“On the face of it, few historical incidents seem more unlikely to spawn a Broadway musical than that solemn moment in the history of mankind….” (Clive Barnes, New York Times)
The smash hit,”Hamilton,”right? this year’s brilliant hip-hop presentation of the life of that ‘fatherless’ immigrant Founding Father?
Actually, Barnes was talking of “1776,” Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s multi-award-winning 1969 musical about John Adams’ battle to get the Declaration of Independence passed by Congress. You may have seen the film with “The Graduate’s” William Daniels as “obnoxious and disliked” little John Adams. The script borrows liberally from writings of the period, including Adam’s opening words to the roomful of delegates: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, two is a law firm, and three or more make up a Congress.”
That musical transformed the mythic figures of our nation’s past into passionate, witty, amusing companions I wanted to know more about, sparking an ongoing fascination with the history of the period, a senior thesis on Jefferson’s philosophy of education, and a brief sojourn in a Senator’s office.
This generation gets “Hamilton,” and though words, at least on paper, rarely fail me, they are at the moment. How can I begin to describe this musical? The CDs my daughter left me her Itunes managed to scramble, so I’m listening to the music in complete chaotic non-order, piecing out the plot. Older generation that I am, the song that first yanked me in is the one written in an “old-fashioned” British pop: poor King George laments the loss of the colonies’ love the way any jilted heart might do–except that, “when push comes to shove/I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
But the more I listen to the rest, the more obvious it is that King George’s lovely, funny songs are as dated, as conservative, as the notion of sticking with Great Britain began to seem to the young revolutionaries. They are all, like Hamilton, “as young, scrappy, and hungry” as their not-quite country, and their music embodies this. Caution given here if you object to language, but picture Hamilton played by first-generation Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote the show) rap-sparring with a black Jefferson. Picture a young cast in period costumes peopled by the same mix of nationalities as our contemporary America, including women soldiers. The show almost forces us to recognize how very radical our revolutionaries were, pushes us to experience the passion with which they pursued independence.
Perhaps also inspires a whole new generation to contemplate that “public service” isn’t mere dead rhetoric?