Who Tells Your Story?

Although I love theater, I am almost never at the forefront of seeing something before it becomes popular.  A lot of it is because I do not live near where shows start—although I am given to understand that “Fiddler on the Roof” premiered at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre in 1964, that was literally before my time.  The odds of me finding myself, during my travels, near a Broadway or West End show that is not yet big but will be are pretty slim.  While it has happened more than once that I saw a show that I thought was destined for greatness which later went nowhere[1], the opposite never happens.  Probably the biggest missed opportunity, not counting all the shows I regret missing in Stratford over the years, was during a 2015 visit to New York. 

My actor son was living in Brooklyn and about to leave on tour with “Aladdin”[2].  The family was visiting him, and naturally, decided to see a Broadway musical.  Walking past the Richard Rodgers Theatre, I noticed the not-yet-familiar black silhouettes on gold background. 

“What is this all about?” inquired I. 

“It’s a new rap musical about Alexander Hamilton”, replied son, dismissively.

“Hmm, that sounds really stupid”, opined I, disdainfully.

“It does indeed”[3], agreed son, and we moved on, chuckling to ourselves.  This was too much even for this theater-appreciating family.  Spouse, in his low-key way, was noting that “Something Rotten!” “looks good”.  When this man says that something “looks good”, it means that he is super-excited and jumping up and down inside with the mad desire to see whatever this is.  We bought tickets to “Something Rotten!” and enjoyed it immensely, witnessing a standing ovation in the middle of Act I—which, of course, is an incredibly rare occurrence, and a sure indication of potential long-term success[4]

I did not give “Hamilton” another thought until, on a Christmas flight to London, I saw the soundtrack as one of the offerings of Delta in-flight entertainment.  I tried to listen, and it was nice enough, but the flight is an overnight one.  I sleep on overnight flights.  I fell asleep.

And then I woke up with a jolt, because something terrible happened to the Hamilton family (OK, they also turned the lights on and started serving breakfast)!  I am neither proud nor ashamed to say that my knowledge of American history is limited to two years of high school—and the first year, my English was not good enough to fully grasp the goings on.  Alexander Hamilton was covered that year, and I remembered that he was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr, but who knew that his son was also killed?  It was sad!  It was like “Les Miz”!

I landed in London a “Hamilton” fan, and decided to travel to New York in the foreseeable future and see this musical in person.  I mean, how much could it cost, if we fly with miles and grab a hotel room with points?  Couple of hundred bucks for tickets? 

Not so fast, newly-minted-fans!  This brought back memories of “Phantom” in the ‘90s [https://oldladywriting.com/2020/04/25/team-phantom/]—but, times have surely changed, and in the classical dilemma of time versus money, I had a little bit less of the former and a tiny bit more of the latter.  Tickets were procured, and their extortionate cost was somewhat balanced out by the fact that we flew to New York on Spirit Airlines, and with no more than a handbag per person.

Was it worth it?  Yes, yes it was—although spouse did say, after it was all over, “It was great, but not like the first time I saw “Les Miz”.  I will not dispute that, because “Les Misérables” holds an extra-special place in my heart.  I also will not do a review of “Hamilton”, because I doubt that anything is left unwritten about it.  But this is what it means to me.

In theater productions, I live for that one moment when everything shifts and you remember it forever, either because it’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard:

            “A handbag?!” in “The Important of Being Earnest”

            “The whole staff was slaughtered” exchange in “Hothouse”

or it breaks your heart:

            “Could you ask as much from any other man?” in “Jesus Christ Superstar” (because you know what happens to him…)

            As soon as the miners appear in “Billy Elliott” and sing “The Stars Look Down” (because you know what happens to them…)

or, in some cases, the entire play is brilliant:  “Art”; “August Osage County”

I will not call it an “aha” moment, because it is not a moment of cerebral discovery, but it is more of an “oh”—or “aww”?—moment, which is purely emotional in nature.  It is the “wait for it” or “catharsis” moment.  It is what live theater does best, that moment of unity of hearts and souls between the characters on stage and the audience.

“Hamilton” both starts and ends on that moment.  The opening number is so big, so smart, so creative, so instantly recognizable, and when we heard, “What’s your name, man?”, and there was that little pause, and Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared and said “Alexander Hamilton”—well, the entire audience of 1,300+ lost their collective minds!  Not to take away from “Something Rotten!”’s standing ovation in Act I, but that was a rock star-caliber moment.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s presence is electric, and his charisma and enthusiasm on stage cannot be overemphasized.  I would say that I knew, once again, that I was in the presence of greatness [https://oldladywriting.com/2020/07/26/all-my-world-is-a-stage/]—except that by the time I got to see “Hamilton”, live and with the still original cast, that would have been a major understatement. 

And then there is that closing number, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”.  I love a good ending.  I mean, who doesn’t, but I really, *really* love a good ending.  A good ending is worth the price of admission even more than a good beginning, because it stays with you, even after the curtain falls.  “Hamilton” ends like it begins, with the satisfying big number, but with more poignancy.  It’s the combination of “Anatevka”, “Impossible Dream”, and “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, these other great finales, because it is both tragic and hopeful, tender and confident, wistful in the loss of a promising life cut short, yet satisfying in the summary of its legacy.  It earns my inarticulate but sincere praise of “I cried and cried”. 

Who tells your story?  Little by little, I am trying to tell mine…

[1] My spouse still laments “Martin Guerre” by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the creators of “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon” fame.  You haven’t seen that version of “Martin Guerre”?  No one has.

[2] Small print--not THAT “Aladdin”.

[3] This is why my writing career is still fledgling.  I cannot write dialogue.

[4] This was after “The Musical”, which I still think is one of the most fun and clever numbers of the genre, basically an entire “Forbidden Broadway” in several minutes and on a major stage.  And to be fair, Christian Borle did get a Tony for his part in this, not to mention eight other nominations for the show itself!

It was a magical weekend overall. We also saw “Bright Star”, starring the wonderful Paul Nolan, who deserves an award for every role which he graces with his talent, and stayed at the Algonquin, Harpo Marx’ old stomping ground.  Those are stories for another day!]

3 thoughts on “Who Tells Your Story?

  1. And you forgot “pig number one, pig number two” in Season Greetings.
    Great writing; I think this is one of your best.


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