Burr’s getting pretty fed up with Hamilton. Before, his introductions were insulting, but might have been reporting–everyone wants to know how a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore . . . ” attained such status. In the introduction in “A Winter’s Ball” (which is in turn the introduction to “Helpless”), straight off Burr’s unsuccessful attempt to gain Washington’s favor, it’s sounding more personal.

How does the bastard, orphan, son of a whore go on and on,
Grow into more of a phenomenon?
Watch this obnoxious, arrogant, loudmouth bother
Be seated at the right hand of the father.

At the same time, we see the rapport between them, a teasing rivalry from two men who are both “reliable with the ladies”:

Burr: A winter’s ball
And the Schuyler sisters are the envy of all
Yo, if you can marry a sister, you’re rich, son

Hamilton: Is it a question of if, Burr, or which one?

That’s prescient, but we don’t know that yet. “Helpless,” on its own, is a straightforward R&B love song, the story of love at first sight and the courtship of just a few weeks that followed. The year is 1780, the chorus informs us, but it’s not really that different from our day, with young people dancing in an overheated room, nervous attendees eyeing each other across the crowd,  sisters playing matchmaker, and “the band . . . top volume,” though I do find it a comical stretch to imagine anyone “grind[ing] to the rhythm” of an 18th century chamber orchestra. Likewise, modern soldiers take note: have you ever tried a line like “If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it”? It worked for Alexander Hamilton.

The song is beautifully constructed. Burr, Hamilton and Laurens’s uncreative flirting “Hey, hey, hey, hey” (apparently even Hamilton was not always golden-tongued) turns into the women’s sung chorus, and Eliza enters with “I do,” signalling that by the end of the song, we can expect to be hearing a wedding march, which we do. The first verse gives us the initial meeting at the party, which is echoed by the betrothal in the second verse. “Grind to the rhythm as we wine and dine” in the first scene with Eliza’s sister becomes “I’m dying inside as you wine and dine” with her father; “Laughin’ at my sister as she’s dazzling the room” becomes “Laughin’ at my sister ’cause she wants to form a harem.” (We learn so much about the affection between Eliza and Angelica in the space of this song.) Likewise,

My sister made her way across the room to you
And I got nervous, thinking “What’s she gonna do?”
She grabbed you by the arm, I’m thinkin’ “I’m through”
Then you look back at me and suddenly I’m
Helpless!

becomes

My father makes his way across the room to you
I panic for a second, thinking “we’re through”
But then he shakes your hand and says “Be true”
And you turn back to me, smiling, and I’m
Helpless!

I came to the play a little skeptical about the whole hip hop musical idea. “Helpless” seems designed to persuade people like me; it builds a bridge, as if deliberately, between a musical convention of musical theater and one of hip hop. The spoken interlude (here illustrated by the several lines of dialogue among Hamilton, Angelica and Eliza beginning, “Where are you taking me?”) is familiar to anyone who knows musical theater; Miranda pairs it with the rapped interlude that begins “Eliza, I don’t have a dollar to my name.” Ah, I realized–I know how this goes! It’s not a departure from the genre of musical theater so much as an exciting new variation upon it.

Oh, and if you think rapping is “just talking,” try rapping Miranda’s part here, and notice how it changes pitch, following and interweaving with the instruments. One of the beauties of rap is that it reveals the pitch of speech, showing us that everything we speak, we actually sing.

We’ve established that I love Lin-Manuel Miranda’s virtuosic rhyming, and here’s one form it takes: a line that doesn’t seem to have a rhyme at all can have its rhyming partner arrive several lines later–or half a song later–or half a play later. It delivers a deeply satisfying ahhhh, as if we’ve been unconsciously waiting for it to appear. The most dramatic case I’ve noticed in Hamilton is the refrain in “Wait for It,” about one-quarter of the way into the play:

I’m willing to wait for it,

whose rhyme arrives at last in the second-to-last song, when, having just killed Hamilton, Burr sings, to the same melody,

I’m the one who paid for it.

We didn’t even know that “Wait for It” was waiting for its fulfillment until it arrived.

“Helpless” gives us a smaller but deeply satisfying case of this phenomenon. One of Eliza’s first lines is “Look into your eyes and the sky’s the limit,” a sweet expression of what it’s like fall in love (just as Philippa Soo’s gorgeously fluid voice tells us how joyous it feels), but nothing much on its own. Then Alexander raps and their voices intertwine, and look at that:

Hamilton: My life is gon’ be fine ’cause Eliza’s in it
Eliza: I look into your eyes, and the sky’s the limit

Two people find each other. Their lines match, like two halves of a broken ring. They’re married.

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