Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now, I felt like singing at the top of my lungs. I was standing with my family outside the PrivateBank Theater in Chicago, staring up at a row of gold lights. On the windows above, eight letters spelled out the soundtrack of the past five months of my life: H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N.
Hamilton, in case you aren’t familiar, is a musical about Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and America’s first Treasury Secretary. Through hip-hop and rap music, the musical takes you through Hamilton’s journey to America and his so-called “rise to the top.” It explores his relationships, from marrying Eliza Schuyler to sending love letters to her sister Angelica and having an affair with Maria Reynolds. Hamilton’s friendships are also shown—we see, for example, both the moment he first meets Aaron Burr and the moment when Burr shoots him in a duel.
My sister got into the Hamilton soundtrack long before I did. When I finally started listening to it, she guided me through the history behind the songs and told me which ones I’d probably like the best (she was right—she almost always is). Once I got to know the songs, we’d sing together every chance we got. We’d discussed the moment we’d get to see the show so many times and yet, as we stood outside the theatre, it hadn’t really sunk in.
The excitement of the other people in line surprised me. Everyone wanted to take a picture with the iconic image—the distressed golden background with the four-pointed star and the cloaked figure of Alexander Hamilton raising his arm to the sky. I knew Hamilton was a big deal, of course; it’s won 11 Tonys. But I guess I never really considered that the hype, so to speak, existed outside the bubble of myself, my sister, and my best friend who also loves the musical.
The inside of the theatre looked similar to the outside, with shining lights and golden decor. Family close in tow, I evaded the monstrously long merch lines and headed for the balcony. Miraculously, on the way up there was a merch station with no line —I purchased a set of postcards (already having a t-shirt from my aforementioned Hamilton-obsessed best friend). As I climbed the stairs to the balcony, my excitement was climbing, too. By the time I was in my seat with a Playbill in my hand, I had a smile permanently plastered on my face.
My first thought was that the stage looked exactly like the photos I’d seen of it. Two circular parts of the stage floor, which would rotate during the show, sat still—I didn’t. I bounced around, unable to contain my excitement. Soon, the lights faded and, as a hush fell over the theatre, a voice spoke. In a British accent that the crowd would come to love, “our” King, as in King George, told us to turn off our phones and enjoy “my show.” This set the scene for the show magnificently. Before I knew it, that signature opening— if you know it, you’ll know—was playing, and Aaron Burr was onstage, introducing, in song, none other than Mr. Alexander Hamilton.
The musical was absolutely amazing. Hearing the music live gave me goosebumps—the orchestra, the singers—and seeing the actions and choreography accompanying the music was phenomenal. I loved seeing the story I’d come to love played out visually: watching as Hamilton proclaimed that he’d never throw away his shot and seeing Alexander and Eliza meet (and then seeing that entire scene again from Angelica’s point of view).
I love Hamilton not just because of the music, plot or characters, though these are all things I love about it; I also love the story of how the musical came to be. Lin-Manuel Miranda was on vacation in Mexico and, upon reading Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton, immediately connected the way Hamilton wrote his way off an Island to America to an arc that would fit in a hip-hop album. Miranda already had a successful musical, In The Heights; and, at first, he envisioned Hamilton as a mixtape. But it grew into a musical—a crazy successful one, at that.
Many people compare Lin-Manuel Miranda to Alexander Hamilton. Both men were and are prolific writers—“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” —and both work, to use a song title from the musical, Non-Stop. What especially inspires me about the musical is that it started with a simple idea and it grew into something incredible.
As night fell on the day I saw Hamilton, I sat down in my Chicago hotel room to watch TV with my parents. It just so happened that we stumbled upon the episode of Modern Family where Lin-Manuel Miranda guest-stars (crazy coincidence, right?). He was already a Tony winner when he appeared on the show, but he has still grown so much since then.
All in all, seeing Hamilton was an amazing experience. If anything, my obsession has grown since seeing it—I still listen to the soundtrack on almost a daily basis. But now, I can envision the scenes from the musical in my head; I see the costumes, the facial expressions, the dancing, everything. And for that, I feel pretty lucky.