As I’m sure so many of you have heard, the Hamilton cast recording released this week to critical acclaim and repeat listens from probably more than half of your Twitter feed. For good reason too. I had vaguely heard of the critically acclaimed Broadway show before this week, but in the space of a few days of listening to the soundtrack constantly, I became obsessed with it.I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so taken with a musical based on the soundtrack alone. Everything about it is so slick and dynamic. Composer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has busted his ass to create a dynamic story of the youngest founding father. I knew Alexander Hamilton was an amazing figure of US history, but I never really knew to what extent. There’s also a universal story there in the songs, with songs like ‘My Shot,’ ‘Non-Stop,’ and ‘Hurricane.’ I know as a writer, I got choked up when Hamilton sings during ‘Hurricane,’ “And when my prayers to God were met with indifference, I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance!”
There’s also the hysterical fact that the cast member who has the most pop culture currency is basically, to borrow a phrase from Evil Dead: The Musical, the bit part demon of the show. Jonathan Groff as King George doing the whole “Arrive, Sing, Leave” thing three times should not amuse me so much, but he’s singing passive aggressively over a long lost Monkees melody. It’s such a ridiculous and beautiful heel move.
With the way everything ties together on the recording, it’s been hard to not ask everyone I’ve met up with in the past week if they’ve listened to it and the proceed to hype it up in order to get them to listen to it. So naturally, you can bet an article from Jezebel titled “Should You Listen to the Soundtrack to Hamilton If You Have Not Seen Hamilton?” rubbed me the wrong way. Even more so when it declares that you shouldn’t.
To the credit of the article’s author Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, she does put a caveat that you should listen to it if you don’t live in New York, but I still couldn’t help but sing “It must be nice/it must be nice” in the same sarcastic tone Daveed Diggs and Okieriete Onaodowan sing as Jefferson and Madison in ‘Washington On Your Side.’ The whole tone the article takes is that the soundtrack is just the Cliff Notes version and you shouldn’t spoil yourself to the experience until you see it so you don’t make basic comparisons to other hip hop songs. This is, of course, coming from an author who admits to seeing the show twice.
Again… it must be nice. I can’t even afford to buy the soundtrack on iTunes right now, let alone getting tickets for any opening that would pop up and the travel to get up there. I’ve been alternating between Spotify and Apple Music.
When I was a musical theater kid back in the day, I used to be so jealous of all the kids and of my teachers who would brag about the musicals they would see on Broadway during their vacations. The only musical I’ve seen on Broadway so far is Thoroughly Modern Millie back before it won the Tony for Best Musical. If you don’t remember when that was, that was back in 2002. I wasn’t even 12 yet. My family just didn’t have the money to keep up that kind of Spring Break vacation. Hell, even getting to see a touring cast of Mamma Mia! at the Fox felt amazing. Most of my other exposure to musicals was either through film versions, community productions, or cast recordings.It’s not that I don’t want to see Hamilton. Believe me, I REALLY do now and I would make time for it while I’m at NYCC if I could. It’s just that an attitude of “don’t listen to the soundtrack until you see it” is so tone deaf to the accessibility issues Broadway has. Very few shows ever have their pro-shoots released to the public, so most people who can’t afford to go to these shows won’t get to see them unless they make a film or release a cast recording. Touring productions are an option as well, but those can also be expensive depending on the theater and the show. When I was working in the call center for a major performance space in Atlanta, I was selling tickets upwards of $200 a seat for Book of Mormon almost two winters ago. Same for Wicked last Fall. I would not be surprised if the eventual touring production of Hamilton is also that expensive.
And the thing is is that Hamilton SHOULD be accessible. It took parts of American History that are often glossed over in favor of the basics and brought out the dynamic story there in a way modern audiences could get. The use of an American-born form of music to tell the story of America’s first years is brilliantly done in a way that not a whole lot of other media has nailed. This musical should be used in classrooms as a teaching tool in the same way comics like John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell’s March and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis are. Miranda has stated that they will be releasing a “clean” version of the soundtrack for such purposes soon, but a pro-shoot release would take this to the next level.If you get a chance to go see Hamilton, go see it and tell me how amazing it is in person. However, don’t deprive yourself of the soundtrack experience for bullshit reasons. It’s a dynamic production in it’s own right that doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing huge chunks of the show from that being my only experience. Miranda and company’s don’t half ass anything with Hamilton and if it shows on the soundtrack, I can only imagine what the show is like. I hope that I will get to see it one day, but until then, you can find me alternating between listening to ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ and ‘Satisfied’ a million times each.