Hamilton Arriving on Disney+
This week, our students got their exam results, degree awards and honours classifications. And I for one am absolutely delighted for them (although granted, probably not as much as their friends and families). Sadly, COVID-19 puts a (hopefully temporary) dampener on us being able to find a suitable way to celebrate the occasion, in the absence of a physical graduation (but we’ll try).
One of the things which has been set amongst this period of uncertainty is that our students are going to be having their degrees conferred by the University on Friday 3rd July. This just happens to coincide with the release of Hamilton on Disney+. I can think of absolutely no better thing to watch that evening than to sit and watch what is (without being hyperbolic) one of the greatest things that has ever been created – it’s honestly up there with fire, the wheel, flushing toilets and WiFi as pinnacles of human existence.
For those unaware, Hamilton is a rap and hip-hop musical telling the life story of one of the American founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. As a pitch, I admit that it sounds like it’s going to be bad. However, it is the antithesis of bad.
I feel like I can’t really give spoilers, because it is based on bibliographical events (they tell you the ending in the first song), but Act 1 chronicles the rise to power of an immigrant orphan with a brilliant mind and ambition, who works his way up through society (his marriage and his role in the American revolutionary wars), and his essays about constitutional law matters – yes, on the same day our law students get their degree, the musical about a talented lawyer is released on Disney+. So apt!
Act 2 sees Hamilton take over as Treasury Secretary, and we see his very public fall from grace, along with his (we’ll call them) disagreements with fellow founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr – it has two cabinet disagreements as rap battles, which is genius. We also learn more about the tragedy that strikes his family. Burr has an excellent song 'Wait for It' in Act 1, and Act 2's 'The Room Where it Happens' is unbelievably good at showing the differences between Hamilton and Burr.
It is funny and upbeat. It is poignant. It has incredibly sad songs (more on that in a bit)
Now I love a good musical. It stems from many a Megabus ride during my PhD between Leeds, and Bristol. If you travelled on a Wednesday, it would only cost you £5. And I was skint. Because I was a PhD student (there was one week where I genuinely only had £10 in my account). And there is a reason why Megabus is that cheap – it is absolutely dreadful. I mean just the absolute dirt worst. I’m sorry if anyone reading this has a connection with the company, but it didn’t matter what mood I started the trip in, there’d always be another customer irk me by taking up too many seats and not understanding basic queuing logic, a rude driver, traffic, it would be too hot, or there was an odour of vomit/from the coach toilet. Or the times when they would stop for fuel, but not factor that into the arrival time, leaving my dad waiting for me to arrive at 1am.
When you are stuck in that environment, you need to develop a coping mechanism. I can’t read whilst travelling (looking down makes me feel rather unwell), so the other option was to listen to music and try to look out the window. You would have to pick your music quite carefully, though. Because if it was a bad album, or you weren’t in the mood for that particular album, then it would reinforce what you were trapped in.
So if you found something which worked, you’d stick with it. What I found was that musicals are the ultimate concept album/story, told over a couple of hours. If you listen to everything in full, you’ve probably got past Birmingham, and then it’s only a few hours more. I doubled down on the Les Misérables soundtrack for so many of those journeys (film version, unfortunately, but in that film Russell Crowe gives me hope that one day I could be an equally terrible Javert).
Eventually, Strathclyde beckoned. And whichever way you looked at it, I was going to be travelling for at least 4 hours each way, when coming up to visit/flat hunt/move/return the moving van/catch the train. So in trying to fill up that time, I ended up acquiring more musicals.
I don’t actually remember what tipped me off to Hamilton – I know I would have bought the soundtrack in HMV in Leeds. However, I do know that I was listening to it in the moving van heading up to Glasgow. I also remember welling up whilst driving and having to drop my speed a bit (think watching the first 10 minutes of Up-esque) – the song ‘Burn’ is that good. I don’t know all of the words – I can do the King George songs, and because the rap is so fast in ‘Guns and Ships’, I’ve listened to that section so much that I at least know what I should be saying.
I have been fortunate enough to go and see the show live in London. Twice. Within the space of a week. The first one was on a Saturday, just over a week before Christmas, and was planned well in advance – there was a limit of 4 tickets, and whilst £90 for a ‘cheap seat’ isn’t that cheap, it was worth every penny. Whilst I was down there, I met with my friend, who had been suffering from anxiety, and had initially declined the offer to attend with us, but then they couldn’t get a ticket. So when I got back to Glasgow, I checked the booking office again, and some additional tickets were released for (I think) the Tuesday. Cue me booking two tickets, a cheap flight (remember flying?) down where I bumped into the Head of School arriving into Glasgow, watched the show with my friend, and then jumped in the sleeper train back up.
In short, it is that good. The first time I watched it, one of the group of 4, to thank me for getting the tickets, bought us all G&Ts. But bought us two, to avoid going back to the bar. And they were doubles. Act 2 is emotional anyway, when you’ve been drinking as well, it is full-blown waterworks. Two of us hadn’t listened to the soundtrack before the show because they didn’t want to spoil it – that’s really daft, you are depriving yourself of some excellent music if you take that approach.
It is almost too perfect a show. I don’t think it is my favourite musical – as much as there are plot holes galore in Les Misérables, I love it all the more for them. I don’t think it has the best stand-alone song from a musical – that is Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’. But I will say that it is the best experience that I have had sitting in a theatre and watching a show. So watch it. And then listen to the soundtrack on loop.