Hamilton, the Kennedy Center edition, officially landed in Washington D.C. this Tuesday after what seemed to be an epic, emotional, heartbreaking journey for the entire city to… well, get those damn tickets. Which are expensive. And hard to come by. And therefore, a true new D.C. status symbol for the summer of 2018? (Even this reviewer couldn’t resist taking the dreaded selfie-with-the-coveted-program, right there, in my seat, though I am still deciding what to do with it, short of sending it off to be framed. And, I don’t do this kind of stuff, I’ve reviewed things for over a decade.).
But, in all truth, that is probably the most interesting thing to write about here. The play, we know, is good. It is even great at times. When it is at its best, it is positively ecstatic. And the touring cast is great: young and fresh and talented and living a dream, obviously. And it is fun to see it in D.C. finally, a city born ready for some wonky, sassy history in-jokes and high drama.
But we, as a country, have lived with it for three years now and the things that made Hamilton seem such a REVOLUTION at the time (the colorblind casting, the hip-hop and R&B mechanics which allow for the story to be told much more fast and furiously than musical stories are, the contemporary winks and nudges and humor) – they are all A GIVEN now. The non-normative is the new normative.
2015 and 2018, if we are being honest with ourselves (and we should, if we can), are very different years in which to experience a revolution (in entertainment and otherwise).
2015 (remember 2015?) was back-in-the-day when you thought that we were en route to a female president, when Obamas still had a solid almost-half-term left and we, as a city, bought $30 soy poured candles and discussed social justice still somewhat behind-closed-doors while complaining about the exorbitant costs of life on 14th street. We still watched Walking Dead and Empire (and actually discussed it), and Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein were still hanging out on street corners and dark offices. Birdman won best picture. We had Michael Keaton in our lives again. Star Wars was JUST coming back. It was only three years a go but if feels a lifetime away. Things were, well, HOPEFUL.
Fast fwd one traumatic election, and take a turn right after you hit a whole load of privilege and guilt (which any Hamilton performance room is filled with, trust me). We call everything “content” now, and the “content producing” landscape is different: Pose is on FX with so many trans cast regulars it is essentially a Ryan Murphy dare for anyone discussing it to talk about anything else. Donald Glover is, probably as I type this, doing something that will make us us wonder what creativity truly is today. Wakanda is the 2018’s Hogwarts. No one cares about the latest Star Wars. Alejandro Iñárritu followed up his directing Oscar not with a motion picture, but a VR project about the immigrant experience. José Andrés got almost as big of an applause when he walked into the Kennedy Center Opera House to take his seat as did the first song. And whatever is right now happening at the White House clearly need a song book and an ominous score. Things feel, well, a little more QUESTIONING.
All the while, as if giving up on making impact the old-fashioned way, the former U.S. Presidents are leveraging their existence into, well, MORE entertainment: President Clinton just wrote a murder mystery and President Obama has a development deal with Netflix.
America, as a result, is a country permanently outraged, overwhelmed and possibly, bored. The revolution has been marched, televised, podcasted, streamed, DM’ed. Kids these days (!), they don’t even know the difference between movies and theatre and 30 second YouTube clips – if it is entertainment, it is entertainment. And Hamilton is just entertainment too. Quality entertainment, but demoted from REVOLUTION.
In the span of 2015-2018, Hamilton won a 1,000 Emmys (give or take), Lin Manuel Miranda became a household name, and last Christmas when buying gifts for my 12-year-old stepdaughter “ANYTHING HAMILTON” was very high on her wish list. She had never seen the musical, but knew all the words, and enjoyed this world in her own right, in her little room, in her little earbuds. When your live play, that only a small quantity of real live humans can see every night finds a way to be a part of people’s every day lives, you have officially crossed over into pure, solid gold, entertainment.
Now, the most fun I had last night was imagining what seeing Hamilton cold in 2015 felt like. FEELING that magic. The 200-miles-a-minute dialogue, the relentless stomp, the REALNESS. It felt like a shot of adrenaline into your theatre going arm, and a glimpse that the stodgy Broadway audiences could not be stodgy, if given something not stodgy to go to. It probably felt, well, HOPEFUL. For Broadway, for live storytelling, for historical entertainment, for every kid of non-white-color who never thought they’d get to play George Washington just because the skin didn’t match.
Seeing Hamilton in 2018 makes you realize three years is A LONG TIME to wait for something. People had Hamilton itches to scratch and they scratched them privately, not in theatres. Everyone in the room knew what they were getting themselves into. They paid upwards of $625 to get themselves into it, after all. Whatever they were hoping to get for the price (fun, bragging rights, something more?) I hope they got. And they loved it. They really did. The room was there as one – left side, right side, united seamlessly at Hamilton, possibly for the first time since November 2016. Laughing, humming along (tho apparently less so than in NY, because D.C. doesn’t dance at shows and doesn’t sing along at musicals, still), being there.
But that joy was, inevitably, different than what that original Hamilton pleasure. The audience were experts who seemed to derive most pleasure from hearing the songs they listened to at home, and finally being in the room with it LIVE. It felt like seeing your favorite boy band live for the first time. It felt like we’ve been there before, in our heads at least.
So, where does that leave us now?
While I can’t guarantee it will change your life, If you CAN (afford to) see Hamilton, you SHOULD go see it. Everything you heard about it is true. It is fun and funny and energizing and SO WELL DONE, and as real as a production of that scale and stature can be in 2018. It feels, even with a few years delay, that we can say “We were there, we saw it live”, and that’s pretty great bragging rights as far as bragging rights these days go. Hollywood and Broadway have hopefully learned some lessons from it. But we, as an audience, are itching for the NEW revolution. Or, at least, a new word for revolution.