Ahhhhh . . . we finally get to hear Phillipa Soo really open up and sing. What a pleasure.  And poor Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. The world would be a poorer place without the drive of people like Alexander Hamilton, but that doesn’t make them easy to live with. “He will never be satisfied” (“Satisfied”), while for her, life’s theme is “that would be enough.” Can this marriage be saved?

For example, what are we–what is Eliza–to make of his response to her pregnancy? He sounds tender, but there’s also deep ambiguity here:

Eliza: I wrote to the General a month ago
Hamilton: No

Is he saying, “You shouldn’t go writing letters to my boss pleading for family leave,” or a more loving, “Why did you tell him and not me?”

I want to poke him with a sharp stick when she says, “I knew you’d fight / Until the war was won” and he interjects “The war’s not done.” Yes, thank you, Alexander, she knows. She worries every day that a message will arrive saying that you’ve been killed. She’s so relieved that you’re home from the front, and all you can think about is that you haven’t finished the job.

Still, the bond between them is clear even just from the voices here. Eliza doesn’t keep up with the genius sparkings of his mind–unlike Angelica, who seems to match him beat for double-time beat–but she loves and appreciates it. After all, she wanted to marry him in the first place “’cause there’s nothing that your mind can’t do” (“Helpless”).

I don’t pretend to know
The challenges you’re facing
The worlds you keep erasing and creating in your mind
But I’m not afraid
I know who I married
So long as you come home at the end of the day
That would be enough.

This seems the moment to bring up Hamilton’s preoccupation with death, which seems to worry Eliza. I wouldn’t call him suicidal, exactly, but the casual way he regards his own life and death goes beyond a courageous willingness to die for a good cause. It’s not just “I will lay down my life if it sets us free” (“My Shot”), but “I am more than willing to die” (“Meet Me Inside,” my emphasis). He thinks about death a lot and has wished for its release.

When I was seventeen a hurricane destroyed my town
I didn’t drown
I couldn’t seem to die . . .
I was twelve when my mother died, she was holding me
We were sick and she was holding me
I couldn’t seem to die (“Hurricane”)

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory (“My Shot,” “Yorktown,” “The World Was Wide Enough”)

Some of it may just be realism, the lesson learned from growing up among desperate poverty, like an inner city black boy in our America.

I never thought I’d live past twenty
Where I come from some get half as many. (“My Shot”)

And he’s decided not to settle for an attitude of “make this moment last–that’s plenty” (“My Shot”), because he’s part of a movement and its dreams are not yet realized. But he seems to flirt with death, just the same. So when Eliza begs him,

Let this moment be the first chapter:
Where you decide to stay,

I don’t think she’s just saying, “Commit to this marriage” (though it is certainly striking that a year in, she’s still having to say “Let’s begin”). She’s asking him to commit to life. She’s the one anchoring him in life, reminding him how far he’s come from that grim childhood, reminding him

Look around, look around at how lucky we are
To be alive right now,

and all he can think is that he hasn’t done enough yet–for her, for the child he has just learned she is carrying, for the revolution. The war was supposed to give him a leg up and it hasn’t done that yet.

Will you relish being a poor man’s wife
Unable to provide for your life?

She responds, “I relish being your wife.” He is enough for her, but–so far–she is not enough for him. At the end of the song, she is still hoping that she, they, will be. Maybe the staging tells us his response; the song does not.

Ready for some serious geekiness? Here be diagrams. At least, a diagram.

The songs in Hamilton are more interwoven than in any other musical I know well, which is admittedly a short list. Miranda adores Les Miserables and cites it as an influence in this regard: “It’s like a masterclass in how to use themes in order to take a short circuit to someone’s tear duct or heart or gut.” The songs in Hamilton quote each other constantly, the same musical phrases or lyrics appearing in multiple songs. A song may be connected this way to two, four, five, or in one case, a whopping 11 others. (Guess which one.) King George’s three songs have exactly the same tune, give or take a bridge or a verse. There are other songs that take almost their entire melodies from an earlier one, such as “Best of Wives and Best of Women” repeating “It’s Quiet Uptown,” and there are many smaller echoes. “Farmer Refuted” is the only song that doesn’t share a significant passage with any other–at least, I haven’t been able to detect one.

I like putting things into visual form when I’m trying to sort out a lot of information, so I made this diagram of all of the cross-references. It’s not very tidy, but that’s MSWord. It also doesn’t say what each reference is, because I couldn’t figure out how to fit them. It’s more fun this way anyway.

It doesn’t include all the instances of the musical signatures of the four character names that have them, nor the choral “timestamps” (“1776. New York City,” etc.), but does include the seven variations of Burr’s intro, “How does . . . ” (“a bastard,” “a ragtag volunteer army,” “Hamilton, the short-tempered”), all connected to the first instance (from “Alexander Hamilton”) via dotted lines.

Have fun, and if you note a reference I didn’t include, please post it in the comments!

 

There are going to be two crucial duels near the end, first the one that kills Philip Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s son, and then the Burr-Hamilton duel. So before we get to that point, we need to know how they work. “Ten Duel Commandments” explains (more or less), while also foreshadowing the Philip Hamilton duel by, in effect, putting him into this one: Anthony Ramos, who plays John Laurens, will play Philip Hamilton also. And this song provides the structure by which Burr will tell us (his version of) what happened in the final duel. Miranda fabricates symmetry to make this an even more pointed preview of the Burr-Hamilton showdown; in reality, Hamilton and Burr were not both seconds in the Laurens-Lee duel (Hamilton really was Laurens’s second, but Burr was not Lee’s).

So what was Hamilton saying when he counseled, “Laurens, do not throw away your shot”? At that moment it seemed like he might be saying, “Don’t throw away your life on a point of pride”–but now here he is, Laurens’s second, and doing nothing to dissuade him, or Lee, from going forward with it. So maybe he is saying, literally, shoot to kill (or at least wound; duels were over when one party yielded). Why does he advise Laurens to shoot, but later tells Philip to fire in the air, and makes the same decision in his own duel? I’d love to know what you think.

I said earlier that Miranda does not hammer home a message about the ethics of dueling. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have one. Of the loads of hip-hop references in the musical (thanks for the link, Madeleine!), this is the one whose title is lifted straight out of rap: “Ten Crack Commandments,” by Biggie Smalls. Is Miranda saying that dueling, like dealing crack, is immoral and illegal? Probably.

He also thinks it’s “dumb and immature,” if we’re to agree with both Burr, who says it, and Hamilton, who assents. And then we see them do it anyway, in a game of dare-me that would make ten-year-olds on a playground look like moral giants. At first, Burr tries to rise above it.

Burr: Alexander

Hamilton: Aaron Burr, sir

(See what I mean about Burr being more friendly, while Hamilton keeps him at arm’s length by using his full name or last name?)

Burr: Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?

Hamilton: Sure
But your man has to answer for his words, Burr

Burr: With his life? We both know that’s absurd, sir

But when Hamilton comes back with a challenge, Burr immediately gives up on the negotiations.

Hamilton: Hang on, how many men died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?

Burr: Okay, so we’re doin’ this

So much for being smart and mature. Their “commandments,” like the crack dealer’s, are an ethic that doesn’t extend past the narrow boundaries of its deadly world.

George Washington is, once again, the resident grown-up. The other four men scramble to complete the ritual of surrender and satisfaction (“Lee, do you yield?” . . . “I’m satisfied”), while the man in charge strides up to impose order and a higher morality.

Washington: What is the meaning of this? Mr. Burr, get a medic for the general

Burr: Yes, sir

Washington: Lee, you will never agree with me
But believe me, these young men don’t speak for me
Thank you for your service

Thank you! To the man who’s tried to destroy his reputation and remove him from command! The Washington of Hamilton is a class act.

And then Hamilton’s in trouble. (“Meet me inside” is another rap reference, echoing the  rhythm of “Meet me outside” near the end of DMX’s “Party Up [Up In Here].”) Washington tries a similar line to his earlier “Don’t do a thing. History will prove him wrong,” but Hamilton’s blood is up, and what feels like an old resentment spills over:

Washington: My name’s been through a lot, I can take it

Hamilton: Well, I don’t have your name
I don’t have your titles
I don’t have your land
But, if you

Washington: No

Hamilton: If you gave me command of a battalion, a group of men to lead, I could fly above my station after the war.

It’s a painful moment of class division. To climb the social ladder, Hamilton needs a command, which only Washington can grant. He has to work his way up to a status that “His Excellency” has always securely possessed, simply by being born to it. No wonder he rejects Washington’s conciliatory, or condescending, “son,” losing his temper entirely the third time:

Washington: Your wife needs you alive, son, I need you alive

Hamilton: Call me son one more time!

He knows he’s gone too far when Washington orders him home (his voice half-falters on his response, which is not an assent: “Sir”), but as soon as the next song begins, we realize Washington isn’t only punishing him.

Things I love about “Stay Alive.” (It’s okay for me to write a list instead of an essay, right? This is my blog and I make the rules, right? Okay, whew.)

1. Eliza’s “Stay alive . . .,” later joined by Angelica and the women of the company, is a plea to Hamilton, but also the voice of every person who’s sent someone off to war, whispering “stay alive” to the person they love. And it’s a prayer for the revolutionary effort as a whole, which is not doing well.

2. The condensed and quite accurate account of the war at this point. In addition to concisely filling us in on how dire both the strategic and equipment circumstances are, in well under three minutes “Stay Alive” also takes us through one representative battle. It also tracks the three friends, whose role in the plot is not only tell us about Hamilton’s private life, but to give us a personal connection to the various aspects of the war: the southern battles with Laurens, espionage with Mulligan, leadership in key northern battles with Lafayette.

3. The tension built by the piano’s repeated four-note figure and the heartbeat that runs under most of the music. The stakes are very high.

4. The rhyme “Yeah. He’s not the choice I would have gone with / He shits the bed at the battle of Monmouth.” As Lawrence Block’s burglar/book lover Bernie Rhodenbarr says in The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, “Bad verse is when you can tell which line is there to rhyme with the other.” It had to have been “Monmouth” that Miranda needed a rhyme for, but it doesn’t sound like it. He makes great verse out of tough rhyming challenges like this all the time.

5. As is true throughout the play, singers refrain from punching up the rhyming words, so that it can take several times through before you hear that

The best thing he can do for the revolution
Is turn n’ go back to plantin’ tobacco in Mount Vernon

conceals a rhyme:

The best thing he can do for the revolution is turn n’
Go back to plantin’ tobacco in Mount Vernon

What’s even better than a clever rhyme? That’s right: a clever, subtle rhyme!

6. Washington is being the grownup again. Charles Lee didn’t just talk (write) smack about him; he was part of a serious campaign to get Congress to remove Washington from his post, dating from well before the Battle of Monmouth. (Honestly, the campaigners had a point, though Lee’s animus was personal; he’d always resented Washington’s promotion over him. If Washington renamed Fort Constitution Fort Lee in order to mollify him, it didn’t work.) Hamilton and Laurens, young and brash, rise to the bait, but Washington serenely focuses on the mission.

Washington: Don’t do a thing. History will prove him wrong
Hamilton: But, sir!
Washington: We have a war to fight, let’s move along.

Lacking Washington’s maturity, they ignore him. Now, when Hamilton says, “Laurens, do not throw away your shot,” do you think he is saying “Don’t duel”? Or “Aim to kill”? More on that in the next entry . . .

Somewhere around “The Story of Tonight (reprise)” I realized that I was listening to an opera. It’s not called that–the subtitle is, “An American Musical“–but except for one spoken scene that’s not on the CD, and the brief spoken interludes of the songs, the entire play is sung or rapped. So the songs have to provide all the information and all the transitions. As the story moves between the personal and political, this reprise is one of the bridges between the two. It’s the party late at night after most of the wedding guests have gone home, when everyone’s a little drunk; the music slurs and slows along with their voices. Hamilton’s pals parody their anthem to tease him about the ol’ ball and chain–

Raise a glass to freedom
Something you will never see again
No matter what she tells you . . .

–and about his good fortune in marrying up the social ladder:

Raise a glass to the four of us
To the newly not-poor of us

Soon-to-be heroes of the Revolution though they may be, when these guys are drunk, they’re like the high school buddies who won’t grow up, putting down the more mature friend (Lafayette: “You are the worst, Burr”). Hamilton is a bridge, too, managing to be charming to both Burr and the other three while giving one his attention and dismissing the others.

Before I ever heard “Wait for It,” I read something Lin-Manuel Miranda had said about its writing: how he was trying to capture that feeling of seeing one’s friends and age-mates rocket ahead with partners, kids, career, recognition, when one is still struggling to get established. (Aside: Did he ever have that feeling? Not for long, I’m guessing, but when you’re young even a few years’ gap can feel like an eternity. I’m not overly prone to that feeling myself; I don’t hanker much after fame, even in my own small pond, and I’m successful by my own lights. Nevertheless, when, only 13 years after his own graduation, Miranda gave the commencement address at the university we both attended, he had already written a Tony award-winning play and another one that was about to go on Broadway and rock the cultural world. I was 25 years out of college, and definitely experienced one of those “I will never catch up to that” twinges.) Anyway, knowing that Miranda empathized with Burr’s position, I was predisposed to see the merits of that “Wait for it wait for it wait” in tension with “I am not throwing away my shot.” The moral of the play is notcarpe diem.”

And then, too, Hamilton is being unreasonable here, when he says of Burr’s affair with a British officer’s wife, “Go get her. What are you waiting for?” Burr might play it too safe about a lot of things, but in this matter, he’s already sailing pretty damn close to the wind. I don’t know what the penalty was in such matters, but I’m guessing that if he’d taken Hamilton’s advice, he’d have been unceremoniously shot. (Burr’s approach did work out well for him. He and Theodosia were still together when her husband died, presumably never having discovered the affair, and she was Burr’s wife for 12 years, until her own death.)

“Wait for It” is about how two people in similar circumstances can take them in opposite directions. In contrast to Hamilton’s poor and fatherless childhood, Burr grew up in a distinguished family (the “fire and brimstone preacher” grandfather he refers to is none other than Jonathan Edwards), with money and privilege, but otherwise their stories run in parallel: orphaned at an early age, burdened by a sense of responsibility, possessed of  brilliant minds and a strong drive to do something worthwhile with them. That can cause one person to rush ahead, feeling that “He has something to prove / He has nothing to lose,” and another to hang back waiting for just the right moment to use his gifts.

Miranda says he had to think hard about which of these two characters to play. He judges “Wait for It” and “The Room Where It Happens” the best songs he’s ever written, and wryly notes that he gave them both to Leslie Odom, Jr.. But he decided that as a Latino actor he never got a chance to be the main character, only the white guy’s sidekick, and with the chance to play the title character and hero, he was going to be Alexander Hamilton. I think it was the right decision on other grounds. Can you imagine these two voices switched? Miranda’s is rougher, more conversational, and not only because he does nothing to obscure his Nuyorican accent. He sings with great expressiveness and subtlety, but his voice, like Hamilton’s personality, is a bit abrasive. Odom’s is lyrical, befitting Burr’s more diplomatic character, the one who persuades rather than arguing someone into submission. The one who, in this song and elsewhere, is all too aware of the possibility of making mistakes; the one who calls his friend/enemy by his first name (Hamilton never calls him simply “Aaron”); the one who wonders of the other, “What is it like in his shoes?”

And his voice rises to the occasion of this great song: it’s tender, gritty, and passionate in turns as he Burr shares his whole life philosophy and how he got there. He may seem like a ditherer to Hamilton (and to us), but he has his reasons for taking his time, and we hear it in his voice as clearly as in the words he sings:

I am the one thing in life I can control
I am an original
I am inimitable

I’m not falling behind or running late
I’m not standing still
I am lying in wait.

There’s so much more to say, but this is long enough. Instead of writing ten more paragraphs, I’ll encourage you to read or watch Miranda’s address to those 2015 graduates, which is all about Hamilton and Burr, and the way each of them responds to “the ticking clock of their mortality.” It’s eloquent and will make you see these characters in a more nuanced way.

P.S. Isn’t it great how you have to wait for the second-to-last “Wait for it” Burr sings? “I’m willin’ to . . . wait for it.” It comes at such an unexpected moment that I had to listen half a dozen times and practice about half a dozen more before I could hit it on cue. Waiting is an art.

Sometimes, being a minister means working with some prickly people. They’re among the congregational leaders or visitors or–particularly tenderly–among the people I visit when they’re sick or sad. Not long ago, I was on my way to meeting with a member of the congregation when I passed under a stand of sweet gum trees (I think that’s what they are), whose seeds I love whenever I see them, and have never dared to draw. I went on to the meeting, and in our conversation, the person was both prickly and, to me, very beautiful: honest, caring, vulnerable. When I left, I picked up one of the fallen seeds, and I drew it that evening. In my private thoughts, it has this person’s name.

Two people find each other. Their lines match, like two halves of a broken ring. They’re married. Except that what goes on beneath the surface of a simple story makes it much more interesting, and the next song, “Satisfied,” remixes “Helpless” to show what else was going on while Eliza and Alexander were falling in love.

Erin Conley wrote such a good analysis of this song  (“A Deep Dive into the Hamilton Stunner “Satisfied”) and said so much of what I want to say, that instead of repeating her I’ll just encourage you to read her essay and add a few thoughts of my own. (Warning: Her essay will make you want to take a second and third job if it’s what will get you airfare to the nearest performance of Hamilton. I cannot wait to see this choreography.)

Angelica Schuyler’s rush of language, her aside to check if we’re keeping up when we barely are (“you see it, right?”), the rapid-fire rapping (try it–it’s almost as hard as the more celebrated “Guns and Ships”), the shifts between speech and song (oh that voice!), all show a mind at work that’s so nimble, everyone else seems to move in slow motion. Only Alexander Hamilton moves at her speed. No wonder she will never be satisfied. “In a world in which [her] only job is to marry rich,” what is such a brilliant person to do with herself?

Depending on her temperament, she turns bitter, wastes her talents on trivialities, kills herself, entertains herself by playing games at the expense of slower and more innocent people . . . characters like Hedda Gabler, Lady Macbeth, and the Marquise de Merteuil in Liaisons Dangereuses come to mind, not to mention real middle-class US women I’ve encountered whose lives could never quite flower within the constraints of nurse / teacher / secretary / mother they were permitted. But in the interpretation of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and her portrayer Renée Elise Goldberry, Angelica Schuyler is saved from any of these fates by her love for her sister. She keeps on flirting with her brother-in-law, but she means what she says in her toast–she wishes them only the best. As she’ll say of Eliza later, in a look back at “Satisfied,”

I will choose her happiness over mine every time. (“The Reynolds Pamphlet”)

Whether she and Hamilton ever consummated their mutual attraction (or even confessed it?) is unknown, either in the real-life version or the play. What’s evident is that there was a tension there, and Miranda imagines it drawn tight by Angelica’s loyalty to her sister. She could have had him, but she “sized him up so quickly,” as she did everything; and by the time the initial attraction had turned to love, Eliza was in love with him too. (And what Angelica feels for Alexander is love. Note she does not say, “If I told her that I loved him,” which might leave some ambiguity, but “If I tell her that I love him.”)

Angelica, in short, is a woman of honor. This makes her a fascinating foil for Hamilton: along with a quick wit, charming manner, love for Eliza, and fascination for political philosophy, their strict code of honor is something they have in common. But whereas his is based on pride, hers is based on love; his honor is about taking care of himself, while hers is about care for others. Honestly, Angelica, he doesn’t deserve you.

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.

We’re at war. The battle’s intensity is felt in the BOOMs, the military snare drum, the chaos of voices erupting with “Rise up” and the “whoas” from “My Shot.” It’s the country’s shot. “Understand? It’s the only way to rise up,” says Hamilton.

The song introduces George Washington, not at the height of his success but at the verge of complete failure, which in this account isn’t blamed at all upon his leadership. I just read Lafayette in the (Somewhat) United States, by Sarah Vowell, and Washington screwed up plenty in the early years of the Revolutionary War; the many lost battles, including this one for New York, can’t be blamed entirely on the soldiers’ lack of discipline, equipment and experience. What Miranda chiefly wants us to know about Washington (and I know of no account that disputes this view) is that, simply put, he’s a grownup. A mentor to the hotheaded Hamilton, sure, and beyond that, someone who’s grounded in reality, keeps a check on his ego and insecurities–in other words, someone we’d want as the “father of our country.” His most glaring flaw is obviously known to the creators–Christopher Jackson, who portrays him, starkly says, “He owned people”–but other than a tiny hint later in the play, when “Black and white soldiers wonder alike if this really means freedom,” and Washington says, “Not. Yet,” Miranda gives us no reminder of it. His Washington is the wise, prudent father, the one who summons Hamilton and others to their better, more mature selves.

We see only glimpses of that in this song, for example when he advises, “Dying is easy, young man–living is harder,” but more is to be revealed. For now, it’s enough to hear the hero worship in Miranda’s voice when his Hamilton says of the general, “Here he comes.”

Like so many of the songs, this one is a marvel of succinctness. We’re introduced to the daunting military situation; Washington and how he’s viewed by his soldiers and himself; his frustration with his soldiers (“Are these the men with which I am to defend America?” is a direct quote); the disastrous battle for New York (“Watch the blood and the shit spray . . . we’re abandonin’ Kips Bay”); the strategic decisions under pressure:

Guns and horses giddyup
I decide to divvy up
My forces, they’re skittish as the British cut the city up
This close to giving up . . .

All of this sets the stage for Washington’s hiring Hamilton as an aide-de-camp. He was one of several, but it’s true that the two men had a special relationship that continued to the end of Washington’s life. It’s also true that Washington snubbed Burr, not in the same hour that he promoted Hamilton–that’s just for dramatic contrast and compactness–but in a battle around this time. (Wikipedia does not know why.)

I’m unable to decide whether Hamilton wants the job, and I enjoy the ambiguity. He didn’t want to be “secretary” to anyone else, even leaders as illustrious as Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox; does he feel differently toward the general? Or when Washington holds out the job offer and he says, sotto voce, “I am not throwing away my shot,” is he resisting being his glorified secretary? Arguing for the anti-aide-de-camp side is Hamilton’s continued chafing at his role. “Hamilton still wants to fight, not write,” Burr will say in the next song, and Hamilton himself will later say to the newly-promoted Burr, “I wish I had your command instead of manning George’s journal” (“The Story of Tonight [Reprise]”).

On the other hand, there’s that rapid list of ideas Hamilton produces for Washington, which could be interpreted as “here’s a few suggestions for you, now let me go on fighting,” but sounds more like a man interviewing for a job he eagerly desires:

I’ll write to Congress and tell ‘em we need supplies . . .
I’ll rise above my station, organize your information,
‘til we rise to the occasion of our new nation. Sir!

Judging from video I’ve seen of the performance, he’s proud when he gets it. But when I hear that final cannon blast, I wonder if Hamilton is also thinking, “Damn, I’m stuck with it now.” BOOM!

I’ve been looking forward to this. “You’ll Be Back” is the first song from Hamilton that I heard, and it was so incisive and funny that I was immediately won over. I had to hear the rest. It is the “love” song of an abusive partner to the one who’s finally had the nerve to walk out. Isn’t that the perfect metaphor for the relationship between an empire and its colonials? I love you too much to let you go, the partner threatens. I’ll see you dead first. Or, if he’s the king of England,

I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love. . . .

I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.

I laughed out loud–the connection was so obvious and so new to me. What is a war against rebellious colonists if not an attempt to kill a former partner’s friends and family?

But I’m getting ahead of myself; the troops arrive in the next song. Let’s spend some time with King George. In my opinion, Lin-Manuel Miranda is needlessly apologetic about working him into the play. No, he and Hamilton never met; no, he did not show up in New York (or even New Jersey) to give his personal opinion of the revolution; but to me, his presence in the play is a “meanwhile, back in England,” and that perspective is fascinating. How did the revolution look from the outside? The king’s songs give us that chance to step back and review, which becomes particularly important when the rebels, against all odds, actually win. But that’s even further along. On to the music.

Tory politics hearken back to the past, and the music of “Farmer Refuted” underscores Seabury’s views, as a harpsichord playing Baroque fillips proclaims a nostalgia for an earlier time. It concludes with a royal fanfare, the command to the crowd–“Silence!”–and the announcement that the king has sent a message. The king’s introduction is accompanied by solo piano, but the harpsichord re-enters shortly, and hilariously, it’s got the beat of a British invasion band. Of course, this is the original British invasion. My wife, who knows music far better than I do, laughed at that point in the song and said, “Herman’s Hermits.” I don’t know a thing by Herman’s Hermits–are they the ones who did “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”?–but I recognize the sound, especially when the violins come swooping in straight out of a late Beatles album.

On the original cast recording, King George III is sung by Jonathan Groff. You may know him from Glee; my only acquaintance with him was as the voice of Kristoff in Frozen, where he is very funny but doesn’t get to strut his singing. In Hamilton he does, and boy does he strut. I love the shift from the falsetto (hello, John Lennon) in “You say my love is draining and you can’t go on” to the lusty, angry growl on “You’ll be the one complaining when I am gone.” At judicious moments like that “when I am gone,” he drops the assumed royal accent. The rest of the time, his voice is over-the-top aristocratic: “you’ll be beck” for “back,” “when push comes to shAHve” for “shove,” and a long, lovely roll of the “r” on “arrangement.”

The song’s title may be a prediction of the future, but the song’s backwards gaze intensifies even that of the Baroque “Farmer Refuted.” Abusers want their victims to remember the good old days of romance and roses, before the true nature of the relationship was revealed. King George uses the word “remember” four times in the first dozen lines.

You say
The price of my love’s not a price that you’re willing to pay
You cry
In your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by
Why so sad?
Remember we made an arrangement when you went away
Now you’re making me mad
Remember, despite our estrangement, I’m your man
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see
You’ll remember you belong to me
You’ll be back, time will tell
You’ll remember that I served you well

Oh, I love that tea joke, and another historical reference he tosses off, “When you’re gone, I’ll go mad.” But I have to say that the madness jokes get a little wearisome; they appear in all three of the king’s songs, which is wildly clever but also mean, because King George III really did descend into mental illness later in his very long reign, and once you get past the glee at a dictator’s comeuppance, that’s not actually funny. My father reassures me that he recovered. (Now I am hearing Monty Python: “I got better.”)

Viva la British Invasion.

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