Hamilton: America’s Favorite Opera

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Welcome to another special edition of MelanieThoughts! So a couple of weeks ago, we were all pumped to post our Hamilton podcast. But then disaster struck (by which I mean me, I’m the disaster). I forgot to download the podcast from our recording service and it was deleted by the time I realized. Wah wah wah. So now no one gets to hear the amazement that is our critique and applauding of Hamilton, America’s favorite musical. So here’s a brief synopsis of the episode that once was – Chelsey loved it, Brandy thought it was about Burr, and I was mostly peeved that it keeps being packaged as a musical. I’m sure the other Vixens can comment if I’m misrepresenting their opinions, but here are my thoughts on Hamilton. Be warned, spoilers ahead!

First, America’s favorite musical is actually an Opera. The fundamental difference between a musical and an opera is the addition of non-musical scenes of dialogue and action in a musical. Think of Gypsy or Sweeney Todd – the musical numbers are interspersed with dialogue. Hamilton is not. It’s a constant stream of rap and music from the moment it opens to the moment it closes. So that’s my first point – it’s an Opera, not a musical.

To my second point (and this is something Brandy and I both agreed on), the musical is not about Hamilton per se. The way we see it, it’s Burr’s story. He’s our narrator and the story’s main theme of who writes your story follows Burr’s history far more closely than Hamilton’s. Burr was ostracized and despised for killing Alexander Hamilton. The character is seen in a dance with A-dot-Hamilton throughout the entire play. Their stories intertwine and divide at very specific formative points in their lives. Rather than being a tale of revolution, it’s the story of two men who are trying to navigate a murky world. We never see the action of the Revolutionary War. The most action we see in the play is the two duels of Hamilton and his son. What we see instead is a narrative – it’s Alexander’s story but it’s told through the eyes of Burr. One could say that Burr’s entire story is the story of Alexander Hamilton. So who is it really about? I don’t think an opera called A. Burr would have been as popular (especially with the hype surrounding the treasury and the $10 bill). If you look at the story through Burr’s eyes, it’s not a different story – the things that happen and drive the plot still occur in the same way, but we see more sympathy for Burr’s character. In the end, Burr couldn’t even take Hamilton’s life without him impacting (and adding his spin to) their story. Through his actions in every situation, Hamilton shaped both of their lives, and ultimately their legends.

Third, it’s really hard for me to dislike King George when he has some banging musical numbers, a great costume, and is played by the amazing Jonathan Groff. I don’t really have more to say about this other than those were classic musical numbers which broke up the monotonous rhythms of the iambic pentameter rap, but I really just wanted to fangirl a little over how great he is. I can’t wait for Mindhunters’ next season!

So this is a gist of my main points with Hamilton. I think I also questioned its purpose and whether it was one of education or entertainment (I still think it’s entertainment value far exceeds its educational value, especially given the revisionist aspects of the story). If you love Hamilton or if you hate it, you have to admit that it certainly caught the cultural zeitgeist in a way that made it an immediate classic. Personally, I thought the set was amazing, the costumes were great, and that it offered something new for fans who aren’t into traditional musicals or were looking for something different. But I also thought it had pacing issues, suffered from the cast changes, and became monotonous and a bit boring. I would rather watch a battle scene or listen to a rousing speech than watch the second hand effects of war on people who largely escaped unscathed. For a better battlefield musical, check out Les Miserables’ Do You Hear the People Sing? or my personal favorite, A Tale of Two Cities the Musical which makes me cry without fail every time I listen.

Ultimately, Hamilton wasn’t my cup of tea. I enjoyed moments of it and I yawned during others. I thought there were things that worked very well and some things that could be improved. But if you catch me in the car I might be singing Say No to This or doing my best to imitate the speed of Guns and Ships. The beautiful thing about art is that it strikes us all in different ways. One thing I absolutely applaud is that this was different. Hamilton engaged with audiences in a different way, encouraged exploration of different styles, and struck a lot of people who may not have been musical fans. So yeah, those are my thoughts on Hamilton, America’s favorite opera. Sorry that I completely threw away my shot on recording the episode – I will definitely not make that mistake again!