‘Hamilton’ exceeds expectations, displays personal side of history

Given my past enrollment in online world history, current enrollment in online US history, and future plans to enroll in online civics, it’s clear that I’ve never been a big fan of history. But if there’s one exception to this rule, it’s “Hamilton: The Musical.”

It’s probably been a while since you’ve heard “Hamilton” mentioned anywhere. I’m not one to want to relive 2016, but it truly was the peak time for “Hamilton,” which served as a beacon of light in an otherwise dark year. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical is based upon the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, pushing his story into the public eye after having his legacy overlooked in favor of more prominent historical figures for so long. Hamilton was also revolutionary in that it was one of the first rap and hip-hop-inspired Broadway musicals to achieve widespread success.

Back in 2016, I never understood the hype about “Hamilton,” but after constantly hearing my classmates rave about it, I eventually gave in and spent a night listening to the soundtrack on Spotify. I was slow to warm up to the countless historical references in its lyrics, but eventually I was hooked. It’s fun, catchy, vocally beautiful, and manages to put a nice hip-hip spin on US history, a topic that would otherwise repulse me. Soon enough, I had learned practically every lyric of every song, singing along in reference to historical events like the Battle of Yorktown.

So, back when my love for “Hamilton” was at its peak in 2016, I was initially ecstatic when I heard that “Hamilton” live would be coming to San Diego in 2017 and desperately begged any semi-interested friend of mine to come watch it with me.

But one year is a long time. As I began to listen to the soundtrack less and less, my love for the musical began to diminish.

It had been so long since I listened to “Hamilton” that when my parents surprised me with tickets to the show in L.A. a month ago, I was a lot less hyped than I had expected to be. Though I was still excited to see “Hamilton,” it didn’t provoke the same overwhelming feelings of joy that it once did.

But that soon changed. Stepping into the  Pantages Theater was like entering a whole new world, and at the same time it was like revisiting an old friend. When the lights dimmed, I could feel the whole audience collectively hold their breath as the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton,” came to life. Instantly, my old love for “Hamilton” (and Broadway musicals in general) sprung back to life. Watching the live performance revived more than just a rush of nostalgia, but an overwhelming love and appreciation for live musical performances as well.

Watching a musical live is a completely different experience from merely listening to the soundtrack. In my eyes, it’s analogous to discovering a fourth dimension of a 3D object, or maybe like when Columbus thought he finally discovered Asia (but not as genocidal). Perhaps one of the best aspects of seeing “Hamilton” was the fact that a musical about old white founding fathers was played by an almost entirely POC cast. It was extremely cool to see two worlds collide, as the diverse cast provides a nice balance between a seemingly all-white history and the melting pot of America’s modern cultural diversity.

Hearing every song accompanied by a scene played in front of me was one of the most satisfying feelings of my life. Finally, it all made sense. I could put faces to voices. I could see for myself why each pause and intonation in certain songs was deliberately placed. One of the last songs, “The World Was Wide Enough,” was one of the songs that I was especially excited to see in person just because of the sheer complexity of the song. Seeing Hamilton’s mixed feelings, the pressure he felt running out of time, the love and regret he felt for his wife, amplified further by the lighting and intensity of the silence of the scene, made it one of the most memorable moments of the entire show. The performance overall was vibrant and full of life, with each scene intentionally crafted in such a way that I couldn’t bring myself to turn away for even a split second because I was afraid I’d miss something good. I was truly captivated from start to finish.

There are some people who are content with having only listened to the soundtrack. And admittedly, the soundtrack alone is enough to get someone hooked, but watching the live performance is truly a different experience altogether. It reminded me of why I fell in love with the Hamilton soundtrack in the first place: not only for its lyrical genius or its unique aspect of hip hop in Broadway, but also for the way it showcases real human flaws, the ups and downs of Hamilton’s life, the raw emotions of pain, love, death, anger, sadness, betrayal, and every human experience depicted through the life of an important American founding father. The tickets may be expensive, but don’t throw away your shot at seeing Hamilton live when it comes to San Diego next month, because the experience is undeniably priceless.