Music to inspire hope in a world turned upside down.
The pandemic thus far has dealt me one unexpected disappointment: the postponement of Hamilton in Atlanta. As an expat from the greatest City in the world, I’d been looking forward to it for months.
Live performance is something we often experience as uplifting and renewing. Another balm unavailable to us during the COVID crisis.
In no way am I suggesting that this is a big deal. I have mercifully been spared a variety of painful decisions, tragedies and heartbreaks, but the musical has become a touchstone for me.
The proverbial opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade appeared when I was able to watch Hamilton, with millions of others, as Disney started streaming the original cast production. It was a remarkable opportunity to see an amazing ensemble and the play itself is simply mesmerizing.
Since my month of streaming had not yet expired, I started listening to it while cleaning my house. Permit me a small digression to say that, among the luxuries I used to give myself routinely, was a housecleaning service. With the pandemic, I’ve been reluctant, like many, to have people in the house who may or may not be following anything resembling the CDC guidelines, whatever they happen to be at the moment. Ergo, I’ve resorted to do-it-myself cleaning.
I’d have to say, and being a clinical psychologist, I’m qualified to say, things started to get a little obsessive. As you might guess, paying someone to clean my house means I really don’t like cleaning. Nevertheless, I’ve lately been looking forward to cleaning because it’s become my Hamilton time.
I sing along, even though I’ve been told I should stick to my day job. I dance; no one has to tell me to stick to my day job. I’m tempted to bound into rooms at the end of my workday belting out, So what’ve I missed?, as if I’m Jefferson returning from Paris. I try to sneak phrases into conversation, like, I’m sure he just wanted ‘to be in the room where it happened.’ It’s even more fun when the person I’m talking to recognizes the reference.
The play has made me, and I’m sure many other non-history buffs, ask questions they never thought about in school. Important ones, like when did congress decide a president could only have two terms (1951), when did the runner up stop being the VP (1804), and, as an immigrant, could Hamilton have been president at the time (yes, but it’s complicated)?
There are also less important, yet compelling (to me), questions, like, did Hamilton have an affair with his wife’s sister, Angelica? And was I the only one to find it deliciously bizarre that Jonathan Groff, who played the serial killer sleuth extraordinaire in “The Mindhunter,” sings the psychopathic song, “You’ll be Back.” What? You didn’t hear it that way? Come on now. How else to interpret: Cause when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love?
I’ve done a few deep dives into the minutiae of the musical. But I’ve left many stones unturned so that, for as long as this thing lasts, I can keep the distraction alive. Like most mild obsessions, it gives me an odd sense of peace.
I told my would-be companion for the show it was good that I’d seen and listened to it half a dozen times, and counting, before we went, or it would have been an embarrassing scene.
Hallmark ads have been known to move me to tears. But my experience with Hamilton is excessive, even for me. Despite knowing from the get-go all of the terrible things about to happen, I continue to bawl several times during the performance, no matter how many times I listen. I’m talking about ugly crying. It must be multidetermined.
Much about the play is relatable and, apparently, triggering. Like — I don’t know — everyone, I’ve been cheated on like Eliza. I have a son who I somewhat routinely worry about losing, especially in coronatimes; the Hamiltons lose their son in a duel. The final blow though, losing the love of your life and living on so long (I live another 50 years) without him, I have not experienced, but Eliza makes the pathos palpable in her last song.
That final loss and the totality of losses (there are others) always bring up for me the current tragedy, and its effects.
So many people living on with so many losses. I am grateful that my parents both passed before this all started. It’s hard to bear the thought of them in a nursing home or hospital alone, perhaps not completely understanding what was happening. We all continue to experience the collective losses of family, friends, friends’ friends, the people we read about in the newspaper and hear about in podcasts. The human costs. Inestimable.
And you cannot listen to Hamilton, think about COVID and not consider the current state of the union and our democracy, which also makes me cry.
Listening to the music weekly gives me a chance to ponder it all. And so, I cry. It’s a good cry. It feels like a release.
There’s something else about the story though. It prompts hope for the future and feelings of gratitude for all I still have; for all we still have.
The musical is about people putting something bigger than themselves first. People who stood up for what they believed. People who took risks for the greater good.
It’s about our nation, impossibly, against all odds, birthing itself. It’s about political divisions that are managed so the business of running a country still gets done.
There is also love, forgiveness and selflessness.
The play, like all great art, is inspiring and brings me in touch with all that is human.
I’m happy that that so many children will be inspired by seeing an amazing performance with actors that look like their parents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and themselves.
The show in Atlanta has postponed twice thus far. Who knows if I’ll ever get to see Hamilton performed live. I no longer care because it’s made my pandemic more bearable.
As I anxiously await the election and its aftermath, I give thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda on the days I notice, with Hamilton on the brain, I am silently singing the phrase, History has its eyes on you. It quiets my outrage, makes me smile a little and reminds me that the country will somehow survive and emerge on the other side.
Visit me at www.drjudithtutin.com to learn more about me and my writing.