This piece started out as an aside and then became a footnote before flowering into a whole blog post.
Back in Horse 2551, I asserted that Hamilton The Musical is possibly the most important single piece of musical theatre in the twenty-first century. The reason for this is that apart from the fact that the ticket waiting list has extended into months, and that when it tours that those ticket waiting lists also extend out, this particular stage production has burned so brightly that people who don't care about musical theatre or about theatre in general, know about it.
Don't get me wrong here, I am not an authority on musical theatre at all. Actually, come to think of it, I am not really an authority on anything and my advice should not be followed¹. Nevertheless, just like Alexander Hamilton who writes day and night like he's running out of time, I will dispense my ill-conceived opinion here.
Hamilton is meh.
I know that this is very much in the land of commenting on things that I haven't seen but I have heard the soundtrack to Hamilton more times than I care about. The hairdresser's shop downstairs which has its loudspeakers affixed to their ceiling, plays music which comes up through the floor where I work and so I have heard the soundtrack to Frozen, Moana, Hamilton, Aladdin and Heathers quite a bit; in some cases in French.
I understand the significance of Hamilton and bringing lots of people to the theatre who wouldn't ordinarily be interested to it. Having said that, I just don't find the style of most of the songs to be pleasant. Lin Manuel Miranda is very obviously hideously talented and on track for completing EGOT² but there's only a few songs that really jump out at me.
King George's Three Songs
I know that he is supposed to be a kind of comic extra and that his three songs (which actually are the same song) only last for about six minutes in total but he is brilliant. The orchestration of these numbers encapsulates King George's madness in a way that no textbook could ever hope to. It is entirely fitting that King George's numbers are the most traditional musical pieces in the production. That's what he is for. You can not have America establishing its independence without an antagonistic foil, as the plot device. I generally think that it was a tax dispute which got out of hand and that had America been more like Canada, then the world would have been a better place.
I reckon that if Lin Manuel Miranda wrote a King George III musical, it would be brilliant. King George is already a character of farce; which thanks to the ravages of time means that it is literally impossible to defame him. There's also a wee little jab at whoever happens to be the president of the day, making use of deliberate abiguity through the vicissitudes of time (there is now a different president to the one who was in charge when the musical first debuted off-Broadway).
Are they going to keep on replacing whoever's in charge? If so, who's next? There's nobody else in their country who looms quite as large? Ah ha ha ha ha, President John Adams?! Good luck.
I think that Alexander Hamilton is the villain of the musical. In counterpoint, the hero of the story in my opinion is none other than Eliza Hamilton. This is probably the most poignant point of the musical and the point where if it hasn't dawned on the audience, exactly how much of a knavish knave that that knave Alexander Hamilton is.
It is worth pointing out that at the time of the Reynolds Pamphlet being published, Eliza was in fact pregnant with one of Hamilton's children; which makes this whole thing even more justified. Why Alexander wanted to do such a thing as this when he was already under suspicion of embezzlement is beyond me.
I could be wrong but I think that Eliza is the only character in the musical whose default mode is in waltz time. That's noteworthy as the impression that I get from the musical is that she is the one who is primarily responsible for resurrecting Hamilton's legacy.
The Room Where It Happens.
Aaron Burr is supposed to be the villain of the piece. He really isn't though. He has decently established motives for doing things but this is necessary for the plot of the musical, even if it actually doesn't line up with history properly.
There's also a dainty wee reference to Hamilton's demise at the end of this song as well.
Your Obedient Servant.
Hamilton's profuse letter writing is not only the instrument which brings about the collapse of his family and private life but this exchange with Burr, further cements this by using the act of letter writing as a framing device. Again, this is in waltz time which is used as a cover for polite invective.
I will confess to using the ending flourish of "Your Obedient Servant" or "I have the honour to be your obedient servant" in my own correspondence as a result of this song. It has been met with almost complete silence, which is what I would expect; however there was one email chain where a client was asking for something which I thought was borderline illegal and the reply that I got to this was "I shall try not to be intemperate in future".
Mostly the style of the musical, which borrows from rap and hip-hop, I find tedious. Evidently though, lots of people really like it; so hang my opinion. Something which is this commercially successful can quite comfortably ignore my comments from the peanut gallery.
The real test will be after we've all been and gone. 1776 The Musical has all but faded into obscurity. Other political musicals like Call Me Madam have had the odd song escape into the rest of the world long after any relevance - I Like Ike. You'll Never Walk Alone became anthemic in its own right thanks to the greatest endeavour in human history, Liverpool Football Club. The absolute peak of greatness in the realm of musicals is probably either the Pirates Of Penzance or The Mikado; both of those have outlived Gilbert and Sullivan³. I don't think that in 2119 there will be ongoing productions of Hamilton.
Having said all of this, when placed against the light of modern popular music, Hamilton is a very sparkly diamond. There is a general criticism that modern music apart from being far less adventurous in both terms of chord selection and progression, is also less adventurous in terms of the number of instruments used. Hamilton thinks that it is a rap musical but yet it incorporates elements from both rock as well as the orchestra.
This musical employs different instrumentation, time signatures, chord progressions, and I think that it might even switch between different modes on occasion; and that's really getting deep into the weeds of music theory. Its success is well deserved.
- Be nice to people; including when they don't deserve it.
- Pay your flippin' taxes. Put your guns down on my command.
²Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony
³And that infernal nonsense 'Pinafore'.