Leo DiCaprio vs. Alexander Hamilton

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I was 11 years old when the movie Titanic came rushing into everyone’s lives like the floodwaters that caused the ship’s demise. Televisions, radios, billboards and movie screens everywhere were inundated with James Cameron’s epic love story of a poor boy, a rich girl and a big ass ship. Meanwhile, around the same time, I was looking in the mirror and noticing the awkward girl staring back at me for the first time in my life. I’d smear Bonne Bell bubblegum gloss on my lips and become distracted during children’s church by the boys in my class. One Saturday evening, in between episodes of Seventh Heaven and Touched by an Angel, I saw a trailer for the movie that was on everyone’s lips, and was suddenly enraptured by a boy leaning over the railing of the ship, with a carefree smile on his perfect face and wind blowing through his wispy blond hair. That very instant, I developed a Titanic-sized celebrity crush on Leonardo DiCaprio.

Since there was no way my parents would let me put posters of him up on my wall, or display such inappropriate infatuation at such a young age, I mostly kept it to myself, using our family’s weekly trips to Borders bookstore as opportunities to rush over and read the fan-girl biography books put out specifically for the thousands of girls just like me who wanted to know everything he’d ever done. I quickly became acquainted with movies like “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, “Total Eclipse” and Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”. I’d never wanted to be Claire Dane or Kate Winslet so badly in my life. His perfect nineties hair and captivating smile turned into an absolute obsession. Ironically, I wasn’t even allowed to see Titanic when it came out, so I opted to lie on my bed, radio volume turned low, but the speaker pushed directly next to my ear, listening to Celine Dion sing “My Heart Will Go On” as I envisioned myself with Leo out on the bow of the ship, arms outstretched, just like the clip I’d seen in the trailer. Life was cruel and full of impossibilities.

Although I’ve never lost my admiration for Mr. DiCaprio as an actor and a generally great looking individual (not counting some 2012 People magazine dad-bod photos that really popped my bubble), like all childish crushes do, my obsession with Leo faded, and I carried on with teenage life with my brain mostly intact. I was never much for celebrity crushes after that point. I’d croon on about Josh Hartnett and Shane West when my friends did, but after Leo, I quickly learned that those types of obsessions just weren’t really my thing.

UNTIL NOW. Until the past two weeks, at which point I’ve re-emerged as an almost 20 years older version of my 11 year old captivated self, nonsensically engrossed in an entirely unattainable person. Why is he unattainable, you ask? Well, first of all, I’m married, so how dare you. Secondly, he is ALEXANDER HAMILTON, mysterious, driven and long-dead underdog founding father of our country.

Let’s take a quick inventory of what we’ve all grown up knowing about Mr. Hamilton.

  1. Involved in the founding of the United States.
  2. On the ten dollar bill.
  3. For bonus points: Shot dead in a duel by rival Aaron Burr.

Yeah, that’s all I knew, too. That is, until STUPID talented writer, musician and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, responsible for 2008’s brilliant and unprecedented In the Heights, spent the seven years following the release of his first musical writing Hamilton’s untold story through a series of 46 perfectly crafted hip-hop song creations.

You didn’t read wrong. This musical is presented mostly in rap. Also, the cast looks more like an episode of Roots than it does the birth of our nation. Miranda says “It’s the story of America THEN told by America NOW.” Most of the main characters are black or latino, and several of the revolutionaries are played by women. It’s a diverse and beautiful cast.

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Critics and celebrities seem to think so, too, because the musical opened on August 6th on Broadway to positively GLOWING reviews, the likes of which many writers wait their entire lives for and never find. You can’t get tickets. Like, you can’t get them. And most depressingly, I especially can’t get them, because I live on the other side of the country, and can’t even prostitute myself out or sell a kidney for tickets, because the continental United States separates me from the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where the musical is playing.

Nowadays, I find myself lying in bed, not listening to Celine Dion, but to the song “Wait For It” sung in the musical by Aaron Burr, and daydreaming about what a bi-coastal Broadway premiere would look like, and shaking my fist at the sky wondering why teleportation escapes my grasp.

Realistically, though, the first time I listened to Hamilton, I wasn’t sure if I was sold. Its genius was evident, and I could tell something special was being piped through my car’s speakers, but it was such a departure from the expected formula of a Broadway musical, I wasn’t entirely ready for it. No true comedic relief, no huge show-stopper before intermission, no belted, massive notes to end the show. It was nothing that I expected, and at first, that frustrated me.

But only for a short time. Because the story told in the two hours and 24 minutes of this musical is so masterfully done, it has left me with chills and tears each subsequent time I’ve listened. That’s about six more times in two weeks. I’ll save you the math and simply confess that it’s essentially all I’ve listened to and from work since the first day I heard it. I wake up singing the songs, I go to sleep singing the songs, and right now I sit beside my husband on the couch with baseball on in the background, fighting the urge to close myself up in our bedroom so I can listen to it while I write these very words. The desire to hear it never goes away.

There are a few reasons for this, I’ve decided.

  1. The melodies Miranda has written into this show are dangerously catchy. They sneak the heck up on you. Upon first listen, you may be like me and think, “these songs aren’t very memorable”. Until you wake up in the middle of the night to pee, and all that’s swirling through your mind is “I’m NOT throwin’ away my SHOT!” over and over and over again. But then, you realize they’re not repeating themselves in a “Nationwide is on your side” type of way, but in a warm, familiar, addictive sort of way. Like a potato chip. When the moment the salty flavor leaves your mouth you want to taste it again. Like CRACK. Or so I hear.
  2. There is a palpable inspiration in the story of Alexander Hamilton as told by Miranda. He doesn’t stop at untold details of a dead founding father (positively RIVETING as those details may be). It somehow becomes about YOU, the listener. You wonder as it all unfolds if someone will ever tell YOUR story. The entire message is 3D; bombarding you and infiltrating your most vulnerable thoughts. You can’t help but wonder what type of legacy you yourself may lead someday. This X factor element turns the show into a Tony Robbins seminar – pumping you up and making you believe life is significant and memorable with every listen.
  3. Miranda’s ability to take an 800-page novel (by Ron Chernow, the inspiration for the musical) and turn it into a fast-paced, perfectly rhymed, succinct and intelligent 46-song story is just the most outstanding and sexy thing I could possibly imagine. I don’t know what sorts of things do it for you, but this DOES IT FOR ME. Every time I listen, I notice new hidden meanings, and new profound messages within the lyrics. It is a piece with many layers, and they can’t all be experienced upon first listen. They must be peeled back one by one and dissected, before the next can be embarked upon.
  4. As an aspiring writer, the entire story and Miranda’s own career are just dripping with inspiration from every angle. First there are lyrics relating to Hamilton’s own writing abilities, such as “How do you write like you’re running out of time? Write day and night like you’re running out of time?” and then, Hamilton speaks himself as he describes what writing has done for him, “I wrote my way out of hell, I wrote my way to revolution, I was louder than the crack in the bell, I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell, I wrote about The Constitution and defended it well, And in the face of ignorance and resistance, I wrote financial systems into existence. And when my prayers to God were met with indifference, I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance.” Simultaneously, the inspiration that is Miranda’s own lyricism, combined with the subject matter that is Hamilton’s ability to write his entire legacy into existence – well, it makes a girl wanna sit down and just freakin’ WRITE SOMETHING. ANYTHING that someone will take a moment to read and be moved to action.

Today, the action I’m attempting to move you to is enriching your own life with this man and this musical, so that I will have even more giddy fans to squeal with. In all honesty, this very blog post took twice as long to complete as I anticipated it would, because I kept stopping to read another article about Lin-Manuel Miranda, or to follow the show’s actors on Instagram, or to reference Ron Chernow’s actual biography on Hamilton, the one that spawned the musical – that is now sitting on the table beside me.

If the 11 year old me had Spotify, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, she would have Googled her way even deeper in love with Leonardo. Instead, she had wallet-sized Teen Beat pictures ripped out of her friend’s copies, and “Miriam DiCaprio” written in script on college-ruled lined paper surrounded by hearts. Today, I happen to be completely satisfied with my current last name, but you’d better believe I use every possible multimedia platform to further indulge in my surprising un-founded obsession with the musical Hamilton.

There is no more to read. Now you must listen.

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