This past Friday, I went to see “Hamilton” in New York City with four friends from Concord. I am still processing the weekend, because it was huge for me for many different reasons.
About two years ago, my friend Pam told me I should purchase the music from this new musical “Hamilton”. That hot July Saturday, I went out to Barnes & Noble and bought both the book and the CD from musical. And started reading and listening. And dreaming about seeing the play in person. But I said to myself that I wouldn’t see the play until I finished the book. Listening to the music, I began to learn about the good and the bad about Alexander Hamilton. The reading went slowly….A year went by and I was still not done, and not even close to being done reading the book. More and more friends were going to the show and I started to check out ticket prices. They were really high in New York City. They were not as high in Chicago but I would need to fly there. I started checking out flight prices. Could I fly in, see a matinee and fly out that same night? What would one night at a hotel cost? Could I justify this type of expense as a single person? It would be an extravagance for sure.
The reading was still going nowhere. During the Patriots playoff games this past season, a pair of friends, Lynn and Chris, were talking about how their daughters just gave them Hamilton tickets. The other pair of friends, Lynn and Rex discussed how much they wanted to see the play. Lynn and Chris said they should try to get tickets for June 29th. I chimed in that I would also like to see the play. And so the plot was hatched. Lynn found three seats together for her, Rex and myself; Lynn & Lynn found a really cool AirBNB; the tickets and the AirBNB were paid for; a dog sitter was arranged; and all we needed to do was wait for June 29th to arrive.
And as the day came closer and closer, I knew there was no way that I would finish reading the book. I mentioned this to a friend and they suggested I download Audible and listen to it. And with several weeks of the school year yet, and a 30 to 45 minute drive each way, I figured I could get the book done this way. When I downloaded where I had left off reading, I had 25 hours to listen. So, listen I did. And, I learned a lot by listening. I had never listened to a book this way and I found that it was a great way for me to get a book done and to use time that was otherwise just down time (which isn’t always a bad thing) into a learning time. So, as an educator, I learned the value of providing different alternatives to meeting an end goal to students.
As the time trickled down to a month to go, Lynn, Lynn, and I met to discuss places to eat and other activities to do during our three days in New York. New York City is very familiar to Lynn R and Lynn S has a great amount of experience finding good places to eat, so we quickly came up with a rough idea of what our three days might look like. We discussed and then found a 3 hour tour to do on Saturday that focused on Hamilton and Washington. As time got closer, a few other recommendations were added to our Google Doc. And finally, the morning of Friday, June 29th was here.
Deciding what to wear to the theater was surprisingly easy. I had asked my friend Nancy, a frequent Broadway play audience member, what to wear and she said, really anything goes. However, after shelling out the amount of money I did to see the play, I knew I wanted to wear my “little black dress” (don’t worry, it’s not that little!). I treated myself to a mani-pedi and had my nails painted a bright blue to match the scarf I was planning on wearing with the outfit. I packed other clothes, suitable for the predicted very warm weather. After giving Gus one last pat, I threw my bag into Gigi and headed for Concord, where we would all rendezvous at Lynn R and Chris’s house.
Lynn R. was out running a few last minute errands, so I waited with Lynn S and her husband Rex. When I met them, I was overcome with emotion for several reasons. First, this was the first real vacation that I had taken since my marriage fell apart five years ago. All of my vacations since then mostly involve seeing my boys, whom I absolutely love seeing and seeing their worlds. But this vacation was different, There were no boys involved (in fact Christopher was on his way to my house while I was leaving for New York). This felt strange and disorienting, yet exciting at the same time. And I was also overcome with emotion about being included in these two couples’ lives as well. Since being single for so many years now, I am always touched by my married friends’ always including me on activities and never make me feel like a third, fifth, or seventh wheel. So, tears of happiness briefly streamed down my face before packing up the car and heading south to New York. This was a huge undertaking for me for many reasons and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to share this moment with friends.
The ride down to New York was pretty uneventful and before long, we found the parking garage right up the street from our AirBNB. After a short stroll around Chinatown to stretch our legs, we went back, changed (and coincidentally, all three women were wearing black dresses!), found the subway station and ate at a delicious French restaurant. The streets were crowded with people as we found our way to the theater. When I spotted the sign, I was overcome with happiness to finally be seeing something that I had been dreaming of doing for several years. Lynn S., Rex and I had tickets in one
section, while Lynn R and her husband Chris, were sitting elsewhere in the theater. Lynn, Rex and I climbed up staircase after staircase to reach our section of the theater. And finally, we were there – in “the room where it happened…” Yes, our seats were literally in the last row of the theater, but none of us cared. We were there.
And while one might have not been happy about being literally in that last row of the theater, this was another important lesson to learn. Sometimes, having a different point of view offers you more opportunities than one might had originally thought. In our seats, we could see the entire stage and set. I could see some folks in the front row straining to look up. Our seats enabled us to see the big picture. This would become more important as the play went on. Being back there also permitted us to see some of the inner parts of the theater as there was a ladder leading up to more sound or lighting parts of the theater. Again, one wouldn’t had known about this if we sitting more towards the front of the theater. Before long, the lights dimmed and the opening notes of “Alexander Hamilton” started. I knew these lyrics well and I did sing along with a big smile on my face.
A friend asked me the next morning about how it was like seeing the show after knowing the story/music so well. While I certainly did know all of that well, what I was not prepared for was seeing the actors’ personality both light up the stage in certain sections as well as feeling their pain at other sections. The choreography was brilliant, complimenting this musical biography. And another unexpected pleasure was the lighting. During “The Eye of the Hurricane”, the lighting formed an outline of a hurricane, again adding a visual element to these haunting lyrics. Add in my just general joy and excitement, and everything that I had known before went to a whole new level. Think about the best meal you have ever had. You loved how it looks and smells. It tastes scrumptious. There may be a sound associated with this meal. When you meld it all together, you savor every morsel. That’s how Hamilton was for me. Every line, every dance step, every facial movement I savored. It was that good. And worth every dollar that I had spent on this experience for me.
The next day, we continued to immerse ourselves in learning more about Hamilton by doing the walking tour “Washington & Hamilton: Secrets of the Past”. We met our tour guide, Bruce, at the steps of the Alexander Hamilton United States Custom House. For the next three hours, he led us through the streets of lower Manhattan where we continued to learn about one of our Founding Fathers and his connection to perhaps the most famous Founding Father, George Washington. These two men possessed a very unique relationship where they balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But the part of the tour that really tied the weekend together for me, was the stop that happened at about 2:35 p.m. at Trinity Church. In the burial ground next to one of the oldest churches in New York, lie Alexander and Eliza Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton’s grave was undergoing renovations, so we could not see what it said or what it looked like. My favorite song is the 46th song…Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? If you think about history, you get the side of who is telling the story. Growing up, I never learned about anything controversial that may not have painted the United States in the best manner. The Japanese internment camps during World War 2, Angel Island, and the Trail of Tears were things that I learned about since I became an elementary teacher. And by listening to Hamilton: An American Musical, I learned about a story which never was part of “the narrative”: Eliza’s story. While there may have been some dramatizing about the burning of Hamilton’s letters after his affair was publicly revealed in the song Burn, what was not dramatized was how Eliza, despite being publicly humiliated by her own husband’s writing about the affair, told his story after his death. Her story was not told the following day when we visited the Hamilton Grange. On her grave, were many coins and notes. The notes ranged from a “Rise Up” sketch to “We Tell Your Story”. I was so
touched by the fact that without this musical, Eliza’s story would remain relatively unknown. Where she could had become bitter by the scandal, but instead, she remained steadfast in her beliefs to help others. She started the first public orphanage in New York City, raised money for the Washington Monument in D.C., and kept her husband’s story alive. I think by doing this tour, it provided me with another dimension of learning about Hamilton and the important people in his life. It is important to have all of those perspectives as part of history and by doing the tour and the subsequent visit to the Hamilton Grange, I felt like I walked away from my Hamilton Immersion weekend with a true and deep understanding of this most important part of our country’s history. What a weekend for so many reasons. Rich, engaging, leaving you with more questions. Wow.