Full disclosure — I went to musical theater camp. It was a wonderful place in Wisconsin where I spent roughly 6 summers, starting at the age of 7 (because my parents had shit to do over the summer, and I drove my mother to drink). I and my cabin mates — 98% of which were Jewish white girls — and our male cabin counterparts, spent the entire summer dancing, singing, acting and preparing musical productions to perform for our parents to watch when they begrudgingly retrieved us at the end of four weeks.
It is for this nostalgic reason that I love musical theater.
When Hamilton debuted in NY, I had dreams of procuring tickets on one of my many trips. I wanted to be one of the people who could proudly say that I saw Lin Manuel Miranda perform in his own genius production. It never happened.
What did happen, however, was the increase in popularity to the point where people were considering compromising their mortgage payments to secure a position in a high balcony seat, just to be in house to see the critically acclaimed play. When I had a day job in a rather conservative office, all of my colleagues raved about how “life-altering and amazing” it was to experience Hamilton. Definitely worth the $500+ ticket price, they assured me.
I was super excited to learn that Hamilton was coming to Chicago! But not excited enough to post up at the box office with a lawn chair to wait in a 6 hour ticket line. A) I had a job, and B) I figured that I’m pretty well-connected in this town. At some point, a ticket would find its way to me.
Now, in the meantime, I didn’t want to know a lot about the musical. Of course I knew the basic plot and that it was updated with brilliant music, with a hip-hop theme. But I didn’t listen to the soundtrack or do a lot of reading about it. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted a fresh experience without spoilers.
Months went by and I was losing my optimism that I would ever see Hamilton, but lo and behold, one day, a few months ago, a dear friend called with an extra ticket, which I claimed before she could get the entire word “Hamilton” out of her mouth. It was the total hookup! A great seat with VIP lounge access beforehand and during intermission with promises of food and an open bar. THIS is what I’m talkin’ bout!
I apologized to the BF, telling him that I would get us both tickets at a later time. (Again — full disclosure — the BF isn’t exactly the king of the musical. He will entertain my nostalgia because he’s a good guy, but really? Watching dudes in tights singing about their feelings isn’t exactly his schtick [I did mention that I went to camp with all Jewish people, yes?])
The day came, and off to Hamilton I went. And LOVE it, I did. There were things that I didn’t expect, like deep-in-the-crates hip-hop references, and an ode to immigrants. I expected to see more white people on stage, and surely didn’t anticipate a predominantly black cast.
The show was fabulous from start to finish.
Now here’s the rub . . . when I looked around the audience, my friend and I were the clear minority. As I guzzled wine during intermission, I said to my friend that I was somewhat disturbed. She asked “why?” in between bites of her roasted veggie kabob. I went on a tear about how this wonderful play, rooted in black culture, written by a Puerto Rican was taking the world by the storm, and causing people — even people in the highest ranks of conservative government — to fork over thousands of dollars for the pleasure of being well entertained for three hours. And yet I look around the audience into a sea of white faces, most of whom don’t even understand the homage paid to the Notorious BIG’s Ten Crack Commandments, or Going Back To Cali. There are countless other references, but it was actually kind of dumbfounding.
At the end, I joined my fellow audience members in an enthusiastic standing ovation, except I think I stood for reasons that 90% of the viewing audience missed. This play has taken the account of a historical incident that we’ve all learned about in grammar school and informed us that Hamilton was biracial, while taking many elements of modern black culture, and with the buttresses of an amazing cast and extremely clever writing, has spoonfed it to an unsuspecting audience who eagerly digested it to the catchy tune of several hundred dollars per ticket. In fact, Hamilton is the hottest ticket in the US right now. I can’t help thinking about the special ingredient pie from “The Help.”
Because here’s the problem . . .SO many people who flock to Hamilton still somehow manage to hate black people. They look down on hip-hop, yet they’re lapping it up like ice cream — the Hamilton soundtrack was the highest selling Broadway cast album of 2015. A good percentage of the Hamilton-going faction loves everything about us — except for us. They’ve dedicated research to create medical procedures to get their skin darker, lips plumper, hair curlier, asses larger — never mind that black girls were teased by white girls for having large rear ends in grammar school. Something was wrong with it (and us) then, but apparently something’s REALLY right with it now! But, oops! I forgot! Black men prefer having sex with them anyway, right? Because black women aren’t beautiful? Ha! They like hip-hop, want to sing along with the n word without physical retribution. But, that’s right! Hip-hop is violent ghetto music. Unless it’s on Broadway. And then it’s masterful!
Oh, and please don’t think I’m an angry black woman. I’m just observant. And verbose. And asking us all to dig a little deeper. That said, I’m not sure whether to choke on the irony or choke back the tears.
Final full disclosure — it’s taken me a few months to write this post. I was so supercharged the night of, that I thought I would come straight home and write everything out. But I waited, just so that I could calm down. And then I saw “Detroit” in a special screening on Thursday night, and said “You know what? Fuck it. I’m writing it now.” LOL!
In all seriousness, I’m kind of over the hatred in our country, and I posted on FB the other day that I’ve evolved to a place where I can handle the passive hate. It’s the active, violent hate that’s eating away at me.
So . . . because we have many choices in this world — more than we know — my assumption is that there are people who choose to remain ignorant and rooted in hate. And I can’t concern myself with that. I can only protect myself. However, I also feel that attitude and happiness are choices, so I’m going to choose to applaud the creators of Hamilton, not just because it’s a great show that has amped the “cool factor” of show tunes, but for potentially opening some minds and starting dialogues toward positive relations. At least that’s where I am today.
Rant over. Thanks for reading! XO