Posted by: strugglesome | November 19, 2016

99 Problems: A Hamilton Recap

Spoiler alert: for this particular post I will not be writing a piece of theater criticism, per se, so much as a recap. After all, many people have reviewed the little known musical by Lin-Manual Miranda called Hamilton, recipient of 11 Tonys, one Grammy, and one Pulitzer, SO FAR, and beyond that, the people have spoken, the tickets are outrageous (I don’t know by what black magic I found an affordable one for this past Wednesday night, but I do have to assume Satan is going to be coming for my soul any day now), and the world gets it. Hamilton. It’s a thing. So I don’t think I really need to review this piece so much, although no doubt, as I recap it you will learn my feelings on one level or another. But as one of the few, the happy few, the band of brothers, who has seen it, I feel it is my prerogative, nay, my duty, to let those who are less fortunate know what happens during Hamilton so that if you, sad wretch, never get to see it, you at least know what the fuss is all about.

Before I jump in, I should probably say a few things. One, full disclosure, apart from knowing this show was a big deal, had gone from the Public to Broadway, and was based on the biography by history buff Ron Chernow, I didn’t really know anything about it. I had never heard the music, because as a child I used to listen to the soundtrack to Cats ad naseum and then when I finally SAW Cats it was such a letdown that I resolved never to do such a thing again and now only listen to music after I’ve seen the actual show.

Two, whatever else I say below, I think Hamilton is a very well made piece of theater and the music is fantastic. I totally get why it’s a thing.

Three, few of the original cast remain in the production now, but everyone currently in it is excellent, especially Michael Luwoye, who plays Aaron Burr and would be more than welcome to CALL ME.

Alright, that’s enough of that! Let’s jump right in.

A dude comes out in late 18th century clothing (theater style, so maybe not pinpoint accuracy but looks good twenty to 200 feet away and moving) asking how Alexander Hamilton became a thing. Given the average life expectancy in 1757 (or 1755, people debate the actual year of his birth), it’s sort of a question you could ask anyone at that time, but okay. As they lay down some beats, or whatever the kids say, the cast also lays down some exposition. Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the British West Indies, was the son of Rachel Faucette, a married British woman, and James Hamilton, the fourth son of a Scottish laird. We don’t learn the names of his parents, I googled that. He grew up, lost his mother to fever, at the age of 14 he was in charge of a shipping venture, and was by all accounts a pretty brilliant human. When a hurricane hit the island, he wrote a letter to his father describing the event, which was so well written that the community of the island pooled their resources to send him to the American Colonies, so he could attend King’s College (now Columbia). Everyone starts singing about how in New York you can be a new man, but Hamilton actually ended up in New Jersey first, and we all know that lyric isn’t applicable there. This is one of those themes that is more for the audience than the subject, because this musical is very New York central at a point when New York was not that significant, it’s like 1770’s Empire State Of Mind.

Anyway, everyone sings about how we’ve all forgotten Hamilton, and Burr reminds us that he’s the person who will eventually kill him, like, spoiler alert, bro!

Exposition done (oh, but don’t worry, it will be BACK) Hamilton arrives in New York in 1776, because I guess he’s avoiding this other musical or something, and meets Aaron Burr. Who is Aaron Burr? That’s a good question because he actually IS someone history has forgotten. Burr was born in Newark (sorry, man) and lost his parents, one of whom was a minister and the second president of what is now Princeton) at the age of two. He was raised in relative wealth, and graduated from Princeton at the age of 16. When the revolution broke out he was studying law in Connecticut, but he put that aside to join the Colonial army. However, in THIS story, he’s hanging around New York like those dudes in Williamsburg who meet who never seem to have a job and are always instagraming the view from whatever coffee shop they are in.

So Hamilton meets Burr and calls him sir, because it rhymes, and asks how he graduated Princeton so early and talks about how much he wants to go to war with the British, although the why is unclear. Fun fact, Hamilton was a British loyalist originally. This is not discussed here. Instead of telling him “I graduated early because I’m a baller”, Burr tells Hamilton to talk less and smile more and play his cards closer to the damn vest. Hamilton reacts to this like Burr is telling him to slaughter a puppy or something, but it’s actually good advice given how many people were in fact loyal to the British and also how unprecedented this revolution was, how the entire structure of the government was under British command, and the fact that you could get straight up executed for sedition against the Crown, a la Nathan Hale, who died that very year. No one mentions this, though, but Hamilton does act like Burr is some kind of asshole for no real reason at all.

Burr takes Hamilton for a drink, where they meet three people conveniently waiting for allies at a bar. I guess they went to Brooklyn or whatever. Hamilton meets John Laurens, an excellent #whiteally who fought against slavery, Hercules Mulligan, a tailor and spy (not sure about tinker or solider but hey), and Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (yes. That is his whole name. Friends called him Bob), French ally to the Americans and a total revolution whore, he fought in three.

Hamilton and these dudes instantly become besties, pitting him against Burr who is all subtle with his allegiances. Hamilton scorns Burr, and did you know he’s “not giving away his shot”? He speaks out against England, and his new BFFs are very impressed. He’s articulate and bold, so they want to get him in front of a crowd. Hamilton foreshadows his eventual focus on the treasury and state debt and a national bank by saying “But Jesus, between all the bleedin’ ‘n fightin’/I’ve been readin’ ‘n writin’/We need to handle our financial situation/Are we a nation of states? What’s the state of our nation?”.  That’s a lot of foresight from a drunk dude in a bar! It’s gotta be Brooklyn. They all get drunk and sing another song which is fine but not amazing and excludes Burr. This will be a theme.

Burr continues to be our shaman on this road to information, telling us that rich people like looking at poor people and that’s why #richbitches Angelica, Elizabeth (Eliza) and Peggy Schuyler, (daughters of Philip Schuyler, a rich dude who was actually a General in the revolution, the internet tells me) have come downtown to ogle at guys. Angelica, the clear leader, is looking for Thomas Paine, which is weird because that dude is in Philadelphia, but the point here is these are smart revolutionary ladies who want emancipation for women and think New York is the greatest city in the world. This is another moment made for the audience, not the subjects, because New York was on the low end of significance at this period, an important and strategic port, but nothing compared to Boston or Philadelphia. Still, they keep insisting so let’s go with it. Angelica and Eliza are clearly thrilled to be out on the town prowling for hot young revolutionary dudes, but Peggy is a total drag. Enjoy these few lines from Peggy, that’s the last you’ll be hearing from her for the rest of the show. In real life, Peggy marries a guy 6 years younger than her (yaas Queen!) and dies by 1801, but for the purposes of this play, I’m going to have to assume she runs off to explore the West, or her sisters throw her in a ditch somewhere for being such a downer.

This song is basically just to introduce these women and has literally no other purpose. Cool.

Somewhere else, Hamilton interrupts a loyalist, dropping knowledge about the Boston Tea Party. He is in turn interrupted (karma!) by a sullen and pouty King George the Third, who, like all scorned lovers, tells the colonies “You’ll be back”, and foreshadows his own madness. This does not come up again.

Optimism aside, things look grim, because apparently the British Navy is a thing. Who knew? The whole world. Literally. Hamilton tells us he wished for war as a child, which seems like a weird thing for a child to be into, but alright. Then they introduce Washington, who explains that this situation is a shitshow and he’s going to need a personal assistant to get him through it. I would have thought he would have requested, you know, trained soldiers and food, but sure, get your letters read and your coffee made, George. Washington references several battles the Colonial army lost, and then Burr comes in because he has the world’s worst timing and clearly wants to be Washington’s secretary. In real life Burr actually DID serve in Washington’s staff after working for a while with Benedict Arnold (awkward), but Burr quit working for Washington because he wanted to be fighting. Burr ended up saving Hamilton’s regiment through strategic thinking as the Colonial army retreated to Harlem in the evacuation of New York. For the purposes of this musical, though, Burr is a weird creeper who keeps getting displaced by Hamilton’s brilliance, so that’s what happens again, and Hamilton become’s Washington’s secretary. I hope he has a tight sweater and cute heels. The girls in the typing pool are going to be so proud!

Burr is annoyed by this, but jumps quickly to the next song which talks about how he and Hamilton were both super DTF and enjoyed having sex with all the women possible. No wonder the Revolution lasted forever. Lack of focus! At a ball Hamilton meets the Schluyler sisters, even Peggy, who I guess they dig out of that ditch they put her in, and begins a romance with Eliza, who is “helpless” in the face of his charm. This song is adorable, very pop-starlet but it’s charming as hell, which is also what Eliza thinks Hamilton is, and they get married. Then we see the whole thing through the eyes of Angelica, who ALSO fell in love with Hamilton through, like, a thirty second conversation that is frankly so basic that you worry about Angelica, like, girlfriend, this is not “matching wits”, this is meeting a human being and asking normal questions.  Anyway, the whole point is that Angelica steps aside for her sister, and while the song is musically great, it ends on sort of dick note where Angelica warns that neither of them will ever be satisfied because they don’t get to be with each other. Angelica, you met the dude for a minute, and your sister could be excellent in bed, you don’t know her life! But the song is so good you could almost ignore these things. Obviously I couldn’t, but someone ELSE probably could….

Then Burr shows up (this musical misses a MILLION chances to make puns on the name Burr but I wont make that mistake so let’s start with this, he’s quite the BURR in Hamilton’s side!) and Hamilton is like, glad you showed up! And Burr is like, we are total frenemies, how are you not getting this? And Hamilton is like, I hear you are screwing someone new! And Burr is like, you know whose beeswax this is? NOT YOURS. Plus, she’s married. And British. So. Cool. And Hamilton is like, you should just go for it! Love is everything! Like he didn’t just full on social climb his way into a nice girl’s petticoats. Then Hamilton leaves, presumably to go deflower his new wife, and Burr sings a great song about being willing to wait for his ladyfriend, Theodosia, who we must assume is not the Byzantine empress, although this character never shows up on stage even though we had to spend time with flipping PEGGY, so what the hell? She COULD be the Byzantine empress. We will never know. The song devolves into Burr’s resentment of Hamilton for being so fearless but Burr comforts himself that he has a lot to lose and Hamilton doesn’t.

It is at this point that I asked myself what IS it exactly that Hamilton wants, because really, at this point he’s kind of a relentless social climber, he wants to improve his lot in life and he sees this war as a chance to do so, and I’m totally into that, I appreciate it, but there is this sort of nobility that keeps getting placed on his head that is confusing. Intelligence doesn’t inherently lead to morally upright action, and if Hamilton is getting his, that’s really okay, but there is this weird tension between Burr and Hamilton like Hamilton is so full of integrity and Burr isn’t, but integrity serving what? What does Hamilton want in life, other than to stay alive and not be poor, which are some basic human values? What is his vision for the nation? I buy that the war was the greatest opportunity for a whole generation of young men to change their lives, but in what direction for our main man here? I don’t really know. So far, this musical could be subtitled “events in order in the life of Alexander Hamilton”, which is great, and fun, and it seems like he had a pretty cool and crazy life, but how dramatically solvent is that?

The war, meanwhile, isn’t going super great. It turns out that burning beliefs in freedom are not as efficient as actual weapons and skilled troops. Hamilton complains that Washington made Charles Lee his second in command, which Hamilton, desperate to command troops, isn’t thrilled by. (In real life, Charles Lee was actually a decorated veteran in the British army, and when he forfeited his land and titles to fight for the American Revolution he asked to be paid and expected to be made commander of the army. The Revolution was, it turns out, the original non-profit, and Washington got the post instead because he was willing to work for free (and because Lee was sort of weird and smelly, which just goes to show, good hygiene matters!). As a result, Lee spent the war resenting the hell out of Washington, writing letters to Congress begging to replace him, to the point that he disobeyed Washington’s orders in the battle of Monmouth in 1778. Lee was court martialed, relieved of his command, and died of a fever shortly after.) In this musical, Lee messes up the same battle (I think?) and Layfayette steps in, angering Lee, who badmouths Washington in retaliation. Laurens, remember him? ‘ships Washington hard, and challenges Lee to a duel. Dude, you’re locked in the middle of a war. Ain’t nobody got time for that! But they do it anyway, with Hamilton acting as Laurens’ second because he also has the day off or whatever.

Lin-Manual Miranda then takes this opportunity to teach the audience about how duels work, which is considerate for those of you who haven’t spent their lives immersed in historical fiction so….not me. Burr is Lee’s second, because I guess there are only like five people fighting the British at this point and they all hang out all the time. Laurens wins the duel, but Washington is pissed as hell, specifically at Hamilton because of the point I mentioned above, ain’t nobody got TIME for this! Washington is paternal, but Hamilton is an ORPHAN, haven’t you been listening the seventeen times Burr reminded us of this in a slow rhyme? So Hamilton is uppity and Washington sends him home where he discovers his wife is pregnant. Eliza is thrilled to have him back, but Hamilton just wants back into battle. Eliza slings some heavy-handed anvil-sized lyrics about how she wants to be part of Hamilton’s narrative, which, you’re a woman in the 18th century, good fucking luck! There is room for one, maybe two people and Abigail Adams has the market cornered. Eliza wants to be enough for Hamilton, but doesn’t she know he’s never satisfied? It’s like she’s not listening to the clear and blindingly simple, some (me) might say reductive, terms of this musical!

Layfayette meanwhile is just SLAYING it, going to France and coming back with better souvenirs than reproduction postcards from the Louvre, that is, guns and ships and stuff. Again, no mention of Franklin, who really brokered that deal, further confirming my theory that Miranda was staying as FAR away from a 1776 reference as he could. But the war cannot be won without Hamilton! He is literally the only person who can turn the tide! Somewhere that early run of shad that saved the Colonial army at Valley Forge is like excuuuuuuse me?, but no one can hear it over all the music. So Washington tells Hamilton that “history has it’s eyes on him” and Hamilton gets in the game! He leads in the battle of Yorktown, the decisive American victory that ended the war.

It is at this point that I realize the first act is not yet over and that means the second act is going to be about Hamilton as Secretary of the treasury and oh my god how many rap battles about the national debt am I going to be sitting through? Answer? Less than I thought. MORE THAN I HOPED.

King George the Third comes back and is like, good fucking LUCK with this one, and this resonates in tough ways in this post-Trump America. (Sidenote, Mike Pence went to Hamilton and the cast’s response was AMAZING and yes to all this, let’s keep it going.)

Burr and Hamilton sing to their infant children about how they want to make the world a better place for them. It’s pretty nice. There is a lot of historical stuff that happens after the war in real life but luckily we are spared that because it’s long and technical and probably pretty interesting for history PhDs and not for the rest of us. Instead, Burr and Hamilton go to New York and become lawyers, making their dead mothers very proud because they are ORPHANS and that’s a primary personality trait for them. What’s weird is that Hamilton spends no time with his family and so while there is no one way to be an orphan a little consistency about emotional need and motivation would be nice.

In real life Burr marries Theodosia, although whether that happens in New York or in Constantinople is anyone’s guess, and Hamilton makes bank, literally, when he founds the Bank of New York (seriously how did no one make that joke?). In this musical, Burr and Hamilton become a law duo and Burr resents Hamilton, because that’s literally all Burr can do, he tried to do other stuff once and it was a non-starter. Hamilton, a super prolific writer, foreshadows his death by “writing like he’s running out of time” and becomes a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He’s such an advocate of centralized government that apparently in real life Hamilton actually wrote to the Prince of Prussia asking if he wanted to be President/King of America around this time, sooooooo, think of that what you will.

Hamilton supports the constitution, flawed as it is, and gets James Madison and John Jay together to write the Federalist Papers, a group of documents supporting and defending it. He writes most of them, nerd. Washington asks him to be the Secretary of the Treasury and he’s down, despite his wife’s entry to stay and make a life with her. (In real life they had seven children so I guess he stopped by on vacations and national holidays.) So off he goes, and that’s the end of the first act. Jesus Christ.

Act two! Thomas Jefferson, fresh from France by way of Monticello by way of all the slaves he’s been screwing, finally puts in some face time. Concerns about Hamilton’s push for a strong centralized government plus the appointment as Security of State get him in the game, where he fights a rap battle with Hamilton about state debts. Hamilton wants the national government to assume them, Jefferson doesn’t. In real life, Hamilton spent a lot of his time writing reports and suggestions to bolster manufacturing, found a national bank and standardize currency, create new tax structures and grow trade. This is pretty cool, but very boring as well, which is probably the real reason we actually don’t focus much on Hamilton in high school, because his contributions, while significant, are hardly sexy. Anyway, Hamilton makes strong points in the rap battle, but Jefferson, who moves in a positively DELICIOUS pimp walk, reminds him he doesn’t have the votes. Basically, Hamilton does not play well with others, and Washington is like, well now would be a great time to start, fool!

Eliza wants Hamilton to be more present as a husband and father but he’s like, sorry bout it. Hamilton doesn’t want to go upstate and pick apples and whatever it is people do there, he’s gotta stay and fix the country, dammit! Aka meet a woman, Maria Reynolds, played by the actress who played Peggy! and have IMMEDIATE sex with her. This is a super weird thing that happens, and while it’s historically accurate, mostly, it’s very strange that Miranda didn’t sort of make an assertion on why Hamilton had an affair with a random woman who literally stopped by his house one day and whose husband than immediately proceeded to blackmail him a lot. Like, would you want to speculate? Could this have been a set up by his political enemies? Or is something lacking for Hamilton in his marriage? Or does he have a complex relationship with women because his mother had him and his brother out of wedlock during an estranged period with her first husband in a time that was even more rigid in its double standards for men and women than today (can you imagine that?)? But in what will turn out to be a pressing theme of this piece, there is no decision made about Hamilton and who he is and what motivates him beyond the basic, no theory put forward about this human who is, like all of us, complex and changeable, who can simultaneously be one of the most brilliant minds of his generation who formed our country AND a total garbage person who separated personal and professional concepts of integrity. Instead, the complexity of him as a human has been flattened, so when this happens there isn’t this sense of oh, of course, his own downfall, as much as there is a sort of, this is what dudes do! excuse. Makes you really with Angelica had followed up with Thomas Paine instead of moving to England. Well, okay then. Carry on.

He does! Her husband emerges in a magnificent leather frock coat and fedora, all uptown pimp style, and blackmails Hamilton, generously offering an extension of his wife’s services, aka her vagina, for a fee. Good thing you got the Coinage Act passed, right, Hams?

Next up, Burr sings this amazing number about wanting to be in the rooms of power, the way Hamilton gets to be. He’s great, and it’s another way in which I actually feel you get a far better sense of Burr and his mechanisms as a human and what he wants and where it comes from than you do of Hamilton, and by the way Michael Luwoye you can still feel free to CALL ME. Basically Hamilton gets support for his financial plans and agrees to move the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., and politicians from that point on can blame someone for that swampy mess.

Burr becomes a senator, taking Philip Schuyler’s seat. In the musical, this is a big surprise to Hamilton, I guess he’s still too busy literally paying a man to have sex with his wife to notice the senate race. Hamilton is hurt that Burr did this to him (it is not all about you! Except this show. Which is about you.) but Burr is thrilled he’s finally getting somewhere. Also, look, in real life Hamilton married into a wealthy political family and the only reason he became the New York delegate to the continental congress was because his father-in-law tapped him, so he has to know how this works. But he’s like, I thought we were friends! Did you? Really? Total Burrrrrrrrn.

Rap battle about the Jay treaty! America has to decide whether to support France in their war with England, or stay the hell out of it. Jefferson is like Viva la Revolution! They helped us, we help them, kindergarten rules, yo! Hamilton is like, we literally have no money and then Jefferson is like, well YOU have money, new money, sick Burrrn! But Burr isn’t there to support this. (In real life Hamilton and the Federalists wanted to encourage trade with England, because he was a practical person and they were the only trade game in town, while Jefferson and the Republicans wanted a trade war.)

Burr and Monroe and Jefferson whine about how Washington likes Hamilton best, and that’s a real thing, apparently, Jefferson and Hamilton both vied for Washington’s attention all the time. They throw a lot of shade on Hamilton about his clothing, but what’s sort of weird is that by now the ladies have moved into the Regency style, but all the dudes are looking the same, so costume isn’t really supporting Hamilton’s dandy rep in a strong way. But whatever, the point is he’s a new money immigrant and they are all against him. If you forget that, like every other damn thing in this musical, it’s going to be repeated a thousand times. You’re good. They decide to try to get some dirt on Hamilton. May I direct you to a man in a conspicuous leather frock coat? Pimps his wife on the weekends? No?

Jefferson resigns so he can run for President, and Washington is okay with this. Hamilton is distraught, because in real life he actually proposed presidents govern for life and he’s the guy who tried to make it the United States of Prussia, so you can see why he’s taking this hard. Plus, daddy issues. Hamilton helps pen Washington’s famous farewell address, because Washington wants to “teach the country how to say goodbye”. Seriously? Did Nicolas Sparks write this song? Is it a Washington to remember? Wasn’t Washington just tired and wanted to chill in Virginia? Can’t a guy just want to not be president anymore? It’s exhausting work!

Anyway, Adams becomes president, a member of Hamilton’s federalist party, but not a friend. Apparently in real life Adams thought Hamilton was a dick in his personal life and created too much scandal. WONDER WHY. In the real timeline Hamilton left his position as Secretary of Treasury before the Adams Presidency, but in this musical Adams fires Hamilton and is more than a little racist about it, calling him a creole bastard. Nothing about that is incorrect of course, but it’s the tone, you know.

Jefferson is still worried about Hamilton, so he gets together with Burr and Monroe and they accuse him of embezzling funds, but he’s like, oh, how DARE you, I would never do that, I used all my OWN money to pay off my married lover’s husband. Bet you feel foolish NOW, don’t ya? They promise to be quiet, although in real life this was all a lot more complicated and Monroe in fact refused to promise to stay silent which led to Hamilton to write the Reynolds Pamphlet! That’s coming in a second.

First, Hamilton has a number were he recaps all the things we already know re:childhood, poverty, hurricanes, his amazing writing abilities, and he decides the way to save his reputation and legacy of government actions is to describe his affair to the world. That’s a real thing that happened, and very much a bad-ass move, but also a terrifically douchey one for his wife and family. That’s Hamilton, for you, I guess. I’m not sure. Still not getting a clear read on this guy. Jefferson and Burr are like little school girls all excited that Hamilton can’t be president now, which I don’t know was a thing he was gunning for, although maybe, I guess. Eliza is totally humiliated, Angelica comes to comfort her and Hamilton is like, oh, great, a friend and Angelica is like are you for serious right now? If this musical is to be believed, Hamilton was one tone-deaf solipsistic son of a gun.

Eliza has a sad song about how she’s taking herself out of the narrative and how history wont get to know all that she thought and feels. Oh, honey, literally no one cares, but okay. It’s a nice song.

Time jump! Their oldest son Philip is now at King’s College, brash like his dad and spoiling for a fight with George Eacker, a random dude who was negative about Hamilton one time. Sensitive, much? He challenges him to a duel, which he promptly loses and dies from the wound. Eliza and Hamilton are devastated. It is sad, although it would probably be sadder if Philip had been onstage for more than five minutes, but still. Sad. The Hamiltons’ morn,  move uptown, and reconcile through their grief and a nice musical number. Man, it’s weird to think of New York pre-Central Park. I wonder what uptown was in that period, back when New York was so small. Probably, like, Koreatown.

Back to political rap battles! It’s 1800 and Jefferson is facing off against Burr for the presidency. Burr is all excited, literally skipping around the stage. I love him. When this is all over I want to write a one-man cabaret featuring Burr and it will be called Paris is Burrrrrrning and it will be amazing. Jefferson is worried he might lose to Burr, but Monroe tells him he should ask Hamilton for an endorsement. As it turns out, Hamilton gives it, not because he likes Jefferson, but because he feels like Burr doesn’t stand for enough. This is such a musical theater reason. (In real life there is a debate about this, but some speculate that Burr was more moderate and Hamilton feared he would lose control of his party when negotiating with someone more willing to dialogue with Federalists, go across the aisle, that sort of thing. Fun fact, Hamilton not only blocked Burr for president, he also helped with his defeat in the 1804 New York gubernatorial race. See? Smart scheming savy semi-garbage person.)

In the musical, Burr prepares to be VP, because that’s what happened when you used to lose the presidential race. Wow. Can you imagine? Jefferson laughs him out of the room, (which is not what happened in real life, Burr was indeed VP for Jefferson’s first term).

So basically Burr is nothing now and it’s all Hamilton’s fault. He’s probably going to be the bigger person about it, be cool, take a book deal, get into organic farming, right? No. He’s going to challenge Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton claims to have more integrity than Burr, which, again, seriously? After two hours of the complexities of Hamilton’s life we are going that paper-thin and simplistic? Fine. Hamilton writes something down before he duels, which when I saw I sort of assumed had to be his will, but in real life he wrote a long defense of his decision to participate, weighing his moral reluctance and family responsibilities against his code of honor. That’s sort of wonderful.

They duel. Burr wins, and even to this day no one really knows how. In one of the rare “make a decision about what motivated what” moments Miranda has in this piece, he has Hamilton disoriented by dueling in the same place where his son died. He has some beautiful lines about legacy before he dies, which is nice, and would have been nicer if Hamilton wasn’t so clearly a power-hungry climber (not that there is anything wrong with that), but I guess they aren’t mutually exclusive. Burr is sad, and realizes “the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me”. Well, as long as you learned something.

The final song is a bit of a coda where everyone talks about how great Hamilton was, and how he doesn’t get enough credit, and how it’s all about who tells your story, which is nice but sort of apropos of nothing. Then Eliza talks about everything she did in the fifty years she lived after Hamilton’s death and I decide she can join the Burr cabaret I’m writing, because it’s really a lot of cool stuff, and it’s really very beautiful and I sort of wish the whole musical had just been about her.

So that’s Hamilton. And if you don’t know, now you know….

So who is Hamilton? I still don’t know. I don’t know exactly who he is, or who Miranda thinks he is. Look, don’t get me wrong, this musical is a game changer and it deserves all the acclaim and excitement it gets. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be a sophisticated and complex look at an important figure. Perhaps it can just be events in the life of Hamilton in order. It certainly doesn’t need my opinion of it, either way, it’s doing just fine and I’m one of thousands of opinions about Hamilton.

But I’m telling you this right now. My Aaron Burr cabaret is going to be life altering. Just you wait.




  1. […] neither. I saw theater, life affirming joyous theater about the Vietnam War, and Drag Queens, and Alexander Hamilton. I went to museums and spent time with objects from ancient Jerusalem that have seen empires rise […]

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