Note: This is the final (bonus) post in my “Ten Days of Hamilton” series.
I had the pleasure of finally seeing Hamilton: An American Musical. We saw it on April 14th during the matinée performance as it stopped by the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. The venue was great. Our seats were great. The whole experience was great, even if we were a little rushed and arrived only a few minutes before everything kicked off.
As the light went down, Kim turned to me and asked if I was going to cry. I, of course, said no, and immediately started getting teary when those first few notes of “Alexander Hamilton” hit and Aaron Burr takes the stage. It probably took about half the opening song to get used to the various performers and their difference from the cast recording. But everyone was great. King George was even better than I had imagined in my head, and probably is underrated in my recent rankings.*
*I’d probably move him up to about 7 or so, as well as bump Eliza to the top. Maybe shift some others around in the middle as well.
Beyond that, I don’t really want to go scene by scene or song by song and review the musical that way. My experience will probably be different from somebody else, and there are plenty of other reviews out there that will do that. It’s not that I’m worried about revealing spoilers or anything – there are only a few musical interludes and one song that is missing from the cast album that I’m sure people have at least listened to once or twice (or dozens of times like me). But I will mention a couple of instances in the staging of the musical that were better than expected before getting to the other part of this post.
The first instance was “Helpless” and “Satisfied.” I had read about the staging of this, with the rewind and all that and the same scene replayed from both Angelica’s and Eliza’s point of view. The circular stage gets a real workout on this one, and the use of props and movement is really something to behold. In fact, I would say that the use of the stage and set – which doesn’t really change during the entire show – is probably the best I have ever seen.
The second instance was the closing number – “Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story” – which is much more powerful live, with new number one best character Eliza leading the way. Eliza honestly steals the show in most everything she does, and this one is no exception. If you can walk out of the show after the last run of songs – “Burn,” “Stay Alive (Reprise)”, “It’s Quiet Uptown,”, “The World Was Wide Enough,” and this one – and not be a blubbering mess,* you obviously weren’t paying attention.
*I also got a little emotional during “One Last Time” and “Dear Theodosia,” so I’m not a total monster.
Seeing Hamilton live, however, got me thinking about some other great live entertainment experiences in my life. I have probably been to hundreds of concerts, plays, musicals, and what not in my life, but walking out of Hamilton made me want to actually rank those experiences. I immediately put Hamilton in the Top 5, though on further reflection, I would probably actually place it in the Top 3.
A quick rundown of my personal Top 5:
5) “Weird Al” Yankovic at the Fair Park: This was my first live concert experience, and if I had to guess, it was in 1994 or 1995. I know that I wasn’t driving, because I was supposed to take the bus home, and a lot of the songs and actual performance has faded from memory over the past 20+ years. That said, it was a pretty important moment nonetheless, as it made me realize even from a young age, that live music was the best music, and led me to many other concerts even while in high school.
4) The First Ben Folds Concert: There was no way this list wouldn’t include a Ben Folds concert, though the actual details on this one are not super specific. I’m pretty sure I saw Ben Folds Five at an X96 Big Ass Show in the late ’90s, but I don’t really count that one because I was probably more excited about Green Day or somebody else. However, once I moved to Connecticut, there was hardly a year that passed when I didn’t see Ben Folds live, so which ever one was first started me down the path to Ben Folds super fandom, and one of his concerts that I do remember is the only show that (spoiler alert) will beat Hamilton on this list.
3) Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: I’ve seen a production of Joseph exactly twice in my life (and I am still hoping that it will be the next live musical they do on TV), and one of those productions was put on by a lot of my friends during my junior year of high school (I almost auditioned, but I was not a singer nor an actor, just a band kid). That one was great – especially Ben Parkes as our Joseph – but the other time that I’ve seen Joseph was probably more important in my life, if only because it helped me really get interested in musical theater. It was 1995 or 1996, my mom was going to school at Salt Lake Community College and they put on a production of Joseph that blew my young mind. It led me to go get some books with Joseph songs for my trumpet, and beg the band teacher to play some Andrew Lloyd Weber stuff. I’m sure if I had still cared about band by the time our high school production came along, I would have been in “the pit” too, but I was happy to be a viewer instead.
2) Hamilton: An American Musical: Obviously, I’ve been slightly obsessed with this thing even before I had seen it, so I was also prepared to be super disappointed that it wouldn’t live up to my out-sized expectations. But it didn’t. It was everything that I needed it to be and makes me appreciate live musical entertainment even more. I just wish it was something that was easier for everyone to see, as its popularity has driven up costs and difficulty of getting tickets. But don’t think this is going to deter me from trying to get to Puerto Rico when Lin-Manuel Miranda reprises the role he made famous next year.
1) Ben Folds with St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: Of course my man Ben Folds finishes first, and this show is probably one of two dozen times that I’ve seen him live. But this one was the most meaningful for me. My new fiance (now wife) had taken a risk by buying tickets when we had just started dating and surprised me with the trip to St. Louis. We could have failed as a couple any time between when she purchased tickets and when we actually went to the show, but we didn’t. But this was the first Ben Folds show where I felt a lot of the memories of Ben Folds tied to my ex-wife were finally fully purged. I was having a hard time singing along with many of my favorite songs because the tears were flowing and I was making new Ben Folds memories with the woman I would be spending the rest of my life with. There have been other Ben Folds shows that were “better,” but this was the one that was most meaningful to me.
So there you have it. 15 hours from my live entertainment life that have meant a lot to me for one reason or another. I urge everyone to get out and see things when you can, whether it’s Hamilton or just your favorite musical artist when they come by your town. There is not a whole lot of things better than live music done well, and it may change your life.
Until next time…