anyways, one thing that stood out to me during one of the Burr showstoppers….I think it was “The Room Where it Happens” is the song and dance number climaxes with Odom Jr. kinda pointing his arm towards the ground like a gun. This pairs nicely with the iconography of the Hamilton logo which shows the silhouette of Miranda as the fifth point of a star throwing away his shot.
Aside from the nice pairing of a visual North/South gesture to show the polar differences between our protagonist and antagonist, it made me think about the Hamilton logo itself and how it compliments the theme of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”.
The musical wants very much to reassure us that Hamilton (and therefore we ourselves) live on in the memories of those who loved us, who told our story. The truth is laid out in the text of the play:
“Did’ya hear the news about good old General Mercer
You know Clermont Street
They renamed it after him, the Mercer legacy is secure
And all he had to do was die
That’s a lot less work
We oughta give it a try”
The truth is that we as a culture have a fascination with Great Men & Women who die early or under extraordinary circumstances. And for all his accomplishments, Alexander Hamilton was always “The dude who got shot in a duel” to me. The same way my daughter only knows Tupac as “the dude who got shot in Vegas”. Presumably there are a bunch of high schoolers now who can only name Trump, Obama and JFK as US Presidents.
Anyways, great show.