By Nicholas Cheng|
I made a very impulsive purchase one evening last week after doing my weekly budget spreadsheet: A ticket for one person, in the D row of the Orpheum Theater, to watch “Hamilton.”
Now for those who do not know, “Hamilton” is a Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom the public might be more likely to know as the man who wrote the songs for Disney’s “Moana.” The musical is his second offering and is considered one of the most influential works on Broadway in years.
It tells the story of the United States’ first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton — the man on the $10 note. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Even President Barack Obama thought so when Miranda presented this idea during a White House poetry slam in 2009. Miranda writes and performs traditional Broadway musicals in the style of hip hop and rap, and as the first song of the show begins, it’s clear that the story of Hamilton is less a political melodrama and more an amazing American dream tale.
Born in the Caribbean, a bastard son of a Scottish miner and a whore, Hamilton was orphaned at 12 when plague took his mother. The self-taught tradesman took management of a Charlestown trading charter at 14, lost it all to a hurricane at 17 and was sponsored by his village to travel to New York City for an education. There he rose to become a prominent lawyer, fought as a major general in the American Revolution and was George Washington’s right-hand man. Then he created America’s modern financial structure. And that all happens in the first song.
What follows are complicated stories of his family, political debates with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and a rivalry with Vice President Aaron Burr, which would ultimately lead to his death in a famous duel, all told in the form of rap battles and cleverly written songs that transcends the Broadway musical genre. Why the show has been pegged as being so important is because it’s also closely tied to the U.S.’ immigrant story— a hot-button issue in the current administration.
I’m a musical theater performer back home in Malaysia, and it was Miranda’s first show, “In The Heights,” that first got me interested in the performing arts. It was safe to say Hamilton infiltrated much of my free time and conversations. Perhaps it’s partly due to bandwagon hopping, because it is the best musical right now, but it is also being called that for a reason.
I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness as the lights dimmed and the first few violin strokes resonated through the Orpheum. One thing I’ve come to learn about being in the U.S.: You come to admire the shows or the news reports produced here when you are across the Pacific, but when you are here and you are this close to your idols, more often than not your expectations spoil your actual experience. What if the show wasn’t as good as I had made it out to be?
Thankfully it didn’t take long for the charismatic cast to hook me and the rest of the audience into a story I already knew. The crowd was noisy, hooting and cheering with every punchline and political spat in the show —a big no-no in the theater world, but for this musical, it came off more as a sign of attentiveness. The audience savored every minute of the show and their applause at the end of every set piece drew on so long, the orchestra had to cut them off for time’s sake. Three hours passed by very quickly!
I went home with a bag full of merchandise and a social media feed blowing up from jealous friends back in Malaysia. After the show came the withdrawal. I have resigned myself to the fact that because of the skyrocketing ticket prices of the show, this was probably my one and only chance to see it.
But to quote the musical’s most famous line, I’m glad I didn’t throw away my shot.