The Weird Bits That Made Me: Starlight Express

Welcome To: The Weird Bits That Made Me, an expoloration of the idiosyncratic or obscure pop culture that I was into as a kid. I lived a strange suburban existence, with relatively young and somewhat hip parents and there were some real gems in the offbeat cultural stuff they exposed us to as kids. It hought it would be fun to once a week explore some of that.

It’s kind of incredible how many of the things I love exist because an idiosyncratic creator was not allowed to adapt the work they really wanted. George Lucas made Star Wars because he was denied the rights to Flash Gordon, Alan Moore wrote Watchmen as a response to being denied control over the Charlton family of characters, Lucas again, with Steven Spielberg made Raiders Of The Lost Arc after being told that they were, under no circumstances going to allow Americans to make a James Bond movie. Guillermo Del Toro wrote Crimson Peak after Disney kept delaying his Haunted Mansion script. (I do still mourn for that one, I love Crimson Peak but I WANT THAT DEL TORO HM MOVIE!)

Starlight Express exists because Andrew Lloyd Webber really, really wanted to write a Thomas The Tank Engine musical. (Yes really) The powers that be that owned Thomas and his buddies flatly turned him down, so he made an even weirder choice and wrote a new story about sentient trains, their love lives (yes really), the deity they pray to (I think?), and some twenty years later, a family of Americans got cheap tickets to a London revival of the show while on vacation, and the rest is odd familial inside joke history.

I’m going to do my best to sum up the plot of Starlight Express, but I make no guarantees. It’s been years since I saw it, and also, it does not make a lot of sense. So, Starlight Express is the elaborate imaginings of “Control” a child who is playing with toy trains, and who’s squawking annoying voice narrates elements of the show. It’s the big train race week or whatever, and a bunch of international stereotype trains are getting ready to race. The reigning champion is the American Diesel Locomotive, Greaseball, who fulfills that very important Webber role of “guy who sings like Elvis.” On the sideline are Passenger cars, who are female coded, and want to hook up with the male coded engines. These include Pearl, an observation car, who is into, but embarassed by Rusty, an old steam engine, and Greaseball’s car of choice, Dinah, a dining car. (There are two others, but I don’t remember them) There are also some freight cars who act as Rusty’s buddies.

Rusty enters the race with Pearl, and also an electric train, Electra, shows up. Greaseball is threatened by Electra, and also Pearl ditches rusty for Electra. Rusty goes for advice to an EVEN OLDER steam engine, Papa, who tells Rusty to trust in the Starlight Express, a legendary God like train who rides the rails at night. After the first round of races, Papa dies, and Rusty, Electra and Greaseball and The British Train, I think? are in the finals. Electra ditches Pearl, who then goes to Greaseball for reasons? And then there’s another race, Rusty and Pearl get together, and Rusty wins in the end, YAY! They all sing a big gospel number to celebrate and then a Megamix to take their bows.

Also they’ve been on roller skates, the whole time. There are also lasers, so many lasers.

I saw this show when I was 10 and I was enamored of it. I loved it so much, you guys, and my siblings loved and my parents probably liked it fine, but completely indulged our love of it. I still like it better than Cats. (I am alone in this one, my siblings do not like it better than Cats.) It’s lower tier in Webber’s work for sure. (The high tier being Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Phantom Of The Opera, Evita and School Of Rock.) But there’s some strong stuff here that’s worth talking about.

The title track, “Starlight Express” is a really beautiful lullaby by way of power pop ballad. Greaseball’s intro solo, “Pumping Iron” is a super fun 50’s pastiche, and the regret duet from Greaseball and Electra “One Rock And Roll Too Many” will always make me smile and I can imagine being the kind of song performers love tackling. I’ll also always have a soft spot for the straight up Weird Al level parody of Dinah’s act 2 lament, “U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D” which is the kind of country breakup song everyone should appreciate even without knowing Tammy Wynette’s brilliant, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.D” but you should also listen to that song because it rules. Pearl’s ballads, “He’ll Whistle At Me,” and “Make Up My Heart” are serviceable but not up to snuff with Webber’s better female lead songs, and the Act 2 Duet, “Next Time You Fall In Love,” is a sweet reunion for our leads.

Nearly all of the character songs do their work, but often feel like soft runners up to similar songs from Joseph, or *sigh* Cats. (It is interesting that the one unmitigated favorite from Cats that I have is “Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat” which is about trains.)

Overall this is a straight nostalgia pick for me. I know it’s not particularly good by any critical measure, but it is immensely popular in Europe, ran for a while in Vegas, and toured in the States for a bit. Some of these songs really hit the sweet spot for me, and the out and out bonkers level of the production and story are a lot of fun. Also, I think this was the beginning of me just loving highest level musical theater, no matter who crappy the show I’m seeing is. My weird attachment to The Pirate Queen and Rocky The Musical are the fruit of this seed.

Also, I will always give credit to my friend Ali, who once noted, “It is not strange that Webber wrote Starlight Express. He’s a weird dude. It is utterly bizarre that men in suits somewhere gave him money to mount it.”

I for one am so grateful that they did.

Bittersweet And Strange: Howard Shines a Bright Light on The Voice Of My Childhood

It is absolutely impossible to calculate the depth of Howard Ashman’s influence on me, and countless other people like me, who fell in love with musicals as a medium because of his work with Disney.

The new documentary on Disney+, directed by Don Hahn, who produced Beauty And The Beast is of a piece with Hahn’s equally wonderful, Waking Sleeping Beauty, chronicles Ashman’s life, from his working class Baltimore roots, to his tragic death from complications from AIDS in 1991.

The movie deals with his early work and relationships sensitively before settling into his life long partnerships, creatively with Alan Menken and his life partner Bill Pausch, both of whom tell some of the most touching stories about him.

What I like so much about Hahn’s approach here, and why I think it surpasses Waking Sleeping Beauty (which I happen to really like a lot) is that here Hahn doesn’t have an axe to grind. He wants to share his friends life and work, especially his work, with people. And the work so often speaks for itself.

Old footage of Ellen Greene singing “Somewhere That’s Green,” or Jodi Benson recording “Part Of Your World,” or an incredible demo of Ashman singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” or the joyous look on Jerry Orbach’s face as he listens back to “Be Our Guest” for the first time, this man wrote such wonderful, perfect, musical theater songs. There are no talking heads, narration is provided by Hahn himself, or by stories told over old photographs, which makes it much more intimate. Occasionally an old interview with Ashman will pop up, and listening to him talk about his work is transfixing.

Thinking about AIDS is something I do, and have done A LOT, in my life. I was too young for the most dangerous time of this disease, but I live in the New York area and love art, so pretty much every bit of the art I love was shaped by the disease, by the generation of men who were lost.

Watch this one with tissues, y’all. It’s going to break your heart. And be prepared for one final punch in the gut over the credits.

Third Time’s A Charm – Be Our Guest NYC

The incredible Captain Awkward,an advice writer who I’ve been following for the past few years, has stated that when attempting to meet new friends as an adult you should find a recurring event that sparks your interest and go three times, no matter what. Three times, decide if it’s right for you, if you fit in.

Back in June, I got a Facebook notification, in the “events near you” section for “Be Our Guest: A Disney DJ Night,” the even was taking place that Friday, and the event description appealed to me, an evening where a bunch of people wore costumes and drank and sang along and danced to Disney music.

Yes, I couldn’t have designed a better evening myself. I texted Aless and asked if she wanted to come, she gave a hearty “OF COURSE” and we went. We had an absolute ball, talked to some great people, haunted a diner until 5 am and stumbled back to Aless’s apartment at 6 giggling.

It was incredible. In September, I went back. Aless was back in Colombia visiting her mother, but I thought about that 3 times thing, and I bought the ticket and went by myself this time. It was, again, unreal. I was immediately surrounded by people I felt connected to. I sang and danced and again, found myself in a diner at five in the morning laughing about everything and nothing.

This past weekend, I got my third shot. I laced myself into my black Ariel As A Human Corset, I hopped on a late train, and walked into the Gramercy Theater on 23rd Street and danced and sang my face off and had just, the absolute best time. (Aless came again this round).

Trying to explain why this event has gotten so inside of me is tough. It’s just a strange intersection of things that I really love. The cosplay and Disney songs are nice trappings, but what I really love about it is communal. It’s the part that gets me sitting in a diner talking to new friends until 5 in the morning. The part that I lost a lot of when I outgrew a group of friends. Getting a taste of that, even if it’s only one night every few months is nourishing. 

So anyway, I’m in on this event now, I’ve found people I care for very much there, and I hope to be as much of a regular there as I can. I’m also going to try to hang out with the people I’ve met there in other spaces. But even if those friendships never quite make it past the late night disco fries and milk shakes stage, I’m grateful for it.

I Could Have Danced All Night

Sometimes I just wind up going to see Broadway shows all the time.

Seriously, I’ve had a very good theater year, and I’m planning on taking the summer off, mostly, because of my wallet.  And I’m doing a bunch of concerts instead!

So, on Sunday, after the ultimate theatrical binge watch the was Angels In America, I went for something completely different and took my dad to see My Fair Lady at The Lincoln Center Theater.

My Fair Lady is easily my father’s favorite musical so this was a no brainer. I’m also a fan, and genuinely love all of the music. Also, as a bonus, the cast featured Dame Diana Rigg (YESSS) and Norbert Leo Butz (Widely considered by people who are related to me as the greatest musical theater actor of  his generation.)

The production is beautiful, as one would expect from Lincoln Center, with firm beautiful music direction, strong comedic acting performances, particularly Lauren Ambrose and Harry Hadden-Patten, both of whom I’ve enjoyed in various 90’s teen comedies and X-Files Episodes (Ambrose) and favorite British TV period dramas (Hadden-Patten). They were electric together, as Eliza and Higgins should be, and she hit Eliza’s Julie Andrews Mandated high notes with ease, while he infused actually melody and range into Higgins’s Rex Harrison Mandated talk-sing patter.

The set was beautifully constructed, especially 27A Whimpole Street being on a turntable, which allowed us to move between the study, hall, and front stoop with ease. A directorial choice makes the ending a bit less questionable from a modern sexual politics angle. I loved the details of the costumes, and in general the show was played very naturalistic-ally which with visual gags throughout with the ensemble. (As a frequent flier of the chorus back in my performing days, I always appreciate that kind of thing)

I was happy to see the show and of the big budget revivals currently running, I’m glad a chose this one over the one with the wife beating and carnival. (Carousel sucks!) And in general, I’m happy about my theater in take for the first half of the year. I don’t feel as blindsided by the Tony’s as I did last year. (Though I haven’t seen any of the new musicals. I’m cool with it. I’d like to see The Band’s Visit but Spongebob and Mean Girls can wait…) and I’ve fallen in love with seeing straight plays, something that I used to avoid like the plague. (Turns out all it took was comped tickets, former teen idols and you know, arguably the greatest American play ever written! WHO KNEW!)

 

Our Lives Become The Stories That We Weave

“There is an island, where rivers run deep. Where the sea sparkling in the sun earns it the name, ‘jewel of the Antilles…'”

There are few lines that make my hair stand on end the way that that one does. When the chimes go and I’m transported from whatever theater I’m in to a beach in Haiti and told my favorite story.

love Once On This Island. It’s my second favorite musical after Les Mis. I love the heart at this show, which is about tales spun and hearts healed and it has music that propels you from moment to moment.

OOTI was also the second show I produced and the one of my “babies” that’s dearest to my heart. (I know we’re not supposed to pick favorites…but well…) And, I’ve found it’s a kind of secret handshake for theater kids. We all did it, in high school or college, or have friends who did. We passed it around. We sang it’s songs in choirs and voice recitals. It’s ours in a way that few mainstream musicals are. The wider world never found it and watered it down.

What does this all mean for the rootsy new production hanging out on Broadway now? It means that I was going to enjoy myself immensely, and that if it wasn’t good, though I’d probably like it anyway, I’d have been disappointed.

It’s a beautiful production. Intimate, and intense in ways I never expected, and lovingly performed by an ensemble of actors you just know currently refer to themselves as “family.” Due to a story of our own (involving misread tickets and an ill-advised second round of drinks) we were seeing the Saturday evening performance rather than our planned matinee (which meant understudies for Erzulie and Asaka…which just means I have to go back to see Lea Solanga and Alex Newell.) And while I cried through a lot of it, I also couldn’t imagine a better moment than seat dancing and whooping it up with my brother and sister. (At appropriate moments, obviously!)

Stay tuned for more musical theater gushing this week when I write about Jesus Christ Superstar Live on Wednesday. (Spoiler alet: WELL SHIT)

No Day But Today

Sometimes I have to make myself very strict rules, when it comes to my media consumption. It’s usually for my own good, sometimes it’s completely arbitrary and it’s often for a reason that would seem nonsensical to an outsider.

A big one, that some people might think is very strange, started a few years ago. “I’m not ever going to encounter Rent on purpose.”

I won’t listen to it.

I won’t watch the movie. (Not that I’d want to, ugh, it’s so awful)

I won’t watch the filmed closing night performance. (Much better than the movie and still includes Tracy Thoms’s transcendent Joanne. With JV Elphaba Eden Espinosa as Maureen no less!)

This rule is in place for a few reasons. It keeps me from swirling down a bizarre hole of nostalgia, disappointment and obsession. It keeps me from poking holes in a piece of art that meant a lot to me once, means less to me now and which I know is DEEPLY, DEEPLY flawed. And mostly, it keeps me from boring the people around me with conversation about Rent. Because, and I mean this kindly, most normal humans ran out of things to say about Rent in either 1998, or when they turned 19. Whichever came first.

I could talk about Rent forever. I could talk about the original cast and how I still clap with raucous joy every time I see any of them in anything. (Remember on Smash when Daphne Ruben Vega and Jesse L. Martin were on it?) I could talk about how the replacement casts shaped Broadway talent for a generation and are still shaping it in certain ways. (Not least of all because of Hamilton and Lin-Manuel’s admitted affection for the show and it’s style.) I could talk about Jonathan Larson, the stranger than fiction circumstances of his death, the good work done by his family in his name, and speculate about what theater would look like if he’d lived. (My guess? A lot fewer revivals & movie adaptations. A lot more rock operas about gay people.)

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that on Friday, I half broke the rule. I was listening to my Spotify “Weekly Discovery Playlist” and the first track off of Anthony Rapp’s Without You: A Musical Memoir, his recreation of his audition for Rent came on. I then spent my lunch hour listening through Without You, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, since the book Without You is one of my all time favorite memoirs. (It’s about his mom dying as much as it’s about Rent and it.is.stunning.) And as Anthony recreated his memories of the show, my own came rushing back and I knew that I needed to at the very least listen to the OBC again.

Since I had a 2 hour drive to Juli’s that night, I had the perfect opportunity.

It’s funny, the things that come back to you with music. Seeing Rent for the first time with my brother. Parking lot and diner renditions of “La Vie Boheme,” with my summer stock friends after rehearsals. Learning the alto line to “Seasons of Love” with at least 3 different choir directors. Screaming with joy as my name got called for the front lottery when Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp were back in the show for a few weeks. My friend Ali and I dressing in our bohemian best to go see the movie on opening night. (Cannot reiterate it enough, DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE. Do however, listen to the movie versions of “Seasons of Love,” “Out Tonight,” and “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” Jesse Martin, Tracy Thoms and Rosario Dawson make those songs worthwhile.)

And then there’s the show and the album itself. The beauty of the music, the emotions of the story, and the urgency and earnestness of the whole thing. Looking at it as an adult, “One Song Glory,” and both versions of “I’ll Cover You,” feel much more at the heart of the whole thing than “La Vie Boheme” and “Seasons,” though as an adult, I’ve also come around on “Seasons of Love,” which while overused and misused as it has been, is just a beautifully composed choral number and achingly melancholy in a way that a teenager could never in a hundred years understand.

But there’s also an oddness to the show now. It was written when Idina Menzel’s wailing belt was trangressive and edgy, when thinking about Angel’s gender identity was taboo and confusing, when the New York I know didn’t exist, and gentrification wasn’t yet a foregone conclusion. That gives it a time capsule quality that makes it hard to evaluate outside of it’s moment.

Idina’s probably the most interesting case of the original cast. Rent made her a star theatrically, and Wicked cemented it, and while I love that I now live in a world where she and Lin-Manuel Miranda are household names, it’s weird, and half the time when people talk about Frozen, I really really want them to listen to “Over The Moon.” Not just because making people listen to “Over The Moon” out of context is hilarious, but because the image of Elsa shouting, “NOT IN MY BACKYARD UTENSILS GO BACK TO CHINA!” breaks a lot of people’s brains. The rest of the casts’ evolution makes more sense. Adam Pascal is still a theater guy, Anthony Rapp and Daphne Ruben Vega became working character actors, who it is always a joy to see. Jesse Martin became everyone’s favorite cop/dad (Sometimes both!). Taye Diggs was swallowed into Shondaland. (I actually think Taye should be a much bigger star than he is, but you know…whatever.) But Idina as Disney Supernova still baffling to me, in a very good way.

As you can see, I could keep babbling for ages about this. Which is why I have the don’t listen to Rent rule.

 

The Room Where It Happens

hamilton

So, nearly a year exactly (give or take a few days) since I first sat in my office and listened in awe to the Hamilton original Broadway cast album, I found myself sitting a seat in the Richard Rodgers Theater, sipping on a “Dueling Sangria” (I got the white, Mom got the red…) inhaling sharply as Brandon Victor Dixon ran onstage and began to recite Alexander Hamilton’s life story.

A million thoughts crossed my mind.

“Oh God, I’m finally here!”

“I can’t believe I missed the OBC.”

“That doesn’t really matter. You’re here, live in this moment.”

“What if it doesn’t live up to what’s in my head?”

“What if I’ve been hyping this up for a year and my family doesn’t like it?”

By the time Javier Munoz declared that there were “a million things he hadn’t done,” that was long gone. I was entranced. To crib from an early review, “yes, it really is that good.”

I was really excited to see Mandy Gonzales as Angelica. I was lucky enough to see her as Nina in the original cast of In The Heights, and a few years back, when I took my cousin Bobby to see Wicked, she was our Elphaba. She killed as Angelica as well. Honestly, I don’t want to single out any single cast members, the show is so thoroughly an ensemble piece.

I do want to talk about costume design. HOLY SHIT DO I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THE COSTUME DESIGN OF THIS SHOW. I mean, it helps that I was raised by a costume designer, but I love the whites on the ensemble, I love that each character gets their own color scheme, I love that the duels are fought in black cloaks. I love that James Madison is wearing a prototypical Confederate uniform. (The rise of The Confederacy can be linked almost directly to the rivalry personified by Hamilton and the Southern Mother Fuckin’ Democratic Republicans!) It’s all fantastic.

The staging isn’t revolutionary, which is actually preferable. There’s enough revolutionary about this show, the music, the casting, that a straightforward (though still incredible) staging grounds the show in the musical theater tradition, in a bigger way even than the many theatrical references in the libretto do. (Easy call outs, Burr stating that, “You’ve got to be carefully taught,” from South Pacific, Hamilton stating that “nobody needs to know” about his relationship with Maria Reynolds, from The Last 5 Years, the best cheating song ever written, and of course Hamilton calling out “Sit down John,” as a criticism to John Adams.)

I cried, a lot, though not as much or as hard as I thought I might. It’s hard not to get choked up during “It’s Quiet Uptown,” but I also found myself swelling with pride and unable to stop the tears during “One Last Time.” If nothing else this is a deeply patriotic show. Lin-Manuel Miranda clearly loves this country deeply, and it comes across beautifully.

I could keep gushing, (honestly, I could!), but I think Joe’s comment at intermission is the best think that could describe the show, “I just want to stay in my seat and wait for them to do the whole show again.”

Jellicle Cats Come Out Tonight

I went to go see Cats on Broadway last week. And here’s a thing that I’d forgotten, how much I love Cats.

I’ve said a few times that I’m trying really hard to remove ironic detachment from my cultural experience. There’s too much content that I do enjoy to spend time on stuff that I don’t like but want to mock. But I went to Cats deeply unsure if I was going to be able to enjoy it genuinely or not.

It’s an easy show to mock, because it’s weird enough that you can’t quite call it mainstream, but schlocky and successful enough that it’s certainly not considered “arty.” But it’s most certainly experimental, and strange and oddly beautiful.

Cats is a show that I think means more to theater performers my age than just fans. We saw this show when we were little and we sang these songs and approximated these dances and there’s something beautiful about that.

So I didn’t ironically enjoy Cats,  didn’t laugh at it’s corny approach, didn’t mock the actors. I loved every moment of it, genuinely and deep in my bones. I walked around for days after singing “Skimblehshanks The Railway Cat” and practically skipping.

It was all great.

The Next Few Weeks

I have a lot going on right now. It’s all good stuff but it’s been occupying my time and mind. Here’s what’s going on!

  • April 22-24: I’m heading down to the shore and then Atlantic City with a bunch of the awesome ladies from my family to celebrate my grandma’s birthday. There will be so much drinking and probably dancing and fun and joy and I’m really looking forward to it.
  • April 24: Game Of Thrones, Veep and Silicon Valley are back! I’ve waited FIVE GODDAMN YEARS FOR THESE ANSWERS STAY OUT THE OF MY WAY!!!! I don’t care if they might not be the “real” ones. I want to see Assassin Arya, and find if Jon Snow is dead. (The boy Jon Snow is dead, but the man Jon Targaryen lives. R + L = J people…) Also, Selena might be the president. And what’s going on with Pied Piper, and for the love of god why isn’t Monica in charge? (I’m rewatching Season 2 and it’s painfully obvious that she should be.)
  • April 29-May 2: I’m going back to Disney World! There’s a whole long boring soul searching story about this that I won’t get into but it’s happening. It’s the Epcot Flower and Garden festival, so that should be fun, and I’m going to do the Monorail Bar Crawl because I’m on my own schedule and I’ll do what I want. I’m disappointed that the Animal Kingdom night time show won’t have started but I will get to see the Star Wars fireworks!
  • May 5: Captain America: Civil War!!!!!!! This is apparently the best movie ever! I’m really really can’t wait to see how it shakes out. Aless and I are going on Thursday night, 8:30 in the city. It’s going to be fun. We’ll probably be drunk. Or at least buzzed. I’m sure I’ll cry.
  • May 7: My cousin Tommy is getting married to Leah. They are two of my favorite people and I’m thrilled to celebrate them! Family wedddings are a big deal with my large crazy group of relatives and this is probably the last one for a while. (No one’s engaged at the moment but over the past two years we’ve had 5 family weddings.)
  • May 11: Going to see Shuffle Along on Broadway, starring Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell. Pretty sure my brain will explode. Audra tap dances you guys. It’s king of a huge deal.
  • May 13-15: ACBC! Really excited for this too! I will be guiding Kristi and Juli through their first Con. I’ve got my cosplays together, my hotel booked and my girls are going to be with me. It’s going to be a lot of fun. (Also, I’ve declared this “The Year of Atlantic City” because I will have gone 3 times in 3 months.)

So that’s what’s going on with me. Watch twitter for pictures of all of this fun stuff! YAY!

 

Something They Can Never Take Away: Hamilton: The Revolution

Welcome to the first post of The Hamilton Reading List.

We begin our exploration with the purest distillation of Hamilton-ness, with Hamilton: The Revolution or as Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s co-author, and the Internet are calling it #Hamiltome. The book consists of the full libretto of the musical, featuring informative and entertaining footnotes by Miranda. Also featured are a series of analytic and informative essays by Hamilton ally and theatrical critic, Jeremy McCarter.

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One of the first things that I want to discuss is the book itself which is gorgeous. Leather bound, aged pages and full of stunning pictures of the production and back stage and the size of a text book, I was very glad I picked up the physical book rather than read it digitally. It’s worth it.

One of the things that’s been acutely fascinating as Hamilton exploding is how documented this phenomenon has been, thanks to the internet and the relative youth of it’s creators, so between the amazing early leak on NPR of the cast album, the #Ham4Ham shows, the fan art, the endless pairing of lyrics with other forms of media (#Force4Ham and #Parks4Ham being my favorites, of course.), we get a level of engagement that I only could have dreamed of when I was a dreamy twelve year old playing the London Cast Recording of Les Mis on my discman curled up in a corner of my middle school band room.

The Hamiltome chronicles this, as well as the show’s unique evolution from Miranda’s daydream of “The Hamilton Mixtape” initially meant to be a concept album chronicling the life of the ten dollar founding father to the full blown theatrical phenomenon it is. And it is a journey, an excellent and interesting and tortuous one.

What I love about back stage looks in general is that they demystify the magic of theater. There is magic in it, that spark that ignites is real, but before you can get to that spark there’s hundreds of hours punctuated by sweat, tears and a ton of work and The Revolution gives us those moments in often excruciating detail. It would have been easy to keep Hamilton mythic, birthed like Athena, fully formed from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but that isn’t how theater works, and McCarter makes it clear that Hamilton had many fathers, going in detail about direction and costume design, and set design and choreography and even, bless my heart, what a producer does. (Most people don’t understand this. Hell, I barely understand it and I am a producer.)

The one thing that the book doesn’t get into, or at least not enough, is why this show? I mean as much as you can explore why pop culture phenomenon happen, but I do wonder. We were long overdue for a Broadway block buster and even longer overdue for a mainstream crossover success. Were we primed for it? Young people are hungry for revolution in every generation, but seem particularly vocal about it in the moment. So is that it? Broadway music hasn’t incorporated pop music in a new way since 1996, so is that it? (Well, actually since 2008, but you know, everyone seems determined to ignore In The Heights, so I guess I will too.)

But this is a phenomenon and it’s worth exploring.

Next up on The Hamilton Reading List:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow which is the book that Miranda read that inspired him to write this musical, which then inspired me to write this series of blog posts. So in a way, I’m also a genius who is changing the face of pop culture.