My 10 favorite things from Act I of Hamilton
So Hamilton blew me away. I want to talk about it but it's so long and complex that I figured the best way to kick it off would be a list. I've watched it a few times so far, and there's so much to appreciate that narrowing it down to just ten things is absurd. But honestly I liked it so much that I'm going to write several blogs about it so here's just something to get us started: my ten most positive observations about Act I. I'm going to write one for Act II but it might take a while because screenshotting these scenes tends to end up with me watching it for the next hour.
The writing - The writing is masterful. Writing lyrics that sound good over a beat is hard enough. Lin Manuel Miranda managed to write lyrics that rhyme, characterize, develop plot and teach history all at once, and they mesh perfectly with the beat. I love how Miranda's skill with the pen and the groundbreaking nature of his work somewhat parallel Hamilton's own revolutionary writings and ideals and the impact they had on the nascent American government.
Miranda's flow - I was hesitant about Miranda's performance at first and although I don't think it's perfect, the man can definitely rap. His flow is remarkably smooth, his annunciation is crisp and he places subtle inflections on his words that further illuminate a man who knows he will be remembered by history, and the tenacity and torment that such knowledge inspires in him. The entire musical is just one giant amazing testament to the power of the written word.
The entire "My Shot" sequence - I liked this so much that I'm going to dedicate an entire blog to it. Miranda's flow, the featured verses, the beat, the lighting and especially the choreography all combined to create one of the most moving sequences I've ever witnessed in any medium. It's just beautifully executed on every level. The below shot is probably my favorite moment in the entire film.
The beats - I've always been big on rap production that utilizes piano and there's so much of that here. "My Shot", "Yorktown" and "Wait For It" are three of my favorite beats all of which feature the piano. Really, though, the entire composition is on point. The soundtrack is on every time I drive anywhere now and is good as any Grammy winning rap album.
"Satisfied" - Renée Elise Goldsberry's performance here might be the most impressive of the entire musical. She puts on a clinic here. The control and range of her voice is astonishing, and I can't get enough of how she transitions from hitting these crazy notes, to spitting a flawless verse to hitting even crazier notes. In addition to this, the whole way the scene flashes back and recontextualizes a previous scene is poignantly crafted.
King George - Jonathan Groff nails the role. He's hilarious every time he steps on the stage, and he's also a damn good singer. His "awesome, wow" line in "What Comes Next" had me dying of laughter. I can't imagine getting up on that stage alone dressed like that and then belting out out such a silly song so convincingly without even cracking a smile.
"Wait For It" - Leslie Odom Jr. is fantastic here, but my obsession with this part of the play actually has to do with a pretty specific moment: when he sings "And if there's a reason I'm still alive when everyone who loves me has died" (43:47) and the ensemble begins singing with him as they slowly surround him. Absolutely chilling.
LaFayette - I loved Daveed Digg's portrayal, though I think his Jefferson is even better. His rapid-fire, French-accented rapping in "Guns and Ships" came out of nowhere and was a welcome shift in tone. What I liked even more is how he's hyping up his boy Hamilton to Washington: "I mean what's he gonna do on the bench!?" One of the greatest aspects of Hamilton is how it uses anachronistic language: LaFayette probably never likened Hamilton to a future star quarterback riding the pine, but damn do I understand their relationship now.
"History Has Its Eyes On You" - A short yet stirring performance by Christopher Jackson, whose powerful voice embodies both Washington's commanding stature and his place in American history. The way the entire ensemble closes in and sings "History has its eyes on you" (58:53) together is haunting. It's brilliant the way the stage direction positions the ensemble around the two men: imposing, ghostly, representing both those in the history books and those who will one day read them.
Choreography for "Yorktown" - I don't know nearly enough about dancing to talk about this intelligently but this makes me wish I knew how to dance. The part at the end where they all pick up rifles then twirl and freeze as the lights switch from red to white was so good. As you can tell I'm having trouble writing eloquently about this so just go watch it again. Trust me.
These are just some of my thoughts after my third viewing of Hamilton. There's so much to admire, and so much to talk about, and this blog in no way does it justice, but I hope that at the very least some of my observations resonated with people.
If there were different aspects of Act I that stood out to you, tweet me. I know in a musical this long different things are gonna stand out to different people, and I'd love to hear other perspectives so I can watch for those details next time I watch.
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Thanks for reading.