Room at the table…through performance

Recently, our family went to watch Hamilton; An American Musical. It was amazing…for so many reasons. The kids and I have listened to the soundtrack off and on over the last year and a half, so we know the music. My husband heard it some, but not as much as the rest of us. The music is eclectic, the cast is intentionally diverse, and the lyrics are intelligent and witty.

As I was growing up, I was exposed to a few musicals, then my interest in musical theater grew while I was in high school. I loved Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, and learned more about others as I was introduced to different songs in choir and through song books I used as a voice student. I loved musical theater, but didn’t believe I had the talent to explore it as a major in college. Instead, I earned a degree in music, so I am classically trained. Eventually, I earned a master’s in a completely different field, and have had very little to do with music since then. I have had the occasional participation in church music, and my children are learning to play double bass and cello, but that’s about all.

Enter Hamilton. When I first heard about Hamilton, I had some interest, but the emphasis on hip-hop/rap kept me from learning more or listening to the music. One day, a student had the book that was all about the musical, and I asked her about it. She said she loved the musical. As I thought about how she responded, I wondered why she loved it, and I considered how I like to find ways to connect to my students. I found the soundtrack on Amazon Prime and listened to it. I became more interested, so I purchased the CD so I could play it in my car (old school). It grew on me. This white, 40 something woman from the suburbs was listening to rap. Eventually, I started reading the book by the composer, and began learning about the history of rap and how the composer was very deliberate with every choice be made about the music. I started appreciating the culture of rap, and I wanted to watch the show.

I learned that Hamilton was coming to Houston, TX, so we finally had the chance to see it! I was not going to pass this up, so I bought tickets and planned a family date night. My husband and I had seen touring musicals before, and there were some issues with understanding the words because of lack of articulation by the actors. I was a little nervous this may be the case when we went to see Hamilton, and was scared that I would be disappointed. However, the cast was very talented, and we understood almost every word. (Of course, it helped to have already heard it a billion times.) I was not disappointed. This is the best musical I have seen.

Here is why the musical is amazing. The cast is very energetic, professional, and talented. The casting for all the companies is also intentionally diverse. Who says George Washington and Thomas Jefferson must be white? How about a Puerto Rican Hamilton?  The choreography helps tell the story, moves the props, and is very active and sharp. The lighting helps portray mood, and the costumes are beautifully symbolic of the characters and their various roles in history. The audience experiences a wide range of emotions throughout the show. There is a part of the musical that portrays marital infidelity, but is handled very artfully and tastefully. I was not uncomfortable that my 12-year-old son was sitting right there with me.

Let me tell you a little about the composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda. His family is from Puerto Rico, so he is passionate about the need to help rebuild after Hurricane Maria barreled through the island. He is active in philanthropy and social justice. He was a teacher. He is one of the most positive people I follow on social media. He is also very driven professionally and is dedicated to his family. He turned the story of Alexander Hamilton into a hip-hop musical that people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars and sit for almost 3 hours to see. (Really, it’s only about 20 minutes longer than Infinity War- with intermission.)

If I could thank Lin-Manuel, I would say this: Thank you for showing me, who grew up with little diversity, how to love and embrace diversity everywhere- in music, on the stage, and in my life. As a teacher in the outskirts of Houston, TX, I had already learned more about many cultures, and I love all my students for who they are, but I didn’t understand some cultural nuances that are expressed through music. Thank you for making a place for my students to aspire to. Thank you for showing the ethnic majority that it’s time to make space for people who’s talent outweighs the fact that the characters they are portraying are well-known white people from American History. Thank you for all the hours, days, weeks, months, and years you put into making this musical that is bringing a wave of change in American culture. Thank you for teaching me that it’s okay to like rap even though I am a 40-something white woman from the suburbs. Thank you for your daily positive and encouraging tweets. Thank you for showing your heart in the very tender parts of the show, and for putting words together that make people think.