Hamilton, Round Two (I know, I know)

What I’ll always remember about seeing Hamilton on November 2, 2016, is that shortly after my boyfriend and I took our seats, an older couple came and sat in front of us, and the man was wearing a Cubs hat. Any other night, we would not think twice about this. But obviously, for Cubs fans, Wednesday was not any other night.

I can imagine the look on the man’s face when he realized Game 7 of the World Series would land on the exact same night that his wife had decided, before the baseball season even started, they should see Hamilton. Actually, I have no idea if this was the scenario – maybe he was the one who really wanted to see the show. He seemed cheerful enough for me to believe he had not been dragged to the show totally against his will. But what a dilemma! I’d already thought with slight disappointment about how there’d be no way I could follow the whole game, but I’m not a Cubs fan and the choice for me was obvious.

He checked his phone at intermission, and the show ended with enough time to catch the last couple innings, but I loved watching everyone around us commiserate with him. (I commiserated, but not so much that I didn’t go on a little diatribe about how I would not be happy about phone-checking during the show. I thought no one could hear me, but two girls sitting near me spoke out in agreement.)

And that’s the thing. Wednesday night, the Richard Rodgers Theatre was maybe the least acceptable place in New York to be checking your phone for the Game 7 score (no one did, by the way – and I truly hope no one did at any other theater, either). With Hamilton, your decision is made. You are at Hamilton. Nothing could top it.

Obsession-wise, nothing has topped Hamilton for me at all in 2016. I first saw the show in March (and I know I’m lucky to have seen it at all, let alone twice, in this calendar year), having longed to see it for months but not knowing much of the music or much about the musical’s development. After I won the lottery by some miracle, I was vaulted into the deepest, most consuming cultural obsession I’ve had in awhile. I will try not to overstate what the show has meant to me, but I can honestly say it’s brought me closer to some friends who also found themselves obsessed – it became our common ground – and it has broadened my interest in theater as a whole. This is all on top of the first and strongest reason I love this show: It’s history and theater presented in a totally new form. We’re drawn to it because nothing else has been or is now like it.

From March on, I’ve listened to every song, memorized nearly every lyric (I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never fully grasp “Guns and Ships”) and thrilled in the discovery of hidden meanings and wordplay. At a certain point, my familiarity with the soundtrack overtook my memory of specific moments from the show. The fact that I’d seen the show was mostly useful for being able to tell people I’d seen the show. I didn’t imagine the stage production when I listened to the songs, and honestly, I was fine with that.

Cut to early July, when I’m opening my boyfriend’s birthday gift to me (his true gift has been tolerating my constant Hamilton sing-a-longs for most of this year). It was a not-well-kept secret that he was getting me the Hamilton soundtrack on vinyl, but a couple times at dinner, he expressed how excited he was for me to open my present. Had he forgotten that I basically knew what it was? It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited; I just couldn’t understand why this was being so built up. I didn’t even think about the possibility that something else might be involved, so I know I wore a confused look when I opened an envelope taped to the back of the box and removed two tickets to Hamilton on November 2.

I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went from there, but he revealed that he’d purchased the tickets when a block went on sale in February – and that was even before I won the lottery. I felt a little bad that I’d unknowingly ruined his plan to take me to Hamilton for my first viewing, but because he’s a gracious human and fully attune to the inner workings of the show, he said he was just happy I got to see the original Broadway cast. My thoughts turned to how to prepare Timmy for his own first Hamilton viewing. Over the next few months we listened to most of the soundtrack together, and I think he’d say his viewing of Hamilton’s America was also helpful.

So, that’s the scene-setting. As far as the show itself, it hasn’t missed a beat. Yes, there were slight variations in the way certain parts sounded or were acted, but isn’t that the whole point of seeing it live? The (mostly) new cast carries on the spirit of the old with energy and precision. It was a joy to watch.

Part of my joy came from experiencing it in fantastic seats (left side of the orchestra). Far be it from me to complain about winning the lottery, but the downside is that front-row seats make it impossible to appreciate the full spectacle. So. much. happens. visually in this show that it’s a completely different experience with a little distance. “Satisfied” especially – I was eager to see the “rewind” section play out in person, and I was blown away. I feel like I’ve now seen the musical in its true, full context.

Most of the lead roles have been replaced from the original cast; Christopher Jackson remains as Washington, but he was out with an injury on Wednesday night. His understudy, Nik Walker, did a great job and played some of Washington’s spoken lines a lot differently (in a good way!) from how Chris Jackson does them on the soundtrack.

My favorite performances of the night came from Mandy Gonzalez, who replaced the goddess Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, and Michael Luwoye, who performed as Burr (he is both the Hamilton alternate on Sunday and Brandon Victor Dixon’s understudy for Burr). Mandy Gonzalez hit all the right notes as Angelica, and it was fun watching her in “Satisfied” especially – I liked the ways she played Angelica’s initial conversation with Hamilton. Her line “where’s your family from” sounded less like interrogation and more like someone smitten and searching for any way to keep the conversation going.

And Michael Luwoye was phenomenal, too. I heard that Leslie Odom, Jr., the original Burr, said he would play Burr differently depending on the night; some nights Burr was a sympathetic character, other times, he was a true villain. I wouldn’t say he was played as a villain on Wednesday, but he certainly had a mean streak. You believed he and Hamilton could have 30 years of disagreements, and you believed that he pushed everyone away while figuring out his own plans (Burr singing “I’llllllllll keep all my plans close to my chest” in “Non-Stop” is one of my favorite parts of the entire show). Part of me thinks the success of the entire show rides on the success of Burr’s performance, and this was a success for sure.

This is a special show, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. To see it with a rapt audience and see it thrive after so many major casting changes gave me hope that it’ll endure all its coming iterations, from the London production to the tour. That my mom will love it just as much as I do when she sees it come to Portland in 2018. That I’ll love it just as much as I do now when I maybe win the lottery again five years from now (who am I kidding, I’m never winning anything again). If/whenever I see it again, I’ll experience the joy anew.

Odds & Ends (spoiler alerts, I guess, if you haven’t seen Hamilton, but these are mostly just elements that come across in the stage production but can’t be caught on the soundtrack): 

*Hercules Mulligan is the flower girl at Hamilton and Eliza’s wedding. I completely missed that the first time around, and it brought me insane joy.

*One of my favorite parts of the soundtrack is Burr introducing Jefferson at the beginning of the second act in “What’d I Miss?” “You simply must meet Thomas, Thomas!” he sings. I always heard it as him repeating the name, but when Jevon McFerrin (Seth Stewart’s understudy, performing for the night) sang it, the first Thomas was introductory, and then the second one was said to Jefferson, like “come on out!” Even now, listening to the soundtrack, I hear that intonation from Leslie Odom., Jr., but I didn’t pick up on it before, and I love it.

*One of the revolutionaries hands a Reynolds Pamphlet to the conductor.
*I count myself especially lucky to have seen Jonathan Groff as King George III, since he was the first original cast member to depart, but let me tell you – Rory O’Malley is just as perfect as his replacement. Timmy, my boyfriend, leaned over me during his first song and asked “is he an original?” meaning….if he’s this good, he must be.
*When Philip Hamilton confronts George Eacker while the latter is attending a play, some of the ensemble members actually stage a little play-within-a-play for that moment of the song.

“Boy, Those Were the Days, Huh?”

Thanks to the @sorkinese Twitter account – one of the best there is – I learned today is the 15th anniversary of The West Wing’s premiere. Sam, Toby, CJ, Leo, Josh, Bartlet, et al entered America’s living rooms on September 22, 1999. The show has only been part of my world for the last 18 months, but nonetheless, I celebrate its beginnings because I like thinking of people watching the show in real time, in an age when Toby’s airplane phone and Sam’s pager were actually technological marvels.

I know anniversaries are completely arbitrary, and why should we celebrate the 15th over the 14th or the 9th or the 37th or whatever. But since basically any day is an excuse for me to celebrate this show, I’ll do it today, too.

As someone with plenty of TV/movie/culture obsessions, I think a lot about what makes something an obsession versus just something I simply enjoy. I enjoy How I Met Your Mother. I am obsessed with The West Wing. Why is that? Sometimes I can barely make it through the first episode of something. Other times, I can just feel it, five minutes in. I am going to spend a lot of time with these characters.

It may not have been five minutes in for me with The West Wing, but I remember watching the pilot for the first time and when the President makes his entrance…I just knew. What was this show! He comes in with just a few minutes left in the episode. The whole time, you’ve been hearing about him – POTUS in bicycle accident? – but you don’t see him until much later. And the thing is, you don’t even notice! You’ve been swept away by all sorts of other stories. And then…oh, yeah. The President.

And it all comes together. This would not be the last impassioned Bartlet speech that brings the rest of his staff to its senses. It would not be his last cry against religious fanaticism. But it was his first entrance, and it was a great one.

As I went deeper into the show, characters other than President Bartlet became my favorite, but in my mind, that first episode is all about him (though Toby delivers some of his finest shouting in that first episode).

So happy birthday, West Wing. I do The Jackal in your honor.

 

Laughing

My weekends, I have come to realize, are defined by whatever place/person/song/TV show/movie I spend most of that weekend obsessing about. This year, I’ve had Royal Tenenbaums weekends, Kevin Spacey weekends, Boston weekends, West Wing weekends…I spend hours invested in the topic at hand, and realize with a weird sadness on Sunday night that I won’t get to spend as much time with it on Monday as I did the previous two days.

This weekend has been John Mulaney weekend.

I first heard of John Mulaney a few months ago when I saw a bit about him in New York magazine. I cannot remember the title of the story (it was something along the lines of “The Best Comedians in New York Today”) but it briefly described him as a former SNL writer and creator of Bill Hader’s “Stefon” character with a sitcom pilot in the works. For each comic featured, the story named a “representative joke.” Mulaney’s was:

Nothing that I know can help you with your car, ever. Unless you’re like, ‘Hey I’ve got a flat tire, does anyone here know a lot about the “Cosby Show”?’

That. Is. My. Life. More with 30 Rock or The West Wing, but having nothing but television quotes at your disposal, even in troubling life situations? I can relate. And even though the joke struck me and I memorized it for future reference, all I did after reading it was watch a few of Mulaney’s stand-up videos and move on with my life. I had not entered obsession phase.

Then – backstory: my friend Miranda, who lived across the hall from me for two years at U of O, is visiting New York this week. I am SO HAPPY she’s here because of all my closest friends at school, she’s the only one I haven’t seen since I’ve lived in New York – Miranda brought up one of his jokes on Saturday during a conversation about delayed flights. It was about a bad experience John Mulaney had with Delta airlines and I vaguely remembered the joke from my own YouTube trollings a few months prior. I told her I’d heard that before, and Miranda proceeded to tell me that his stand-up was the funniest thing ever and we should watch it immediately when we got back to my apartment.

So we did.

Please take a 40-minute break from reading to watch this – his latest stand-up release, New in Town:

It felt good to laugh really hard. The routine covered a lot of material about growing up and living in New York City, and I liked that he made the hard parts of those experiences something to laugh about – not something to rant about or wallow in self-pity about or think too seriously about. Weird stuff happens. May as well laugh about it. (Though the “When people order fries, they act like it’s a little adventure” bit hit a little too close to home).

Plus, it was laden with obscure pop-culture references. I don’t watch Law and Order: SVU and thus had no major connection to Mulaney’s jokes about it, but I love that he loves it so much and had watched it enough to make hilarious observations. I love when people let others into the dark little corners of their obscure obsessions and shine a light that lets you see how wonderful those obsessions are (and even if they aren’t wonderful to you, you get to appreciate how much they mean to the other person).

Since I had SNL on the brain, I was excited to see Lorne Michaels wrote a short piece for the October issue of Vanity Fair on television and the 1970s. It was a very personal story of Michaels’ start in New York, but he told it in the context of the decade’s dichotomous television landscape: Past and present were airing at the same time. Networks execs ruled the airwaves, but the young writers they employed knew change was afoot…or at least, they were ready to start making the change. You can read most of the piece online, but some of my favorite parts (like the second one below) came only in the print article.

A couple of favorite lines:

Michaels talking about his morning routine when he first moved to New York City:

I found a sublet on 57th and Seventh, in a building called the Osborne, which had a Chock full o’Nuts right on the corner. I began my day with a cup of coffee, The New York Times, and two sugar doughnuts. They were whole-wheat sugar donuts. I had learned about nutrition in California.

Michaels talking about the performers and artists he worked with in New York, and how their work reflected the decade’s culture:

Pretty soon we began to feel as if we were on to something new. After all, we were the baby boom – we knew television the way French kids knew wine. TV for us had been the miracle that brought us the world, and now we were determined to reflect the world we were living in on TV.

It was our turn. The 1970s, I realize now, were a time when things were both coming undone and being put back together in a different way. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that all of life is re-invention. Sometimes past and future can share the same time period. New just shows up sometimes.

“New just shows up sometimes.” I love that line. It’s a reminder to stay on your toes. As someone with an affinity for the 70s, I found the whole piece charming and funny; criticism on the decade in TV was fascinating.

I guess the moral of this post is that I hope you laughed this weekend. And watched New in Town.

Making Everything New

Right around a year ago, I started this blog. Since it’s read by an average of eleven people each day, I will not go on about what a fun “journey” it’s been, because it’s not like my blog is really a huge deal. Honestly, having a blog has been a struggle – it has forced me to define what I want my blog to be about and what I want to accomplish through it.

I can’t say that I have figured that out, but I’m working on it. This summer, I realized that I don’t want my blog to be a typical “PR student blogging because that’s what PR students do” blog. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of inspiring, astute thoughts about how to use social media or how public relations works. There are a lot of fantastic bloggers out there who do write about that stuff, and they write about it well. I legitimately love hearing what they have to say – my Google Reader is filled with blogs that talk social media strategy or PR news.

I’ve tried to make my blog part of that conversation, but when I did, my writing sounded forced and uncomfortable and didn’t really give me a chance to really “express” myself in the way I think a blog is meant to.

This is not to say that my blog will now be a place for me to simply draw rainbows and sing songs all day. I still want readers to get something out of every post and I want to take it seriously. My goal is for it to be a place where people can see the world – a football game, a TV show, a magazine article – through a PR student’s lens. Hopefully that will spark discussion, make people think or laugh and inspire us all to make our worlds a little better in some small (or big) way.

Since “PR student” isn’t my only definition, it means I want to look at everything through the lens of a student who has dozens of other interests (some may call them obsessions): late-night television, New York, food carts, Motown music, 30 Rock, etc.

Blogging gets me excited – I love writing (nowadays, who doesn’t?) and I’m lucky to have such an easy, accessible way to share that writing with the masses. With a new school year (and thus new schedule, new room, new clothes, new focus), I’m hoping to infuse some “newness” into The Opinion Paige.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll stay along for the ride!

PS – I also changed my blog’s theme, as you may have noticed if you’re one of my average eleven readers. I like it right now, but there’ll undoubtedly be some changes in the coming months.