This is the story of my love for theatre, my accidental obsession with Lin Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece and a manual on how to join the (fan) club.
This almost qualifies as an Artist Spotlight but falls short because I zone in on the masterpiece and not his other (extensive and brilliant) work.
I joke that in a different life I would’ve been a theatre kid. OK, in an American life; Cliques aren’t as aggressive in my experience. I still remember primary school plays and how the grade 7’s taught me Shosholoza in their moving musical piece highlighting what the gold rush did to South African families (I was in grade 5; I remember this because for our piece we choreographed a dance to the newly solo Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love). I genuinely love everything about drama and theatre from the nerves and sets to the costumes, dialogue and superstitions. I like the fact that I know a ridiculous amount about Scotland and all these politcal systems of places I’ve never been. Musical theatre would’ve been my sanctuary despite the fact that I’m a mediocre singer (I’m not bad but I’m not good either): by the time I watched Chicago the movie, I knew all of the songs because of all the homages I’d unwittingly seen. I got excited when my drama friend got me involved in the decidedly behind – the – scenes work of lighting the school play. I have played dead people (both mystical beings/ghostly narrators and actual bodies) and I spent the bulk of my senior high school years in production, direction and helping to script our annual interhouse plays. I had a (another) friend who would’ve taken Biology if she could’ve (much like my situation with Drama) who chose Drama and we spent free periods swapping literal knowledge of the week. Thank you Mr Holton for taking Drama seriously. You opened a portal in the back of my mind that grows every year.
I still dream about joining an amateur drama troupe, taking drama classes or directing/participating in/producing plays. I still might. And, much like the geeky zeitgeist, one of my favourite artforms entered popular culture in the form of Lin Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical: Hamilton. One day I’ll have time to flesh out my theory that the Disney Corp is secretly trying to swalow this artform whole by contracting talent from the world of theatre for increasingly longer periods of time (See: Broadway legend Idina Menzel and the aforementioned Mr LMM).
This may or may not be a manual on how a South African who doesn’t really care about the American founding fathers (let’s be real) found herself obsessed with a play that she couldn’t, realistically, ever see. I’ve accidentally (read: shamelessly) enriched the lives of unsuspecting friends by pushing them down this particular rabbit hole. I’m hoping to do the same to you dear reader. You’re welcome. To my colleagues and friends who’ve entertained me rapping about George Washington at 5am when the post call psychosis peaks: I offer this as an explanation.
Some background before I push you down the rabbit hole. Lin Manuel Miranda, noted genius (literal winner of the McArthur Genius Grant) and theatre nerd, makes the case for Alexander Hamilton (founding father and first treasury secretary of the United States of America) as the original MC: someone who literally wrote his way out of poverty and rose to prominence by writing about his circumstances and thus transcending them. He [Hamilton] was also was a notorious cassanova who may or may not have been in love with two women (sisters), caught beef with all the other founding fathers, indelibly shaped the political landscape of the young democracy and died in a duel. Scandal, war, hearbreak, politics, extortion, pride, murder (drama nje) what more could you ask for? Not quite the musty wigged portraits you were picturing right? He’s also the only founding father to not actually become president. Lin then used everything he knows about theatre and hip hop (a shit load, see: nerd) and wrote a musical heavily influenced by classic Hip Hop (rap in particular) about this man. And just before you check out because you’re imagining your drama teacher staging a hip-hopera, know that the samples range from (and credit) Notorius BIG, Nas and your favourite rapper’s other favourite rappers. The hip hop community has both endorsed, embraced and collaborated with Lin as a result. Seriously, he’s good. Checkout the Hamilton Mixtape to see how many of your favs have co-signer this work if art.
Lastly, it’s a predominantly non-white cast. Think about how revolutionary it is to have these dusty slave-owning figures be played by humans of Latinx, Black and Asian descent. Saying you’re going to ‘pull a Hamilton’ has literally become industry shorthand for: the character is historically white? Not today #SorryNotSorry. It introduced the world to the talents of Renee Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr And now we’re ready for your Hamilton YouTube starter pack. Just follow my instructions, Links to follow.
Step 1: Get the original cast album. It’s literally the entire play because it’s a musical. GooglePlay, iTunes, Spotify, whichever.
Step 2: watch these 3 videos in order
1. White House Poetry Jam: This was when Lin was still working on the idea. The president asked him to perform a piece of art pertaining to American history and he dropped a hot 16 bars on founding father Alexander Hamilton. It would later become the opening number of a 7 year journey and the actual play.
2.Top 10 songs: Footage from the actual musical is near impossible to find online so you need this one to catch a glimpse of the actual actors portraying the characters in costume. The actors you’re going to hear on step 1. It’s the top 10 Hamilton songs.
3. Szin’s animatics: The album is brilliant but I found having a visual aid to be the best way to keep track of who was speaking to whom, when. I found szins animatics to be invaluable (and beautifully illustrated and animated). Find 2.5 hours of your life. Trust me. link part 1 & link part 2 (part 2 is a mix masala because szin didnt finish so its mixed animation but by the time you get here it’s already late for you! You’ll barely notice and you won’t care).
Step 3. You’re hooked. There’s literally no turning back once you’re in. Subject matter aside, it’s a genuinely griping and brilliantly told story about legacy, betrayal, ego and ambition. There are YouTube black holes that you can fall down that deconstruct motiffs, homages, callbacks and influence. Lin is an actual genius and by the time you’ve reached this step you know why and are ready to have your mind blown by the details.
Again, you’re welcome. And my apologies. If it helps, there is confirmation that professional video footage of the original cast exists somewhere under lock and key with the intention of being released as a movie once a sufficient number of people have had the chance to see the play (according to Miranda). So hope is not lost. Until then , stay strong! The In The Heights movie is already upon us.