By: Anya Chabria
How do you differentiate between the latest trend and a classic? While the question seems to spiral into massive complexities, the answer’s actually quite simple: time itself. Wait a few years, and a fad will go from “all-the-rage” to “rage-inducing.” It will deteriorate into an embarrassing flashback collecting dust somewhere in the back of your mental closet. A classic, on the other hand, doesn’t lose its edge as the years go by. Rather, a classic remains profound, remains gripping, remains so utterly relevant that it hurts. Such is the case with Hamilton: An American Musical.
I first listened to the Hamilton soundtrack in seventh grade, and since then, I’ve been pining to see the musical. The lyrics are a drug, and the instrumentals an enabler. Miranda and Lacamoire effectively crafted an earworm that took over my mind for an entire summer. Eventually, my obsession subsided, and within the next six months, I was no longer as interested. However, my fascination with this musical worked like the tides: occasionally, the full moon rose, Youtube recommended a Hamilton video, and I would fall into the vortex all over again.
I finally got to see the show this November, on a fateful Saturday afternoon. My family and I stood on a line in the cold, tickets in hand, growing anxious with anticipation. I remember walking in, marveling at the stage that once seemed so distant. I remember gripping at my Playbill, flipping through the pages, staring at the now-iconic logo. Still, I expected no shock. I already knew almost all the lyrics to every song, so there would be no surprises there. Besides, I was already so psyched to see the show—surely, my levels of fascination were already at maximum height. Boy, was I wrong. If the Hamilton movie is coming out anytime soon, allow me to issue a preliminary warning: the show itself is a whole other level. Those tides of obsession you saw back in 2015 are about to become tsunamis.
Hamilton somehow managed to knock me off my feet while I was nestled into my seat. As if the songs and instrumentals aren’t explosive enough, the choreography and set design tie it together, creating a show with intricately-woven layers. If you’re like me, and you like analyzing things (my books tend to contain more sticky notes than pages), the little details make Hamilton so incredibly overwhelming. You realize how the simplicity of the stage emphasizes the performers, how the rotating tables represent time, how the scene for “My Shot” actually has a bartender and couples in the background, how women started and ended Hamilton’s story, how the sophistication of Washington’s and Angelica’s raps change when they’re in public or under stress, how Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton actually fits the hero archetype better than her husband does. You notice all of this and so much more, and you resist the urge to pull out a notepad. You just let the nuance wash over you, and drink it all in.
In the show, you can detect commentary on exigency, particularly as it relates to activism. The titular character, Alexander Hamilton, is passionate to the point of abrasion and is willing to take risks to fight for his beliefs. His counterpart Aaron Burr, on the other hand, prefers to wait for the right moment. However, towards the second Act, Burr realizes that those who take chances are the ones who get ahead. Time is an especially important concept in modern-day. In periods of social activism, is it the right time to hold a strike, to lead a protest, to write a poem? Hamilton might have some answers that resonate with a younger audience. The play also tackles activism on many levels: feminism, abolitionism, the revolutionary war. We’re left wondering about the ways we’ve advanced, and how we’ve stayed the same. In other words, the show forces us to “Look at where we are, and look at where we started.”
I’ve also come to realize that the script is a living, breathing document of its own. Hamilton’s design shifts from stage to stage, from time to time, as the social and political context changes. For instance, when I was watching in November, I heard people laugh at Jefferson’s line about a “quid pro quo.” I’ve never seen the show elsewhere, but I’m pretty sure the former president’s quip didn’t garner so many laughs back in 2015. Context is everything, and Hamilton wields it like a knife.
So, is Hamilton relevant? Of course. A thousand times yes. The rhythm, the movement and the words, much like Hamilton himself, force their way into a lasting legacy. Of course, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Hamilton’s significance is agreed upon across the political, social, and economic spectrum. In fact, less than two weeks ago, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot named January 5th, 2020 “Hamilton Day” to commemorate the Chicago production of the show. History has its eyes on this explosive, gargantuan musical, and the show is most certainly still making its mark.
But why does this matter? What does this mean for us? Well, as we contemplate the impact art has on us, it’s important to consider what creates lasting resonance amongst the American public. Hamilton’s still going strong after 5 years, and I’m confident that the musical will maintain popularity for decades to come. As the up-and-coming generation, we must be cognizant of how this modern classic may shape us and the future generations. As we become adults, we must remember that Hamilton’s influence will follow, aging right alongside us.