The Story of Tonight: Two Musicals

The energy in the room was palpable as we took our seats: people snapped selfies with the stage in the background, teenagers stared wide-eyed, and when the lights went down, everyone cheered. When the lead actor sang, "My name is Alexander Hamilton,” it felt more like Red Rocks than the Buell Theater. And with that, we were off, collectively captivated for the nearly three hour show.

I did not know the show well before we saw Hamilton. When I heard it was coming to Denver, I started listening to the soundtrack a bit, but I seemed never to get past the third or fourth track during my rare car rides alone, and so I knew the beginning, but had never once listened to the end. Having gone to Hamilton College, I know the bare bones of his biography from my tour guiding days, too. Tickets sold out immediately when they went on sale in January, but a couple of weeks ago, I saw on Facebook that they had released more, so I went online and bought tickets for last Thursday. Scott and I googled "Hamilton plot," read the Wikipedia page, and we were as ready as we were going to be.

 As I sat in the Hamilton audience, I remembered the first big musical I saw: Les Miserables. I was eleven, the summer before sixth grade. My parents had separated three months before, and my mom, brother, grandparents and I were visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Washington state. Our trip was a welcome respite from an abysmal six months. We swam in the pool at my aunt and uncle's country club, we took day trips to the temperate rain forest and to watch orcas splashing in Puget Sound, and we sat on the deck overlooking Mount Rainier late into the seemingly endless evenings. At one point, my mom turned to me and said, "I know we are getting divorced." My mom, brother and I had been holding out hope for a reconciliation, but with some distance, it became clear that that wasn't going to happen. My parents' divorce would be finalized the following year, but in my mind, they divorced while we were away; that trip was when I understood that it was over. This was my backdrop for Les Mis: six months during which I had grown up, both because I was eleven, and that's what eleven year-olds do, and because of the trauma I experienced as my world shifted. 

My mom, aunt, fifteen year-old cousin and I took a day trip to Seattle, where we shopped and ate lunch at Nordstrom before the play. My cousin had been telling me the story and we'd been listening to the music during our stay, but nothing could have prepared me for the opening sounds of the overture. The stories of loss, of love, and ultimately, of hope woven into the narrative affected me on a deep level (I still cry when I hear it, twenty five years later), and when I try to capture what it felt like to be in that theater, the word that comes is spellbound.

During the next year, I would memorize the entire soundtrack, poring over the CD insert and reading the lyrics with a friend in my room after school. I would buy the sheet music and hammer out an admittedly terrible version of I Dreamed a Dream  on the piano (sorry, Mom and Garrett). My mom and my brother loved it, too, and we spent car rides listening to the  tape I made of favorite tracks from the CD, discussing the characters and their motives, singing along. Les Mis was the soundtrack to a tumultuous time for us, as we settled into what it meant to be a family of three, rather than four.

As we watched Hamilton, I couldn’t help feeling a bit middle aged, a bit out of the loop. We were there because it was a sensation, and because we could afford tickets, and because we love theater (Scott and I have seen several other shows together in Denver— and we are going to Les Mis this summer). Both Scott and I loved every second, and even though I’m a little late to the party, I’ve spent the past week reading any reviews I can find, listening to the soundtrack, and marveling at the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda is my age. But as I listened to the two young women next to us as they squealed and squeezed each other’s hands when Alexander took the stage, I felt a bit of nostalgia.

What will I remember about the show, and about myself at 37, when I look back on it in twenty-five years, at 62 (gasp)? If I had to guess, I would say I'll remember that it seemed impossible that the show was written before Trump's presidency; that the show spoke to what I hope is a turning point for our country, just like the time period represented in the show. That I was hopeful that we have enough modern-day revolutionaries to change the tide on guns, on sexual assault, on race. That it spoke to me on a more personal level, about the power of turning towards your partner, rather than away, in times of struggle. And, that it spoke to me as a writer. One of my favorite lines from the show was "History is entirely created by the person who tells the story." I can't wait to see what stories I, my family, and our nation will create.