In a change from the norm, this Sunday I’m posting not a photo but an image. Actually, scratch that. This is more than an image: it’s an icon. Theatre fans will recognise it as the logo for the musical Hamilton.
Every now and then, a game-changer appears that resets the rules. The Beatles and Nirvana redefined pop music. Star Wars resurrected the sci-fi genre. Game of Thrones raised the bar for what a TV show can deliver in terms of scale and spectacle. Pelé, Ayrton Senna and Donald Bradman set new standards in their respective sports.
The world of musical theatre has produced more than its fair share of game-changers too. They have reinvented an ages-old genre for contemporary audiences: Oklahoma!, West Side Story, Rent, The Producers.
This weekend Heather and I have enjoyed a rare Saturday night in London with friends to see the latest in an illustrious line of transformational musicals: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.
What and who is Hamilton?
A story of the rise and fall of the first US Treasury Secretary may not seem a likely candidate for a hit musical. (No one has ever written a musical about Nicholas Vansittart, the UK’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer.) But in three short years – the show celebrates the third birthday of its off-Broadway debut next Saturday – Hamilton has become an international phenomenon. It has won 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize. A film adaptation is planned, so pencil in an Oscar too.
Its success is widely credited as influencing the decision not to replace Hamilton’s image on the US ten-dollar bill. And its narrative provides an incredibly detailed (and mostly accurate) civics lesson which has reignited young people’s interest in the American Revolution and its Founding Fathers through the medium of hip-hop. Yes, a hip-hop musical about revolutionary soldiers and politicians in powdered wigs. As you do.
The above is not just the hyperbole of a devoted fan-boy (to which I plead guilty as charged). It is what both theatre critics and political and social commentators have said about the show. Universal praise in the entertainment industry is unheard of. Hamilton comes mighty close.
In short, this is more than a hit. It has become an American cultural icon.
Hamilton and us
Hamilton has become iconic in our household too. It is one of those rare, magical things: a passion that all five of us can share and bond over.
Our children all love music and singing, even though none of them are ever going to win The Voice. Their favourite in-car CDs include the soundtracks to Frozen, Moana, Sing and Trolls. But we listen to Hamilton more than all of those combined.
That kind of family unity is as priceless as it is rare.
It has taken the kids in delightfully unexpected directions too. There aren’t many five-year old girls who strut around singing lyrics as complex as “You want a revolution / I want a revelation” with the confidence that Kara does. Or many boys as straight-laced as Isaac and Toby – favourite musician: Taylor Swift – who can speed-rap word-perfect through one of the show’s many hip-hop numbers.
We sing together. We watch YouTube clips together (such as the one below, featuring the cast of the London production performing a mash-up of Britpop classics and songs from the show). And we talk about the story behind the songs together.
Some kids obsess over comic-book superheroes or footballers. Ours obsess over the life and times of an immigrant orphan who came to America, penniless, and became a decorated war hero, the founder of the US national bank, coastguard and the New York Post newspaper. Oh, and did I mention he was embroiled in a sex scandal and eventually died in a pistols-at-dawn duel with US Vice-President Aaron Burr?
I’ve never been as excited about seeing a film or a show as I have been about seeing Hamilton. We booked our tickets almost exactly a year ago. It has been well worth the wait. And the fact that the kids have joined us on this journey is a huge bonus.
Iconic? You bet.