Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Another Hamilton post

I like the musical 1776, but it's not as exciting as it needs to be. They tried, but Broadway has always had to pull punches because it panders to the out of town crowd, which it assumes won't like certain jokes. Hamilton began off-Broadway and is a little unfettered in that regard, though it's no Avenue Q (just because it's got puppets don't mean you wanna take your kids! My favorite character is an evil landlady named Ms. Thistletwat.)

Hamilton is not boring. And tickets have opened in other cities, so you don't have to worry about ridiculous ticket prices. I saw it a week ago and I'm posting about it to annoy Dave White (whose latest Jackson Donne novel, Blind to Sin, is available for pre-order). I didn't pay above face value for tickets. If you follow them on Facebook, they announce when tickets are released, and if you're fast you can get them. Or you can wait at the door and get Standing Room Only tickets. Two people were standing right behind our last row orchestra seats, and I think they paid thirty bucks. 

I love historical fiction, or fiction inspired by historical discoveries. My latest story, which will appear in an as-yet unnamed anthology next year, was inspired by the Herxheim archaeological dig and the kurgan burial mounds (which also gave its name to my favorite villain, the Kurgan in Highlander). At Herxheim, the skulls have all been cracked open. Probably for the brains inside. It made me think for a long time, about the unpleasant realities of stone age life, and a story came from it.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has written extensively about how he wrote Hamilton, and Dave wrote about how well the story's put together. To me, Miranda's genius was in finding what was so interesting about the character. He's the most famous Founder on our currency who didn't die of old age. The duel that ended his life is well known (perhaps thanks to a milk commercial) but most of us have no idea what it was fought over, or that his son also died in a duel. I read a little about Hamilton's life when I read the excellent history of the Revolutionary War, Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer. It's not in the musical; his ability as a tactician is mentioned, but Ham led a brigade of cannon, and had a knack for creeping up on hills to catch the redcoats in cannonade, hitting their flank as they marched in row formation. And he was nineteen years old, like another war hero, Audie Murphy. 

Statue in front of his Harlem digs

Hamilton was imperfect but principled, an abolitionist like John Jay, Samuel Adams, and (later in life) Ben Franklin, but they could not get the slave states to join the union without leaving emancipation a question to be answered after the war. He had a hot temper and a sharp tongue and led a very interesting life, which you can learn in Chernow's biography, which Miranda used as a source. But it's what he chose as important that makes the story so compelling. We don't linger on his bank work, little of his politics, except for a few rap battles with Jefferson and Madison over state debt. Miranda saw him as a man who "wrote like he was running out of time," and found the human element to every milestone in his life. His orphanhood driving him to succeed and making him buck authority, his weaknesses and principles both making him easily manipulated by his enemies. 

If you can't see the show I'd recommend listening to the soundtrack, or even the new "mixtape" (which has a few cut songs which slowed down the story, even if they were important, like how he kept fighting to abolish slavery). Even if you don't like hip-hop or Broadway tunes, the songs are catchy and Miranda knows how to pen a great turn of phrase. So many of the songs have returned to me as earworms over the past week. Like 1776 did, he brings the Revolution to life, but with more passion, and a true love for its characters. I hope it inspires a lot of historical fiction set in the era.

What dueling gets you.

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