In 1996, I was a freshman in high school. A freshman in a new high school in a new town in a new house. That year I discovered RENT with the rest of the world and nothing was ever the same again.
I’ve loved musicals since I was small, when my mom took me to see CATS when I was seven. Six? Either way, I was tiny and my little brain was impressionable and I fell in love with this art form unlike anything else, the American musical. (Yes, CATS is by a British guy, but it set Broadway records, mmmkay?).
While my friends were listening to Green Day and Alanis Morissette and Tim McGraw (it was high school in the country, after all), I was living, breathing, sleeping, eating, inhaling, absorbing RENT into every pore of my being, falling in love with note after note to the point that, even today, certain words and phrases said off hand send me off on a RENT lyrics run without so much as a nudge. (“I’d like to propose a toast…” is a big one.)
Twenty years later (!), HAMILTON is drawing all kinds of RENT comparisons, if for no other reason than it’s got American musical theater back on top, another phenomenon taking the Great White Way by storm.
I haven’t been shy about my adoration of this new show, and as I write this – just an hour removed from leaving “the room where it happens” – that appreciation has only grown, and how.
I could go on and on about the incredible writing, the entirely original (and catchy!) songs, the powerful influences evident in the show – all the things everyone is rightfully hailing. I’m partial to the parallels to Les Miserables (Aaron Burr IS Javert, let’s be real) and the nods to shows like The Last Five Years as much as I am the hip hop ones. I could praise the entire cast, so immeasurably talented in ways I never could have anticipated having only listened to the cast recording. I could say all those things and call this post done.
But that’s not why I wandered over to the stage door as I left the theater tonight. I didn’t head over there to swoon over the (admittedly attractive!) cast or gush with the fan-girls (although I love every single one of you. I am you and you are me, ladies!). No, I stood three people deep waiting for composer/writer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda for a much simpler reason:
Who knows anything about this guy and stays uninspired by him? Is that even possible?
I’ve let myself get distracted from my writing this last year (plus) for a whole slew of reasons: moving, new job, busy job, other crafty projects. You name it, I’ve used it as an excuse. Then this dude comes along, enormously talented in his own right, with the story of a guy who crammed three lifetimes’ worth of work into one. And if you don’t leave the show wondering what the hell you’re doing to make the most of your own life…well, you’re doing it wrong.
I still have all the same things to juggle – the work, the projects, on and on – but it’s become painfully clear that something’s missing from my life when I’m not doing the writing I draw such energy from. Nothing I ever write will find the audience HAMILTON has, but that’s so entirely not the point here.
At the risk of getting all existential, it’s more elemental than that. It’s for me, for my own good on this ride called life. I don’t know at all what it’s all about or what we’re supposed to do with the time we have. But I know what works for me, what makes me more whole, and that’s knowledge that comes into sharp focus when you’re in the presence of a guy like Miranda and his Hamilton.
The sooner I stop ignoring that and doing something about it, the better.