I am inordinately fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to see “Hamilton: An American Musical” last week during my trip to New York. It only seemed fitting. Right before the show opened on Broadway last year I wrote this piece stating my support for Hamilton remaining on our currency. Aside from that, as someone who holds degrees in Economics and Finance, for quite some time I very much wanted to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s interpretation inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography chronicling the life of our financial founding father.
My college roommate currently works on the show as part of the crew. She has a work ethic that rivals or even exceeds my own. I say this as someone who has rolled up my own sweatshirt to serve as a makeshift pillow for a nap under my cubicle at 3 AM, only to get up at 6 to go back to the Excel spreadsheet grind. My friend is someone who meets the call of duty no matter what even if it means working a load-in at 2 AM after putting in a full day.
Please, do not think for a New York minute that a cast or crew connection alone is enough to secure a ticket to Hamilton, a rare commodity these days, particularly in the run-up to the Tony Awards in which nearly 900 Tony voters are prioritized and must be accommodated even though the show is sold out for the foreseeable future. While my trip to New York was centered around attending my college reunion, the only reason I planned to fly to New York Wednesday instead of Friday was to see Hamilton. It was a huge risk because I didn’t know definitively until a few days before that I indeed had a ticket and it would have cost me way more than the full face value of the ticket price which I paid to change my flight. Cast and crew requests are often denied. I saw this happen firsthand while I was there. The request window opens at midnight and there is no grace period for lack of cell phone reception in subway tunnels at that time. When we got into a station at 12:05 it was already too late.
That ticket stress and uncertainty melted away as soon as I was seated and the cast launched into the first number “Alexander Hamilton.” I read in the Playbill, this Playbill pictured here that the song is essentially the first 40 pages of the Chernow book but Miranda distilled it into a 4 minute rap. Simply amazing. It was just one part of Miranda’s body of work “Hamilton” that won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Speaking of the Chernow book, my husband has asked for the book for his birthday and I plan to read it when he is done. This means I will be waiting quite a while. It took me almost a year to read Chernow’s “The House of Morgan” and I kept a dictionary by my side as I read it. It contains words like primordial, comeuppance, hauteur, voluble, lambaste, and encomium, words I may or may not have encountered during my SAT prep days in high school so long ago.
The work it takes to get through a Chernow book certainly fuels my gratitude to Miranda for having the foresight and talent to take a scholarly biography and use rap as a medium for telling Hamilton’s story, breaking it down in that way so everyone, not just those with SAT level vocabularies, can understand the story.
And what a story. Another part of why I am so thankful is because of the musical we have this resurgence in interest in Alexander Hamilton, perhaps one of the first to realize the American dream, a dream we need now more than ever to believe in.
There are a few themes in the show, but the ones that spoke to me the most were the ones that echoed my own story. You can be born into nothing but hard work and some brainpower can propel you to the top. We all get a shot, but how are you going to use it? We are empowered to “rise up”, just as Hamilton did.
Because of Hamilton the musical we care about and even exalt an important figure in finance, the creator of the US Mint and the architect of our currency system, our first proponent of a central bank. In this toxic political environment, one that pits 99 percenters vs. 1 percenters, an environment that has created fear among those of us finance practitioners for revealing our profession to avoid guilt-by-association comments that we must be corrupt and unethical just for being in the same profession as Hamilton, the focus has shifted back, how Hamilton overcame incredible odds as an orphan and self education to come to New York to devise a financial plan for our new nation. It’s a focus we sorely need.
I think Hamilton asks all of us this one question. So, what are you going to do with your shot? Because no matter where we come from, we all have one. After business school, I went to work for a bank that had a reputation for hiring those of us who were poor, smart and had a desire to succeed, to became more than where we came from. We were all “scrappy, young and hungry” as they rap in the show. Just like the colonies, you too are going to “rise up”. So, yeah, “My Shot” speaks to me.
It’s not just me. Thanks to Hamilton, those of us ages 8 to 80 have been introduced, reintroduced or reinvigorated in American History. In my friend’s suitcase for the reunion was a Hamilton picture book, autographed by the cast as a request from another classmate who wanted it for her 11 year old who has memorized the soundtrack. In the row I sat in last week, there were both children and those who are quite likely collecting Social Security.
Here it is, a week later and I am still singing the songs from the show much to the disdain of my husband and kids who have to hear my out-of-tune voice shout out Broadway tunes, something I haven’t done since seeing “Rent” nearly 20 years ago even though I have seen many musicals in the time between. But I can’t get “My Shot” among others out of my head. Hamilton is just that good.
It’s so good I just might watch the Tony Awards tonight and I never watch award shows, yet after last week’s experience I feel such a connection to the show that I feel compelled to watch. How many Tonys do you think Hamilton will win? Because it’s not a matter of if, but how many.
Oh, and I just have to say to you fellow Chicagoans out there, don’t even think about buying your tickets to Hamilton through a ticket reseller or broker when tickets go on sale for the Chicago run later this month. Per this Tribune editorial, “As (Hamilton producer) Seller noted, theatergoers who pay $1,000 for the $199 seat to “Hamilton” are giving about $800 to resellers instead of the creators and employees of the show. ‘That is just not fair,’ he told Jones, ‘and it does not help the theater.'” Think about where the money goes. Believe me, you don’t want to give it to a reseller. Yes, the demand is really that high but in that same editorial Seller discusses the plan to subsidize student tickets via a lottery. This is the history I want my children to learn as told though multicultural voices as the show does so I fully support his plan. You should too.
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