(“Part One” because my brain is on overdrive, processing, and I’m betting I’ll have other comments later.)
For me, there are two basic ways to see a play. (Or a movie, or television show, or whatever. This thought already has me suddenly spinning off on other connections and ideas. My brain is getting dizzy.) I’ve done both.
When I first heard the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” I listened to it a lot. “Obsession” might be too strong of a word – or it might not be strong enough. By the time I finally got to see the play for the first time, I had easily listened to the original Broadway cast recording 100+ times. Probably not 200+ times. Probably.
When I went to see “Les Misérables” and “Wicked” I hadn’t ever listened to a recording of the musical. For “Les Miz” I knew what the play was about, of course. For “Wicked,” I thought it was a straight retelling of the MGM “Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland. (Ha!) I knew that both had won a ton of awards and were supposed to be spectacular. I knew that there were probably a couple of songs from each that I would recognize.
The experience in seeing the play for the first time is vastly different in the two scenarios. For the record, I’m pretty sure that I saw “Phantom,” “Les Miz,” “Wicked,” and now “Hamilton” all at the Pantages, so we’re talking similar levels of production values.
With “Phantom,” I thought I knew exactly what to expect, and that was somewhat true. But I found that there were so many subtleties that were revealed seeing it live that you just don’t get by listening to the CD. There were multiple new dimensions with the staging, the lighting, the snippets of dialogue that aren’t included on the CD recording. It was the difference between seeing a picture of the Grand Canyon and seeing the Grand Canyon when you’re standing at the rim looking down into it.
With “Les Miz” and “Wicked” I was constantly surprised, delighted, and engaged. The music, the story line, the twists and turns, the incredibly clever little bits (particularly in “Wicked”) sucked me in and I had a fantastic time going along for the ride.
With all of this in mind, I nonetheless wanted to listen to “Hamilton” in advance. I had seen bits of it on awards shows, the Macy’s parade, and other promotional spots – you might have noticed that it’s gotten its fair share of press coverage. Knowing that hip-hop music isn’t something I’m normally listening to, I was concerned that I would be lost if I didn’t know what was coming. So in the days leading up to the performance we attended yesterday, I was increasingly bothered by the fact that I hadn’t had time to sit down and listen to the CD and read along with the libretto.
Folks, don’t “do a Paul.” DON’T SWEAT IT!
If you’ve listened to the music until you can sing along in your sleep, you’re going to love seeing the play live. There will be bits that will make more sense and be better live (King George’s songs for one, they really ham it up for comedic value, MUCH more than they do on the CD) but you’ll be better able to focus on the incredible choreography and staging.
If you’ve never heard a note of it, go in with your eyes and ears open and be prepared to be swept away. The story is well laid out, easy to follow, and the fact that some of the music is done in a hip-hop style is not a factor.
One thing that struck me after all of the hype, and it didn’t occur to me until this morning, was that only maybe 30% or 40% of the music is the hip-hop. (Okay, maybe half, I haven’t timed it out.) But the rest is music that could have come from Webber or Sondheim or Rodgers and Hart.
And the story… And the music… And the acting, the singing, the dancing, the staging…
Blown. Away. As I said on FaceBook, “Now I know what the hype was about.”
Today as I’ve tried to be productive (brought home deadline stuff from the office, brought home deadline stuff from the CAF) the first thing I did was rip the “Hamilton” CDs to my iTunes and start listening to it. Twice.
Random thoughts on listening:
It can NOT be a coincidence that the line about John Adams is “Sit down, John…” That’s the opening song from “1776,” which is one of my all-time favorites and which tells the story of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin trying to write the Declaration of Independence. (If I haven’t ranted about how much I love “1776” yet, don’t worry, I will. But not today.)
“Satisfied” and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” both ripped me apart again today. “One Last Time” also was a gut-punch today.
Some of the one-liners are hilarious. Hamilton’s response to Burr’s disclosure about Burr’s mistress in “The Story of Tonight (Reprise)” is particularly pithy and to the point.
One final observation for tonight – if you get a chance, go see this show! If you’re on the fence, go for it, you won’t regret it.
What a wonderful experience. I hope that you get a chance to share it at some point.