Last Monday I attended the Broadway opening of Hamilton, the musical. I was really looking forward to the event. The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society was out in force.
The opening was particularly auspicious coming one day after the anniversary of Hamilton’s death in 1804.
The audience was not a typical one. When the first character appeared on stage, the audience erupted into sustained applause. It turned out to be Aaron Burr standing in the shadows. Great staging! When Hamilton appeared the packed house broke out into an ever-increasing crescendo of cheers which brought the musical to a stop before it had really begun. The audience maintained that level of rapt enthusiasm throughout the first act.
During the intermission, I happen to pass by Ron Chernow, the author of Alexander Hamilton, upon which the musical is based. He was signing playbills and his book. He seemed to be a state of stunned bemused befuddlement. How could this book be opening on Broadway as a musical? How indeed! It is likely that when writing the book, the thought never occurred to him.
Earlier this year, I wrote a three-part series about Hamilton and its importance to the civic health of this country. As the recent ads for the musical stated: “This is the story of America then, told by America now.” I felt that Hamilton had the potential to connect Americans in the 21st century to the story of the birth of our country in the 18th century.
A front-page article in the New York Times on the day the play opened reported one educator saying “It was unquestionably the most profound impact I’ve ever seen on a student body.” It then commented that “the production looks to cross some invisible boundary that often separates Broadway from the broader culture. And if it succeeds, it will inevitably influence future shows.”
Another article said, “It is a rare thing: not just a theatrical landmark, but a show that jolts our thinking about popular culture and casts new light on some of the most storied events in American history.”
In a recent interview, Chernow said:
“This young, multiracial cast has a special feeling for the passion, urgency and idealism of the American Revolution, which maybe shouldn’t surprise us. Our history is the saga of outsiders becoming insiders – of the marginal and dispossessed being welcomed as citizens. Lin-Manuel offers us an Alexander Hamilton who is the quintessential immigrant and outsider who lends his talents and energies to creating the new nation.”
Here we have this transformational moment in American culture with the potential in a wondrous display of song to join America today to America then, something that this country so desperately needs.
Hamilton’s death doesn’t end the show; instead it is his widow who would live another 50 years who sings “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Who will tell Hamilton’s story she asks? Who will tell America’s story?