Thursday, January 12, 2012

Playing The Hamilton Mixtape

A couple of months ago, I got an email from Lincoln Center announcing that the first concert in its 2012 American Songbook series was going to be with Lin Manuel Miranda. Immediately, I emailed the link to my good friend (and occasional collaborator) Gabriella, talking about how much I was dying to go.

She wrote back, "Wellllll maybe you should wait until christmas and see if maybe someone was maybe thinking you would want to see it."

And thus I learned two things: first, I would be getting to see Lin Manuel Miranda perform selections from his Alexander Hamilton mixtape/song cycle project, and second, you know when someone is a good friend when s/he can predict your dearest theatre loves.

After that conversation, I was counting down the days, and I'm happy to report that tonight's concert was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

The night started off strong. How cool is it that the first song to kick off the concert and the Lincoln Center Songbook series was "Empire State of Mind (Remix)" with a little Sondheim, Kander, and Joel mixed in? And the hip hop/rap covers didn't end there. With the help of amazing performers (Utkarsh Ambudkar, James Monroe Inglehart, Christopher Jackson, Moeisha Mcgill, Mandy Gonzalez, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Jon Rua, and Shockwave), Lin paid tribute to songs and lyricists that inspired him, from The Notorious B.I.G. to Big Punisher to Eminem. I especially loved when Lin and Chris Jackson sang Talib Kweli's "Get By," a song that exemplifies the energy and buoyancy present in much of Lin's work and in the performances throughout the night.

Since seeing his performance of "Alexander Hamilton" at the White House on Youtube, I've been incredibly excited to hear more from this project, and the 12 songs that were presented did not disappoint. Conflicting ideologies between Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton revealed themselves through rap battles, Washington poetically admitted the challenges ahead in "Right Hand Man," hope for a new generation was movingly expressed by Hamilton and Aaron Burr in folksy "Dear Theodosia," and King George III took on a pop sound as he warned a rebellious new America through what was, let's just say, the genius choice in casting Gavin Creel.

More than anything, the thing I love about Lin's work is that he really makes you sit up and take notice of the lyrics and intricacies of his work while making songwriting look easy. I was so struck by some of the little turns of phrases, little moments that would come back to haunt later parts of the song. The man really knows how to write songs that find a dramatic moment and musicalize it in a way that seems completely organic. Because he writes characters' voices that fit so well into his tunes, it's also incredibly moving when many motifs, both musically and thematically, reappear, bringing new context as characters grow and experience great love, tragedy, and failure.

What a gift to have a voice in the theatre so reassured of where it comes from and so exuberant about combining disparate interests and passions. I was moved tonight, I was thrilled, and, hey, I even learned some history. But more than anything, I came home and was inspired to create. Because there is nothing more inspiring than seeing the extent to which talent can reach out into a community, creating something new, bringing people together, and jamming out to some Jay-Z on the side.

Edit: Lincoln Center posted a video of clips from the concert, which can be viewed here.

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