If I could name the one weird thing that has influenced me so far this year it is Hamilton. Nope, not my provincial hometown, but the Broadway musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. I get that you're glazing over right now but - school-marm look - please stay with me.
The New York Times theatre critic: "I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But Hamilton might just about be worth it."
Yes my dears, it's really that good. Like most new weird things I was introduced to it by our 11-year-old daughter, who makes short films of animated cats rapping about the constitution. Just go with it, okay?
You've got to support anything that gets pre-pubescent girls debating points of economic structure. Sample: "If we assume the debts, the union gets, a new line of credit, a financial diuretic."
Anyway, Hamilton the musical was written by first generation Puerto Rican immigrant Lin-Manuel Miranda based on the scholarly 2004 biography of Hamilton written by historian Ron Chernow. Pretty much everyone except Miranda (who stars) is black and much of the musical is in hip-hop. This unorthodox combination of ideas somehow feels exhilaratingly uplifting and its runaway success makes me wonder if anything is possible. "Rise up! If you're living on your knees, gotta rise up!"
There is much to love about Hamilton, but here are some of my favourites.
1 Hamilton makes you remember all the things that really are vivid and inspiring about America. Still. Despite all the crackers partisan animosity and insanity.
2 It proves how music can get through to people in a way nothing else can. Barack Obama joked that admiration for the musical is "the only thing Dick Cheney and I agree on".
3 Hamilton is a reminder of the remarkable power of words. As a child, Hamilton was an impoverished orphan in the West Indies, but also an avid reader. An essay he wrote about a hurricane that devastated his West Indian town in 1772 showed such verve and gusto that com-munity leaders collected a fund to send him to New York for his education.
4 Hamilton will make you feel like a woeful under-achiever, but that's okay. After being a penniless orphan born out of wedlock, Hamilton graduated from college, became a lawyer and helped shape what would become the most powerful country on earth. Meanwhile, the show's writer Miranda has won Tony awards, a Pulitzer, a Grammy and a MacArthur Genius grant. To put this in context, other writers, not looking at anyone in particular, are writing columns in their pyjamas about cleaning up cat vomit.
5 "Immigrants, they get the job done." An immigrant's impassioned telling of another immigrant's story becomes the collective narrative of a nation, built by immigrants, who occasionally need to be reminded where they came from. I'm an immigrant. I like this.
6 "Talk less, smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for." This was Aaron Burr's advice to Hamilton when he arrived in NYC all lippy. Being prone to saying dumb things: I can attest this is good advice.
7 Despite being set in 1776, there are some vivid women characters. In one song Hamilton's wife Eliza tells him that there is as much legacy, pride, honour and heroism in being a good husband and father as there is in being a founding father. There is also a song called Say No to This which expresses that classic dumb bloke logic: I was so busy and stressed I had to cheat on my wife.
8 It is both comforting and crazy-making to realise the political climate of now is not terribly different from then. (Bickering, manoeuvring, mud-slinging.)
9 Hamilton has made me wonder: Why can't we have some passionate and powerful constitutional documents in New Zealand? In the words of Hamilton: "If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?"
Americans have powerful, moving words to remind them what they stand for.
"We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent ... they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
What do we have?
I just instructed our daughter to write a musical on constitutional reform. She gave me that look.
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