Question: Did “Hamilton” meet your expectations?
Answer: No. It exceeded them, which is saying a lot!
Preparing for the performance, we got the book, Hamilton: The Revolution to read the lyrics while listening to the music. The back story is worth the read even if we never saw the show. But the preacher in me can’t help but pass on some of the ways the entire experience spoke to me.
On Not Throwing Away Your Shot
Lin-Manuel Miranda captures the driving energy in Alexander Hamilton’s life when he sings, “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot.” Along with “The Story of Tonight” and “Who Tells Your Story” it touches our deep desire for our lives to matter, to know that it made a difference that we were here.
In the original Broadway cast, Chris Jackson’s towering physical presence reflected the towering leadership of George Washington.
Miranda writes that Jackson would gather the cast “in a prayer circle beneath the stage” before every performance. He told them to hold hands, breathe deeply, and gave a “half-locker-room pep talk, half petition to the Almighty.”
“Let’s be sure that no matter what happens out there…let’s agree that for the next two and half hours, this is the most important thing we’ll do in our lives.”
He’d close with the hope that “everybody–in the audience, on the stage and in the orchestra pit–will leave the theatre a better person the they walked in.”
I’d say that’s precisely the kind of passion and urgency that we need if we don’t want to miss our “shot” at fulfilling God’s best hope for the difference our lives can make.
Grief Beyond Words
The most emotionally powerful song in the show follows the death of Hamilton’s son, Phillip. It’s Quiet Uptown captures in words and music the reality that every pastor experiences in moments like this.
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down.
The chorus enters with the refrain that every parent who has lost a child knows is true: They are trying to do the unimaginable.
It’s also a moment of reconciliation for Eliza and Alexander when the chorus sings:
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable
They are standing in the garden
Alexander by Eliza’s side
She takes his hand.
Miranda describes the way the the actors and crew cried the first time they sang the song in rehearsal and then when the 16-year-old son of one of the lead actors died with cancer before the show opened on Broadway.
My words in responding to that scene are just as inadequate as the pastoral words I try to offer at times like these. There are unimaginable moments that words won’t reach when the best we can offer is compassionate silence.
The Face of Our Future
The amazing thing about “Hamilton” is that it tells the story of our past in a way that affirms our present and points to the future. The founding father were all white. They spoke with English accents. They never could have imagined the sounds of rap, rock or hip hop. But here they are before us in the musical, cultural and racial diversity of who we have become and who our nation is becoming.
The costume designers made a careful decision to put the lead actors in period dress, but to do away with the wigs that show up in most paintings of them.
Hamilton is Hispanic. Washington is Black. Their hair style are their own.
Simply by being who they are, claiming the history as their own, the show is a bold affirmation of the growing diversity of our nation and a vivd contradiction of the “backlash of the angry white males” to the increasing diversity of our culture. It puts the story of our past into the music, culture and diversity of our future.
The show leaves us with the question, “Who tells your story?” But we left the theater with the assurance that the America story will be told in new ways by new generations. And that’s worth a shot!