By Halle Shoaf | Art Angle Vantage Reporter
duPont Manual High School, Class of 2023
As cast members from “Hamilton” glide in an effortlessly coordinated waltz on stage, pendant lights hanging above flicker and glow, creating an atmosphere of warmth. High, vibrant vocals resonate strikingly conveying pain. Here, Angelica Schuyler (Ta’Rea Campbell) sings about her profound sacrifice — trading love with a good man in exchange for the happiness of her sister, Eliza, his bride. While seemingly inconsequential to the plot of “Hamilton,” the song “Satisfied” offers a window into an individual’s story. Without it, we could not know the lengths that people went to and the influences they had on the trajectory of Alexander Hamilton’s life. At this moment, I lean over and whisper to my father, “I’m glad we got to see this again.”
Stephanie Jae Park and Pierre Jean Gonzalez in “Hamilton.” Photo by Joan Marcus. | Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
The story that playwright, lyricist, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda weaves is a complex one. It is full of laughter and light, of grief, old and new — of human triumph. “Hamilton” is jam-packed with the themes of love, death, and memory. It evokes feelings similar to those upon observing Salvador Dalí’s landscape of melting clocks in “The Persistence of Memory:” Miranda’s Founding Fathers observed a world in need of change, much like Dalí’s desolate scenery. Seeing such great ambition on stage can’t help but affect the audience. After the musical’s smashing Broadway success, national tours were booked and a touring cast of “Hamilton” first visited Louisville in the summer of 2019. I was lucky enough to attend. Then the pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt.
And attending a second time is worth it. “Hamilton '' is a star that doesn’t lose its luster. Instead, the musical has a new tone. The lyrics may be the same, but they connote different meanings. Themes of a new democracy in “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” and “History Has Its Eyes On You” applies to the civil action in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. As George Washington (Marcus Choi) warns Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez), “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” the similarities strike me: the life expectancy for people of color during the time period of the musical and today is connected to the abuse of authoritative power.
Neil Haskell in “Hamilton.” Photo by Joan Marcus. | Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
Even the staging of “Hamilton” remains memorable. Echoing booms of cannons in battle scenes and meticulous lighting put the audience front and center. Color theory subtly works into the new performances; Hamilton’s character is awash in hues of blue and purple in “Hurricane,” visually translating the analogy of a coming storm. A giant spotlight shines on King George III (Neil Haskell), contributing to the character’s self-importance.
Human experiences come alive on stage — good, bad, and ugly. Pierre Jean Gonzalez’s portrayal of Hamilton’s shift from confidence to hubris parallels Aaron Burr’s (Jared Dixon) shift from longing to jealousy. Both character arcs serve as warnings not to lose sight of the bigger picture. In “Burn,” Eliza Hamilton sings, “[I] have married an Icarus, he has flown too close to the sun.” And yet, you can’t help root for the men. Gonzalez’s magnetic energy in “My Shot” coupled with Dixon’s electrifying vocals in “The Room Where It Happens” speak for themselves.
These words greatly influence Alexander Hamilton in the musical and inspire him to take to life with great fervor. Both his wife Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park) and political foe Aaron Burr ask him: “Why do you always write like you’re running out of time?” One can interpret Hamilton’s actions as an attempt to live his life fully, but I take from them a desperate desire to be remembered.
Humans naturally fear the unknown, oblivion. We fear memories die with our loved ones, washing away our legacies like sidewalk chalk in heavy rain. We fear we will be lost in society’s and time’s grinding gears if we don’t accomplish anything meaningful. We fear accomplishing too little, too late and our lives melting away like Dalí’s clocks. The COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down. It irrevocably altered the way we conduct business and make decisions. It also caused so much grief — on a massive scale. Burr’s words put the lyrics put it simply in “Wait For It.” “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and saints. It takes, and it takes, and it takes.”
This lyric evokes the New York Times article “Those We’ve Lost”, a digital database of obituaries of people who died due to COVID-19. It puts names and faces to the numbers. Every now and then, I check the site and scroll, attempting to remember when the dead’s loved ones are gone, too. But I have hope. The very existence of musicals such as “Hamilton” serves as a legacy for the famous but also the unnamed heroes who set the course for our history.
Halle Shoaf, a rising senior at duPont Manual High School, serves on the board of the TEDxManual club, an organization that provides a platform for young public speakers impassioned in bettering society. Her play, “Little Birds,” addressing LGBTQ+ perspectives in pre-WWII Germany, was selected by regional professionals and performed in the Youth Performing Arts School’s “New Works Festival.” Halle looks forward to new writing opportunities in the future.