Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hamilton's America and the Virtue Of Patience

Like most people on the planet, I have not seen Hamilton: An American Musical, the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton told to a hip-hop beat. I was aware of its presence in the pop culture zeitgeist but I really didn’t know what it was about. My daughter’s interest fed my own to learn more about this Broadway phenomenon. I have seen bits and pieces here and there. A performance at this year’s Tony Awards, clips imbedded in news stories about how awesome Hamilton is and the occasional scrap of elicit footage that finds its way to You Tube. And the more I see, the more I want to see and nothing stoked that desire more than the recent documentary on PBS, Hamilton’s America.

The documentary is hosted by Hamilton’s creator and (until this past July) star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a young Broadway performer with great talent and a razor sharp intellect put to use on a most unusual subject, the life of Alexander Hamilton. The man responsible for devising the very form of our government and laying the foundations of our modern economic system? OK, that’s impressive stuff but does it make him a candidate to be subject of a Broadway play? A musical? A musical done in rap? 

If you’re a fan Hamilton, the details of its origin are well known: a desire for a really thick book for summer reading led Lin to pick up a biography of Alexander Hamilton; it was a story that struck Lin as being so much the story of America itself. Hamilton came to this country with nothing and by sheer force of will, made himself into something, something powerful and influential. It was not just a quintessential American story, it was the very epitome of an up from the streets story best told in rap. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda crafted a song and performed it at special event at the White House for President Obama. If you click here, you may still find the video on You Tube. Lin is all so earnest as he lays out what he’s about to do, perform a song from a proposed hip hop musical about Alexander Hamilton. The audience laughs and why not? It sounds like a set up for a joke, right? There are some titters throughout the room as Lin snaps his fingers and lays down the first words of a song that so many people know today…

How does a bastard, orphan, 
Son of a whore and a Scotsman, 
Dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean by providence, 
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
But it becomes apparent, powerfully and wonderfully apparent that this is not a joke, this is something… new. 

Something different. 

The rest of the documentary is a collection of footage of Lin in the days and years before he knew Hamilton would be a thing. We go to places where Alexander Hamilton and others of his fellow founding fathers lived and worked to help bring this great nation into being. We meet the other cast members as they join on Lin on his journeys to understand the man whose story is being brought to life 8 times a week on Broadway.

There’s a lot to be impressed by in this documentary and it makes me more than ever want to see Hamilton on stage. But there are three things that struck me about the documentary and made me want to write about for today’s post.

First of all, art takes patience.  

I can’t speak for all artists, only for the small degree I can call myself an artist. I love to write. I love to draw. But I am frequently done in by my lack of patience. I have a story in my head and I want to take it out of my head for all the world to see RIGHT NOW! Characters are kicking around up there in my skull all fully realized and ready to go on an adventure RIGHT NOW! But my fingers are too slow. There are only so many words that I can put down at a time. But as I’m typing the beginning, my mind is already at the end busting on me to hurry up, already. Hurry up! HURRY UP!!

But art takes patience. It takes time to develop something truly great. For Lin-Manuel Miranda, it was 7 years between the time he stood at a microphone in front of the President and his friends to deliver something new to standing on a stage claiming a Tony for Best Musical. 

Next, art takes collaboration. 

Particularly for a complex work like Hamilton, there was no way Lin-Manuel Miranda could do it all. It's important to embrace our gifts and our limits. Lin is fortunate to work with composers and choreographers and more who bring the work of art is in head and spill it out on the stage for all to see. And Lin was very lucky indeed to have a solid cast of very strong performers to populate this world he created. 

And finally, art takes different forms.

The idea that a historical biography of an American founding father would serve as a catalyst for a Broadway production is amazing in and of itself. But add the boundary breaking execution of this production and wow! Casting people of color in roles based on white people. The use of modern music and modern language to convey the conflicts and passions of a group of men and women determined to forge a nation. Hamilton is a prime example of never knowing where art will sprout and grow and bloom. 

The journey of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the creation of this most unique production is a wonder just to see how Hamilton came from a small idea to a show that has shook the world. But it is a journey that can inspire us in so many things we do.

Just don't throw away your shot. 

For seven days, I have focused this blog on anything but what's going on in the world. Sadly the time has come that I can ignore the world no longer. But yet, I am not prepared to take it seriously. So...

It's another edition of Broken News coming up on the blog thing tomorrow.

Until then, remember to be good to one another.  

Counting Down To Infinity