Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hamilton In L.A. | Lefsetz Letter

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

It might have been “We Will Rock You.” Or “Rolling In The Deep.” Or any hit of today.

Only bigger.

And it’s not about one track but the whole damn album, the whole damn show.

Go to a concert and you get a segmented audience, never all kinds, all types, all ages.

But at “Hamilton” at the Pantages it was a cross-section of America. Everybody with a smile on their face, anticipating the event of the year.

It didn’t start out this way. “Hamilton” premiered at the Public Theatre, after taking years to write. The inspiration came from Ron Chernow’s biography and some of the biggest hip-hop hits of all time. That’s right, Lin-Manuel Miranda had influences, he paid dues, and the New York cognoscenti got a whiff and they were sold. But how does a local production become a national phenomenon?

For the past few decades musicals have been a joke. Dumbed-down for tourists. Of course there are exceptions, especially “The Book of Mormon,” but that was more about the show than the music, you had to go to hear them say the unsayable, but you didn’t sing the songs at home, but “Hamilton” was on everybody’s lips.

The hype/industrial complex was not prepared for this. The system anoints stars. And hit and Broadway have not crossed paths since “Hair.” Sure, some songs from “A Chorus Line” permeated the culture, but they were not everywhere, not on the hit parade.

But now the paradigm has shifted and there is no hit parade. Radio is so far behind the times it’s a joke, and it only plays one narrow genre of music.

Spotify is much more au courant, but it’s dominated by hip-hop, a younger generation.

Then again, the sweet spot for “Hamilton” is these same kids.

That’s right, the rich are overpaying to see “Hamilton,” but the little girls understand. They sign up for the lottery. Funny how Lin-Manuel Miranda can give back and the popsters are all about themselves, all the time. The economics of Broadway suck. But if you have a big enough hit…

So we expect everything to blow up in plain sight, we expect to see trends, but now the media is out of touch, if they can’t quantify it it doesn’t exist.

“Hamilton” is bigger than any act on the road. Commands a higher ticket price for more shows. But it’s ignored in the pop firmament.
But not by the audience.

Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton

I’m tingling while I write these words. And after being uttered Saturday the audience whooped it up like it was Prince singing “1999.” They were here, they’d planned, they’d waited, and now they were ready to EXPLODE!

Time and again the actors had to wait for the applause to die down.

You see the audience knew every word. They’d studied the soundtrack for months. All two hours and twenty two minutes of it. This is not a one hit wonder, this is not a single. I’m all for albums if there’s a story, if there’s a theme, and there’s certainly one in “Hamilton.”

And every time you see it you gain new insights. It’s the musical that keeps on paying dividends. Full of lyrics, full of nuance. The first time I focused on the relationships. The second on the scandal. This time on the war.

And every cast is a bit different. Joshua Henry was arguably better than the original actor. And Jordan Donica played Lafayette with a heavy French accent, so when he said that immigrants get the job done there was not as effusive a response as there was in New York.

But not everyone can go to New York.

So you have these road shows.

And the tiny, rickety New York theatre is superior. The stage is smaller, it’s more intimate, the seats are tiered, you hover over the performance.

Then again, every time you saw your favorite rock act it was different.

So you can’t get a ticket. Very few acts today go clean. But “Hamilton”? Fughetaboutit.

“Hamilton” is the story of us. Of the melting pot. Of America. You can make it if you really try. You don’t want to give up your shot. But the truth is these concepts are fading. Statistically there’s more upward mobility in Western Europe, but you don’t want socialism, right? You want the right to starve with no safety net, just as long as there are no takers, right?

But the funny thing is both left and right go to see “Hamilton.”

And are influenced by it.

Every day I see blowhards advocating their positions in the media.

But they’re no match for “Hamilton.”

“Hamilton” is the sixties reincarnated. When art could move mountains. When you didn’t play to the audience, but led it. Don’t give them what they want, but what they need.

The people know. They got the message. They were not sold, it’s not about marketing but content. This is not a movie that lives and dies on a weekend and is gone shortly thereafter, this is a living, breathing enterprise taking the world by storm, affecting those who hate it in principle. People of color playing whites. Hip-hop the dominant soundtrack. It should be a failure.

But the audience ROARED!


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