How Hamilton is Teaching us to Rise Up

Theatre fans across the world are mourning today. All humans united (indulge me here) this past year with the common goal to someday, some way, somehow see Hamilton the Musical with the original cast. New Yorkers and tourists alike, unable to afford the staggering prices of actual tickets, eagerly have entered the lottery every day, hoping to get into the room where it happens. Some people (send them my way) were even able to afford to go, but just couldn’t make time to get to the show before this day. Today, the original Broadway cast of Hamilton is no longer performing. Contracts are up, and new projects are starting for this incredible group of individuals. It’s an undeniable heartbreak for us who haven’t seen the show (but just you wait), and it’s making me a little sentimental.

For others, you may be asking what this Hamilton fuss is all about? Well, that’s a really complicated question to answer. For starters, it’s score displays modern music genres that are appealing to audiences of all ages, but particularly draw younger (and formerly disinterested) crowds. Beyond awakening new interest in the theatre world, Hamilton the Musical also draws a new interest in our nation’s history. After the cast’s performance at the Grammy’s, the most Google searched phrase became “who was Alexander Hamilton?” Schools around the nation have incorporated Hamilton‘s story more prevalently in their courses as a means to answer the continued interest from students. It is invaluable that art can visibly increase younger generation’s interest in our nation’s history. Further, Hamilton tells a story about our past that relates so well to our lives today (more about that later). And of course, we cannot forget the record-breaking amount of recognition the show has received. A whopping 45 awards have been won by this production, including 11 Tony Awards in 2016. Hamilton has become a household term, and its impact reaches so much further than in it’s amount of trophies.

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Cast of Hamilton final bow
Photo Credit: Theatre Mania/Seth Walters

For those who know the show well, you will definitely recognize all of these lyrics, and probably sing them in your shower daily. Here’s what those words that have inspired countless people mean to me personally, and how I carry them under my breath as they’re stuck in my head every day.

Note: Click the bolded song name after the lyrics to listen to the song as you read!



“I am the one thing I can control – I am inimitable, I am an original” –Wait For It/Hamilton

Sung by Aaron Burr (sir) (Leslie Odom, Jr.) in the first act of the show, this song acts as a soliloquy that represents a place that we have all been in life. As Lin-Manuel Miranda described to The New Yorker, this song portrays the “moments where we’ve seen friends and colleagues zoom past us, either to success, or to marriage,  or to homeownership, while we lingered where we were – broke, single, jobless. And you tell yourself, ‘Wait for it.'”

Beautifully the music rises in magnitude as the lyrics and Burr’s emotions escalate. He begins by realizing that things in life are out of our control, that we “laugh and we cry, and we break, and we make our mistakes.” Then as it builds, he recognizes that nothing is promised to us, and “death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints,” making our time on earth all the more valuable.

An explosion of voices erupt repeating “Wait for it,” as Burr exclaims “I am the one thing I can control – I am inimitable, I am an original,” staking claim into his value that can’t be taken away. While this world is chaotic and uncertain, he trusts that “there’s a reason [he’s] still alive when so many have died, [and he’s] willing to wait for it.”

I cling to those lyrics, and truly the entire message of this song. Miranda claims it as one of the best songs he’s ever written, and I wholeheartedly agree. Everyone can relate to the struggle of not understanding why we are still here, when so many others are not. Especially in light of recent events, it becomes increasingly important for us to not only wait for our purpose to be revealed, but to take control of our self-value. The world only has one of me, and I’m not going to waste my time by pushing that aside.

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Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr
Photo Credit: Vulture/CBS News


“I’m erasing myself from the narrative” –Burn/Hamilton

“Burn” is sung by the character Eliza (Phillipa Soo), Hamilton’s wife, as an anthem in her action to leave him (likely because of infidelity). An absolutely astounding piece, this song not only displays the heartbreak she is feeling, but also shines light on the lack of historical information available about her (and women in general for that matter).

She describes being swept away by Hamilton, holding the letters he wrote and claiming he “built me palaces out of paragraphs.” Defenseless she was infatuated by his love, and it kept her from seeing the truth. Eliza searches and searches for signs of lies within his words, and aches thinking of the time he was truly hers.

As she continues to read, she becomes more emotional realizing how much his words were  “obsessed with [his] legacy,” and how their story now revealed itself to be more about him than ever about her.

She then takes a stand against her adversity (common dynamic in Miranda‘s work, and not the last time you’ll see it in this article). She rises and asserts “I’m erasing myself from the narrative.” This is so powerful because it’s decided here instead of drawing the attention to herself she never received, she’s eliminating her (invisible) self from the equation. She even expresses “let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted when you broke her heart.”

She burns every letter, claiming to destroy everything that may have revealed or redeemed him.

“You forfeit all rights to my heart
You forfeit the place in our bed
You sleep in your office instead
With only the memories
Of when you were mine

… I hope that you burn”

So many times we don’t have the strength to break ourselves out of a toxic situation. This song perfectly illustrates that moment when we say, ‘that’s enough,’ and make a change for ourselves. It’s not about proving who was right and wrong, it’s about self-resurrection and removal from a downward spiral. Erase yourself from any narrative that only tears you down, remembering you are valuable and your time is precious.

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Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton
Photo Credit: Genius


“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now” –The Schuyler Sisters/Hamilton

Referred to as the Destiny’s Child piece from the musical, this song introduces the three Schuyler sisters, who play an integral part in the story. Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones) are found walking through New York City, making sure that no one misses them. Although some of the sisters are more eager than the others (get with it Peggy), the women are all witnessing the beginnings of the Revolution that is coming.

The men in the city are all anxious for a chance to swoon one of the women (because their daddy’s rich and all), but Aaron Burr is the first to step up to the plate. In typical fashion, his lame pick up lines do little to sway any of their hearts, and instead they break into a rant about women’s equality.

Angelica (Beyoncé) states “you want a revolution? I want a revelation!” Her sisters join her in quoting The Declaration of Independence “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” and she continues “when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” Then the sisters infamously snap in unison exclaiming “Work!”

So not only are the Schuyler sisters out to find someone to impress them, they’re out to change the world. They offer the uncommonly ventured perspective of women in this time, and they aren’t going to be quiet about it.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now” Angelica continues. They are recognizing here that they are living in a time of progression. Although things are more uncertain than ever, there is real hope in this city that things are starting to change. I connect with this in my outlook that we may not live in the world we want, but that we can take the stand to change it, and we won’t be alone. #GirlPower

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Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones as The Schuyler Sisters
Photo Credit: Vox Culture/Joan Marcus


“There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait. Just you wait” –Alexander Hamilton/Hamilton

Pulled from the opening number, we see in the song “Alexander Hamilton” exposition to the plot and further the man himself. All principal characters begin narration of Hamilton’s life, wondering “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 and squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” It continues to explain and describe his life leading up to the moments we recognize from history, all the while revealing that there was much more to this man than met the eye.

Finally we see an average man walk down the center of the stage.

“Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
…but just you wait, just you wait”

In the most delightfully simplistic way, the man who made it happen (referring to both Hamilton and Miranda here) states who he is and his cause. This unrelenting characteristic of passion never left Hamilton, no matter what course his life took. He is imperfect, loud, anxious and at times overbearing… and he refuses to apologize for any of it.

Soon after, in the song “My Shot,” Hamilton masterfully states “the plan is to fan this spark into a flame,” and he won’t stop for anything. He doesn’t come from money, scholarship or support, but that’s all the more motivation for him to work harder. “Young, scrappy and hungry” become the words he uses to identify himself in relation to the new nation he’s helping to form.

Rallying those around, the anthem challenges everyone to “rise up,” joining him in the venture to create a better world for them all. This narrative has never left our nation, or our hearts. Every day we start anew with fresh motivation of what we want to become. Taking on the challenge of bettering our world is engraved in our nation’s history, and cracked with disappointment in failure. Despite all adversity, our nation has prevailed, and Alexander Hamilton lived to create it’s wake. Every day I try to encapsulate his spirit and not throw away “my shot.” So when you think it’s the end, just remember this… It isn’t. The sun will rise again.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton
Photo Credit: USA Today/Joan Marcus


“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see” –The World Was Wide Enough/Hamilton

In “The World Was Wide Enough,” Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, unable to resolve their differences go to meet for a duel. This song is the culmination of everything that has been built up in the show. In this moment, simultaneously time seems to speed by and completely stand still.

We know in this world nothing, including us, is permanent. None of us can ever know however, how we will react when we walk alongside the shadow. For Burr, his heart declared “this man will not make an orphan of my daughter!” And with that, his decision to push forward was made.

In Hamilton’s mind, we see him come into focus on his legacy. He repeats lyrics from the beginning of the show, claiming “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory,” reflecting to the massive emphasis he puts on his limited time. There could be argument that he is obsessed with the irrevocability of death, and that because of this outlook he construed every day as possibly his last.

So in this moment he freezes, recognizing fully its importance.

“If I throw away my shot, is this how you’ll remember me?
What if this bullet is my legacy?

Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me
You let me make a difference
A place where even orphan immigrants
Can leave their fingerprints and rise up
I’m running out of time. I’m running, and my time’s up
Wise up. Eyes up
… Teach me how to say goodbye…”

Hamilton raises his gun up to the sky simultaneously as Burr pulls the trigger. Time begins to speed as Burr yells “Wait!” but nothing can stop the bullet now. Alexander Hamilton falls.

It was only then that Aaron Burr saw clearly: That the road was truly wide enough for them to both pass by… That our nation is wide enough to not need to destroy within itself… That our world is wide enough for all love, religion, color and frame of thought. We never will get higher by pushing others down. We never will be understood if we don’t take the time to understand. We will never achieve if we don’t rise up. Your life makes a difference, and your legacy will not be demolished by a bullet from a gun. The world can be wide enough, if you will only let it.

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Leslie Odom, Jr. and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton
Photo Credit: Tyranny of Style



I have not even scratched the surface of all the meaningful messages intertwined into the score, or the powerful words that make up Hamilton the Musical. I am captivated by every line, because Lin-Manuel Miranda “writes like [he’s] running out of time.” Every time a human destroys another, the action becomes irreversible. So yes, we are all running out of time, especially by standing still.

If you ask people why Hamilton is such a big deal, you could get a different answer from every individual. Beyond the recognition, sold out shows and awards, the real achievement Hamilton is fighting for is a revolution in our hearts.

A sequel to the story where everyone is equal. The diversity in the cast of Hamilton reflects the diversity in our nation today. Our nation was founded on standing up for individual freedom. It’s time to recognize that the ever-changing diversity this country was built on should expand with the individuals who emerge. We all have the same claim to a life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

This show is an anthem about where we came from, but even more where we want to go. That in itself, is Hamilton the Musical‘s legacy.

So thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda, for opening our eyes with your purest gift, authentic expression. Thank you for breathing these words, and hand-delivering them to audiences for a year, along with the incomparable Leslie Odom Jr. and Phillipa Soo. Thank you for giving us your art as a means to change the world.

Because this is it. This is life… And I am not throwing away my shot.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and Cast
Photo Credit: Odyssey

 

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