A year has drifted by since we went to see Hamilton on Broadway and people still approach with their stories. A mother tells of taking her daughter to Hamilton. A father and son go to New York together for the first time, see a Yankees game one night and Hamilton the next, it is a dream. A young woman, just out of college, wins the ticket lottery and says seeing Hamilton saved her life in a way. A man talks about happily walking around New York with his wife, both of them in a daze after seeing Hamilton.
In the year since we’ve seen Hamilton, it has become a cultural touchstone, a point of controversy, a national touring show and a political crossroads. And, yes, it must be said, Hamilton is sometimes a mystery to people. “What’s that?” many people have asked as they pointed to my “Hamilton” sweatshirt.
Then again, on Saturday in Cooperstown, when Homer Simpson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I sat behind a couple that insisted they had never once seen an episode of “The Simpsons.”
In any case, it has been astonishing and wonderful how many people have wanted to talk about Hamilton in the last year. I love talking about it. But as a year has gone by, I remember the reason why I wrote that Hamilton story in the first place, a reason why I write most of my stories I suppose. I write them to mark time. I write them, if I’m being honest with myself, to stop time.
And in this way, like in most ways, every story I write is a miserable failure.
Eliza, my Eliza, is almost 16 now. When we talk now, we usually talk about grown up stuff like cars and colleges and “1984: and whether Orson Welles should have revealed Rosebud at the end of Citizen Kane. I cannot quite get used to it. I can’t stop seeing her as the little girl who always wanted to watch “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” — though, funny enough, as often as not she did not want to watch the Disney versions of them. There used to be this company that made shorter ripoff versions of these movies with cut-rate animation and songs that had compelling lyrics like, “I am the beast! Beast beast beast! I want a feast! Feast feast feast!”
“Cheappie Beauty and the Beast,” Eliza would plead.
“Can’t we just watch the real one?” my wife Margo and I would ask.
“Cheappie Beauty and the Beast!” Eliza would say again.
Sure, it’s the most cliche thing in the world for a father to want his daughter to stay young, to never grow up, but that doesn’t mean the feeling isn’t real.
We went to Hamilton a year ago in large part because it had been such a tough year. Eliza was diagnosed with Crohn’s, this mean and chronic disease that, while generally not life threatening, attacks every aspect of what makes life joyous. The night before we went to see Hamilton, Elizabeth was hit with a Crohn’s attack, a vicious one, and she sat on the couch and cried as I hugged her.
“Dad,” she said, “Every time I feel happy, it goes away.”
The wave passed, and then came the night, our night, as rain fell in New York, and Elizabeth wore high heels that were hard to walk on but made her feel tall and special. We stood in line under the Marriott Marquis sign to avoid the rain, and we listened as people excitedly talked about what they were about to see. We heard different languages — Japanese, French, German — and we heard people trying the blistering rap in “Guns and Ships,” and we were just surrounded with such overwhelming happiness. It all felt like a dream.
“Are you feeling OK?” I asked Eliza as we prepared to walk in, but she was in too much of a fog to answer. It was too much for her, like one of those scenes in the movies where the camera spins around and around a character until we all feel dizzy. We got to our seats above the stage, The whole cast was there that Saturday night, the original cast, names Elizabeth could recite as easily as the alphabet, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton, Leslie Odom Jr. as Burr, Christopher Jackson as Washington, Renee Elise Goldsbury as Angelica, Phillipa Soo as Eliza and, mostly, Daveed Diggs as Lafayette (“No one has more resilience or matches my practical, tactical brilliance”) and Jefferson (“What’d I miss?”).
Eliza called them all by their first names, as if they were friends.
A year later, I remember the time before the show –, the anticipation, the wonder that we were in the room where it happened — almost as much as the show itself. The energy crackled in that theater. In every direction, you saw people on the brink of tears because they were here, and this was it, and bleggadegarrallo! They all had a story about how they got here — they won a lottery, they had outlasted the waiting list, they had spent a fortune, they had a friend who somehow had an inside connection. We were in a room of people who felt lucky.
And as the moments piled up, as the start time grew nearer, the excitement atoms began to dance, like ping pong balls in the lottery bubble machine. People began hugging for no apparent reason. This one family just started shaking, as if they were old fashioned alarm clocks going off. My Eliza just beamed. After the Crohn’s year, as we have begun to call it, that beaming look was like staring into the sun.
Then the show began, and it got even better.
I wrote even then that as time went on, I fully expected the details of that night would fade for me. And they have. I think, really, of two moments in the show. One was the tiny, almost imperceptible laugh that the glorious Leslie Odom Jr. could not hold back as he watched King George do his funny little dance. I’ve wondered sometimes what it was that got Odom that night; he has probably forgotten. But somehow that little laugh pushed an already perfect show over the cliff to 11.
The second thing I remember comes from the second cabinet battle, where Hamilton and Jefferson debate whether to provide aid and troops to France in its war with England. Jefferson argued that the young country had signed a treaty with the King of France and, more, France had been there to help when a ragtag group of Colonists dared fight for their independence.
JEFFERSON: “When we were on death’s door, when we were needy
We made a promise. We signed a treaty!
We needed money and guns and half a chance
Who provide those funds?
MADISON (in the least emotional voice possible): France.
At this point, Eliza grabbed my arm and squeezed tight. She of course knew what was coming up because she had listened to the soundtrack a bajillion times. I’ve said this before: The odd genius of Hamilton is that it can take complicated and dry history such as the grueling decision of a young country to put itself at risk for an ally, and through music and words and sheer energy make a 15-year-old girl care, and even more, make a 15-year-old girl feel like she’s seeing the Beatles in 1963.
HAMILTON: You must be out of your Goddamn mind if you think
The president is gonna bring the nation to the brink
Of meddling in the middle of a military mess,
A game of chess, where France is Queen and Kingless
We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket
Would you like to take it out and ask it?
‘Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?’
‘Uh … do whatever you want, I’m super-dead!’
At this point Eliza let out a little scream. It wasn’t laughter exactly, and it wasn’t like the scream that you will hear when people recognize the song that is about to play (“Layla! Woo!”). It was instead the crescendo of the whole thing, the moment when the thrill and power and passion of the night overflowed in her and she just had to make a sound. I think about that little sound she made all the time though I’m sure she doesn’t even remember making it.
The rest of the show, the rest of the night, was floating on a cloud. Eliza held on to me tight as we spilled out into New York, in part because she was still tipsy from the show, and in part out of sheer support because those were high heels she wore. We sang “The Story of Tonight,” in each other’s ears. When we got to our floor in the hotel, she asked if she could take off her heels, and after she did she shrunk three inches. Even that felt a little bit like going back in time.
After I wrote about Hamilton, a few very cool things happened for Eliza. The first and most extraordinary thing was that Lin Tweeted something to her.
Sobbing reading this in my dressing room after a long week.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) May 30, 2016
Thanks Joe. Thanks Elizabeth. https://t.co/dtWdx2h88P
Eliza sobbed and sobbed after reading that. After that, there were a few interview requests, which she handled well and giddily. She had her brief time as the envy of her friends, a time I think she enjoyed. Her confidence swelled, it seemed to me. She applied to be part of a citywide leadership group. She started to draw more, write more (though she still won’t show me her stories), think a bit more about her future and what it is in life that moves her. Obviously these things would have happened naturally. But I think, in the strangest but truest way, the Hamilton night propelled her.
And then, of course, it was back to daily life. High school is tough. Crohn’s emerges whenever the stress level gets too high, and let’s be honest: When is a high school freshman NOT stressed? Driving lessons. Algebra. Friend drama. Physics. Teenage skirmishes break out as Eliza tests boundaries, takes adulthood out for test drives, tries now and again to return to the coccoon of childhood. She asked me at some point if I ever wish to be 15 again. I tell her: Never. Not for a second. She nods and understands.
For Eliza and me, maybe for all parents and children, the road has been marked by first times. There was the first time we went to Harry Potter World. The first ballgame. The first time she traved out of the country. The first time she read “The Great Gatsby.” The first time she heard Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” or the Beatles “Let It Be.” The first time she saw “Almost Famous” or “The Matrix” or “Casblanca.”
ILSA: But what about us?
RICK: We’ll always have Paris.
And a year after Hamilton, I think about how wonderful it was and how much I wish we could go back and see it again for the first time. But that’s not how the crazy thing works. The calendar goes stubbornly in one direction and only one direction. It speeds on, callously leaving behind all those first times.
But Bogart was right too. Those first times don’t disappear. We’ll always have Hamilton.
A final word: A couple of days ago, I was walking by our younger daughter Katie. She is 12. She had headphones on. Here eyes were closed and she seemed deeply engrossed. And very quietly but with intensity, I heard her singing: “Alexander Hamilton. Where’s your family from?”
A little public service thing: On June 3, we will be walking in Charlotte to raise money for Crohn’s and Colitis. We’d love your support. As a bonus, for anyone who donates we are raffling off five “Crohn’s of Dunshire T-shirts” — inspired by the famous Cones of Dunshire game from Parks and Recreation — and there will be a grand prize, an autographed Parks and Rec card from Adam Scott, who played Cones of Dunshire inventor Ben Wyatt.