#840: A Review of ‘Hamilton’ Written Several Hours Before I See It

September 8th, 2017

In October 2016, my friend Kate stood in line for six hours to buy a block of tickets for “Hamilton.” Thursday’s 7 p.m. showing was the first available date. So I saw “Hamilton” last night.

Although my readers deserve a probing, incisive review of the rap musical’s portrayal of our nation’s early days, I have a flight this morning. In the interest of time management, I pre-wrote my review before the show based on what I’ve heard about the play and what I remember off-hand about American history.

SCENE: Probably Philadelphia but maybe Boston. The Founding Fathers are in a darkened tavern. Benjamin Franklin is sitting at a desk scribbling designs for something called a “post office.” George Washington is posing for a portrait, his third of the day. Samuel Adams is brewing beer but not particularly enjoying being a brewer if I recall right, and Jefferson is over in the corner advocating a more decentralized form of government than Hamiltonian federalism.

General Lafayette bounces into the room clutching a baguette and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

“Mon dieu! My soufflé is, how you say, ruined! Ooh la la!” Lafayette weeps into his beret.

Casimir Pulaski glances at Lafayette, then returns to reading a book on military strategy and not doing anything stereotypical because Polish jokes are not cool, man.

“A department… that pours water on buildings… that are on… FIRE!” Franklin yells to no one. “By King George — who I hate — this could be my best invention since that stove thing. Hey! Glasses that have two types of glass in them! I’ll call them bifocals!”

“What news, Paul Revere, who makes silver?” Washington calls across the room as the portrait artist leaves, to be replaced by the next in a line of men and canvases stretching down the hall.

“I’m reading in this newspaper of the era that I’m pretty sure was called ‘The Porcupine’ that Alexander Hamilton is on his way here right now,” Revere replies.

Washington jumps up from his seat, accidentally spilling the paint so there’s not enough left to finish anything below his left shoulder.

“Hamilton?” Washington cries. “The author of many but not all of the Federalist Papers?”

“The nation’s first treasury secretary?” Jefferson calls, also jumping up.

“He had an affair with a married lady who was really a prostitute running a con on him so her husband/pimp could blackmail him?” says Benjamin Franklin. “That guy?”

“Fuck that guy,” says Aaron Burr, throwing a dagger at a $10 bill he had pinned to a dartboard.

“Yes, it’s me!” a man says, striding into the room. “I’m the Hamilton! I advocate a more centralized form of government than Jeffersonian republicanism! Let’s sing!”

That’s a scene from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash rap musical “Hamilton,” which I saw last night and am not pre-reviewing because I have to go to an out-of-town wedding this weekend.

In the work, Miranda, also known for “In the Heights,” Disney’s “Moana” and being really adorable on Twitter, has taken the concept of American history and put it to a hip-hop beat. With such hits as “The XYZ Affair was a low point in French-American relations,” “There was a female spy named Agent 355 but some people think that was a code word for any woman informant” and “I’m like 80 percent sure I remember hearing about a newspaper called ‘The Porcupine,’” the play challenges the audience to remember how, for lack of a better word, revolutionary the Revolutionary War was.

The musical comes at a time when hip-hop and rap are the only mainstream music exhibiting a social conscience. While rock, punk and other forms of music that once sought change and justice have settled into self-parody and a profitable conformity, albums like Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” highlight issues of social unrest, endemic racism and abuse by authority.

Where a society could once be shocked by putting religion to rock music in a “Jesus Christ Superstar” or “Godspell,” today’s music of revolution is rap, performed — as “Hamilton” deftly exhibits in its choice to cast only people of color — by people not historically given a platform to speak.

“Hamilton” is a cultural phenomenon, one I’m looking forward to having had witnessed last night.

And I just remembered the newspaper was called “Porcupine’s Gazette.”

Read a similar scene from The Pantheon of Terrible Chicago Mascots

Peer into The Brainstorming Meeting for tronc Inc.

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