It’s quite a feat to make King George III, the natural villain of the piece in any American Revolution story, rather sympathetic and interesting, but Hamilton does it. He’s funny, and most people, like me, are inclined to soften their view of someone who makes them laugh. Then, too, he’s got problems, poor guy. He gives us a peek into his experience. And even though it’s hard to hear it from him, he speaks truth.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
. . . Do you have a clue what happens now?

That truth is exactly what must be on the victors’ minds now that they have to turn revolutionary dreams into an actual working government. The Continental Congress was overseeing a new country that was fairly desperately in debt at this point; as Hamilton noted back in “Stay Alive,”

Local merchants deny us equipment, assistance
They only take British money, so sing a song of sixpence.

The war debt has the country flat broke–some states more than others, so there’s also the tension among them to be dealt with. The Constitution has yet to be drafted; there are no rules. Throughout history, revolution is often met by counter-revolution, or just never settles down into the sober, boring business of governance. The words Miranda puts in  King George’s mouth drip with schadenfreude and a bit of sour-grape juice, but that doesn’t make them incorrect. No less than George Washington agrees with him, a few songs later when Hamilton’s fine theories come up against realpolitik: “Winning was easy, young man. Governing’s harder” (“Cabinet Battle #1”).

The king’s problems are laid out in the intro:

They say
The price of my war’s not a price that they’re willing to pay
Insane
You cheat with the French, now I’m fighting with France and with Spain
I’m so blue
I thought that we’d made an arrangement
When you went away . . .

Poor George. He is still stuck in the past, looking back nostalgically at that almost 200-year-old “arrangement.” But he is in a world of trouble, now that both Spain and France have been riled up against him. Jonathan Groff hits a tone on “I’m so blue” that makes me want to hand him a hanky and pat his shoulder, he’s so bewildered by his turn of fortune. It doesn’t last–in the next line, “. . . you were mine to subdue,” he sounds aggrieved, even a bit threatening. Yeah, the hell with that. Sorry, dude, the deal is off, and we’re glad we left you. But still, the song has let us see the world from his point of view, and that empathy helps us to hear the warning he delivers.

Also, he’s been there, right? “Do you know how hard it is to lead?” comes from the depths of bitter experience, and then, “When your people say they hate you / Don’t come crawling back to me.” It’s vengeful and petty, the ditched boyfriend crowing that his ex will get her comeuppance, but there’s also a pang of truth: his people said they hate him. And what United States president or member of Congress has not had the same experience? It’s gotta hurt, even when it’s just. We don’t want it to happen to Hamilton and Washington, whom we’ve come to like. And we want our country to be a country, instead of sinking into the morass that so many new nations do after throwing off the shackles. As with the preceding “Yorktown,” it feels a bit miraculous that the leaders of the time did turn to statecraft and create something that could last.

Though we have our problems . . . We had to fight a war 80 years later because we couldn’t find unity without continuing slavery. (In a bitter irony, if we’d stayed in the British Empire, the enslaved people on our continent might have been freed in 1833, when England abolished slavery throughout all of its colonies.) Some of the dreams, such as women’s suffrage, took even longer to become reality, and some of the accomplishments of the new nation ended up being liabilities–I’m thinking of Hamilton’s invention, the Electoral College, which made a lot more sense for those 13 colonies than it makes for today’s vastly disparate states. When I hear this song and think of today, I understand a line that appears in all three of the king’s songs, “Oceans rise, empires fall.” The empires are obvious, but why “oceans rise”? Maybe it’s only in his first and third song so it can be here, and remind us that the rise of the oceans is one of the worst creations of, and greatest challenges to, these United States of America. Is King George snickering, wherever he is?

My favorite line, for laughs, is when Groff, having perched on the pinnacle of British accents–“You’re on your own”–drops down to surfer dude tone with “Awesome. Wow.” I’ve tried to analyze how Miranda makes anachronism work for him, instead of clunking. I don’t know. He just has the ear. Of course, it’s possible that it will clunk when Hamilton is produced 20 years from now; slang is the thing that sounds most cutting-edge when it’s new, and ages fastest and worst. But I think it will wear well. As slang goes, “wow” has shown a lot of staying power. I’m afraid the rising oceans won’t go out of date anytime soon, either.

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I have read elsewhere that the British general Cornwallis ordered his soldiers to sing “The World Turned Upside Down” after their surrender; Sarah Vowell says it’s apocryphal (Lafayette in the (Somewhat) United States). But historical accuracy be damned. It’s perfect. You feel it, how long the odds were, how earthshaking it is that “a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower / Somehow defeat[ed] a global superpower” (“Guns and Ships”). It was absurd to think we could win. But we won.

A Facebook friend-of-a-friend dismissed Hamilton on the grounds that no one leaves the theater humming the tunes after a hip hop musical. I guess he would think I was unbalanced if I said that I’ve woken in the morning with this running unstoppably through my brain:

Take the bullets out your gun! (What?)
The bullets out your gun! (What?)
We move under cover and we move as one
Through the night, we have one shot to live another day
We cannot let a stray gunshot give us away
We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it
It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet
The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me? (Rochambeau!)
You have your orders now, go, man, go!

Alexander Hamilton’s part in the battle really was crucial, and it was fought the way it’s described here: an advance up the hill to a siege and hand-to-hand combat. It was incredibly dangerous, and it’s moving (following up on my reflections on “That Would Be Enough”) that Hamilton really wants to survive now. He is so close to death, and his old imaginings are with him again (“This is where it gets me: on my feet /
The enemy ahead of me”), and he’s all right with it (“If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me / Weapon in my hand, in command, and my men with me”) until:

Then I remember my Eliza’s expecting me…
Not only that, my Eliza’s expecting
We gotta go, gotta get the job done
Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!

He comes back to this as victory sinks in. The British sing, mournfully at first, he repeats it, Lafayette also crying out victory, and the voices of the company rise in volume and intensity until it doesn’t sound like the British singing anymore at all, but the victorious, finally independent Americans–

The world turned upside down!

I get tears in my eyes, I admit it. I want to jump up and cheer and cry. It’s an intensely patriotic moment, when I feel all the potential of our country, how important it is that it not be frittered away only 236 years later. We won! The world turned upside down! We have to keep moving toward freedom. We can’t let anyone or anything stop us.

Other thoughts:

I know of no musical hints here that Miranda is making reference to Puerto Rico at all. But his father came to New York from Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States empire, and the son supports the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. As the colonists celebrate their freedom, it’s hard not to notice the parallel to Puerto Rico and every land that’s ruled by a power other than its own people.

Another departure from historical fact: at this point, far from being in South Carolina, John Laurens is fighting to take Redoubt No. 10, just like Hamilton. He died in Charleston, South Carolina, the next summer–Yorktown was the decisive battle of the war, but not the very last–and the one unsung scene in the play brings news of his death (just before the last song of the act). So Miranda is condensing the timeline here.

It’s worth paying particular attention to Okieriete Onaodowan’s voice on this rap. He plays Hercules Mulligan, the crudest of the four friends in words and the grittiest in vocal tone, and he’s at his roughest here. The next time we hear the actor, he’ll be playing a different character with a very different voice and demeanor.

Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fightin’ Frenchman! Daveed Diggs digs deep and declaims diatribe with dizzying dispatch, as Gallic gallant garners guns and galleons for grateful General George.

If I were my wife, I could write this whole thing in alliteration, but I’m me and that’s my limit. Listen, if you haven’t tried to rap Lafayette’s part in “Guns and Ships,” stop reading and go try it now. It is so much fun, and if you can do it without a slip, you will earn serious coolness points from any child you may be trying to impress. I had to practice a couple of dozen times, but it was worth it. Extra points for a French accent, unless you’re French. But if you can’t manage that, hey, even Diggs reverts to his natural accent at “get your right hand man back.”

Vocabulary word of the day, in fact of the play: “ingenuitive.” I looked it up, sure it would be a neologism; it turns out it is pretty new, though Miranda didn’t coin it. WordPress is giving me the squiggly red line, but it’s a good and needed word. Haven’t you ever reached for an adjectival form of “ingenuity” and found yourself trying, and rejecting, “ingenuous”? Haven’t we all? So, you get even more points if you can work “ingenuitive” plausibly into conversation and help get it into the dictionary.

Lafayette advises Washington to bring Hamilton back to the front–I don’t know whether that part is true, but we did “win this war at Yorktown,” and Hamilton was a key leader in that battle–and he does, giving him his sword and his command in “History Has Its Eyes on You.”

He also gives him advice of the “here’s what I wish I’d known when I was young like you” variety, in almost those words, and Hamilton has cooled off enough since their shouting match to listen. (Washington is almost 50, which makes him twice Hamilton’s age, and far more experienced in battle, and at least he doesn’t call him “son” again.) Christopher Jackson, who plays Washington, gets to take the raps (heh) off that rich, husky voice. His singing here and in “One More Time,” in the second act, literally makes me weak in the knees. It’s humble and powerful, like Washington’s character; we hear the emotion that has always stayed with him in the line “I witnessed their deaths first hand,” the importance of what he’s telling Hamilton in the line “You have no control.”

The looming crisis brings up themes that were introduced in “Alexander Hamilton,” of our lives becoming stories that we eventually call history, of the future watching us critically and not always kindly (or even accurately). Eliza sang of them in “That Would Be Enough” when she asked to be “part of the narrative / In the story they will write some day”; now Washington, who has lived in the harsh spotlight of history for years, is telling Hamilton that it’s not all roses when the “history book mentions [you]” (“Alexander Hamilton”):

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory:
You have no control
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

The company sings the “whoas” from “My Shot,” telling us: these colonies are rising up. The time has come; the decisive battle is before them. But Washington isn’t giving a pep talk. He doesn’t tell his protegé about glory, except to imply that it’s a pipe dream that one discards as age and wisdom advance. Instead, he wants him to know about mistakes, shame, and the torturous burden that rests on your shoulders when you realize that what you are doing really matters. If you have been fortunate enough to have that kind of mentor (as I have), you know how powerful such moments are. Washington is handing Hamilton a heavy weight, and telling him he knows he can carry it (“I know that greatness lies in you”), because he, too, was young and flawed and yet he is bearing the burden with courage. Now that’s leadership.

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.

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