My high school had a great theatre program and the kids who took part in our productions were talented. In grade nine one of my close friends and I decided to audition for the school musical. *I’ll call her J just in case she doesn’t want her name out there in the wide world. Before I tell you that story though you have to understand something about J and I – we’re in love with Broadway. Correction, she is a large part of the reason that I love Broadway. As for her, I’m convinced she was born singing Disney tunes into a hairbrush microphone and dancing along to the Wicked soundtrack. We became friends in grade seven and she was the first person my age that I had ever heard discuss musicals with such conviction. I clearly remember her showing me a video of “La Vie Bohème” from RENT, which thanks to my Humanities education, I can tell you is a modern adaptation of Puccini’s opera La Bohème. From that moment on, I am convinced that I simply fell into the world of Broadway with J as my guide.
Of course, I had heard of Broadway before that moment but it always seemed far away and less accessible than it did that evening in J’s dining room as we watched RENT scenes on Youtube. My father as it turned out enjoys Broadway quite a bit as well. I like to think that our shared love for musicals has given us something that allows us to discuss difficult subjects without necessarily making conversation about ourselves. I have many fond memories of my father driving from someplace or another while Sirius XM Broadway plays in the background as we chat about life. **My mother enjoys certain musicals. She simply has to be in the mood for them, but then again we don’t need anything to prompt us to talk for hours.
It was during one of those very car rides that I heard Hamilton for the first time. More specifically, I heard the song, “Satisfied,” and I remember being instantly enchanted. (If you have not heard the cast album yet I encourage you to check it out because let’s be real getting tickets to see the show is not in the cards for most of us). The song is fast-paced, emotive, and pushes the envelope just enough in a way that I have come to expect from Broadway over the years. But that’s not where my current obsession with Hamilton began, and that’s what brings me back to the story I began at the beginning of this post, my audition with J for our high school’s musical. By the time we auditioned I had two years of Broadway music under my belt so I had a number of songs to choose from and we spent lots of time discussing and debating our choices. I chose a song entitled, “What it Means to be a Friend,” from the short-lived musical 13 that starred a young Ariana Grande. This was our unofficial theme song as friends back then and I felt that with my nerves and my alto voice it couldn’t hurt to sing a song I personally connected with because auditions are scary. J on the other hand settled on a rap piece from one of our other Broadway obsessions, In The Heights. *To the Broadway fans out there you’ve probably figured out where this is going but for those of you who do not know I’ll clue you in: Lin Manuel Miranda is the creator of the sensational musical Hamilton (that as of this morning is also a Pulitzer Prize Winner!). He also created In The Heights for which he was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize back in 2009.* So, J decided on the song, “96, 000” which you can hear in the cast’s 2008 Tony Awards Performance (The song starts around 1:18). Full disclosure, I had to check with her about, which song she sang, because all I can remember is her rolling up to our individual auditions, which happened two at a time oddly enough, with a man’s tie around her neck and a hat (turned backward, maybe for added effect). That is one of my favourite memories from that year because it was such a J thing to do and I love that silly/committed/Broadway-serious side of about her.
Neither of us got a part in the musical that year, or any year after that but we attended our school productions together religiously until graduation. While one of us is certainly more musically inclined than the other (*hint: it’s not me) we both still love music. We still LOVE Broadway too. We’ve spent time in New York together twice but if I have my way we will visit the Big Apple as many times as possible throughout our lives. But what about this post eh? “What’s its point?” you might be wondering. Well, let me tell you dear reader, I wrote this partly because of my love for Broadway, but mostly I typed it out in honour of the great accomplishments of Hamilton. For anyone who has been around me this year you’ll know that third year was a challenge. It was a tough year and when I’m at my lowest I often look to music for inspiration. Maybe it comes from being an only child, listening to music is almost like having a conversation with someone else. Maybe that’s why throughout the years J and I have continuously bonded over music – because we’re two sides of the same coin and music allows us to express ourselves when we do not know how. I’m a big believer in the idea that the type of music someone listens to can tell you a lot about who they are, so next time listen to the lyrics, and feel the beat. Try to understand what someone is trying to tell you because sometimes there are no words, only lyrics.
Back to Hamilton though, why does it matter? It gives history a voice. It gives education a voice. What started out as a small endeavour to entertain and inform has become a world-wide phenomenon – it has and will continue to change lives. Music is power. Miranda gave the public exactly what it was craving without being fully conscious of it himself. He gave people a reason to look back at history, to look forward to the future, and to consider the decisions being made, the movements taking place, and the words being used in our world today. I do not remember when the Hamilton cast album became my default paper-writing music but let me tell you, it’s pretty darn affective. I felt particularly happy when I wrote an essay on Benjamin Franklin as “Non-Stop” played in the background.
The thing is I’m not sure if Hamilton would have worked anywhere but Broadway, not just because of the singing, dancing, and rapping but because at its core it is Broadway. [People of the blogosphere]…bear with me. Broadway is different from television, film, and even the conventional music industry because it relies upon people to perform night after night six or seven days a week, sometimes twice a day. It expects energy, emotion, and endurance from its performers. When you see any form of live drama or music it’s just different from anything else. There’s an electricity that takes over a room when you share the same breathing space as the artists on a stage; there’s a bond forged between you and the cast that is not created through any other medium. I hold so much respect for Broadway because of what it represents – hard work and passion. I had no idea when J first officially introduced me to Broadway that she would fan a spark into a flame *see what I did there Hamilton fans?* but she did and I am eternally grateful to have a friend who would gladly follow me from Sardi’s to theatre after theatre.
Thank you Hamilton for being such an immersive and thought-provoking piece. Thank you Lin for working non-stop. And thank you J, because well, “A friend is the person / You call sixteen times every night,” and yet she will still pick up after the seventeenth call. Now that’s friendship.