Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Hamilton' Proves the Big Stuff Happens in the Pauses

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Hamilton' Proves the Big Stuff Happens in the Pauses

Article excerpt

HAROLD PINTER is not a natural starting point for a conversation about the Republican field of presidential candidates or the musical "Hamilton," but Pinter has something relevant to say. Just wait for it. Wait for it. Wait.

It's the pauses. In a Pinter play, the big stuff happens in the pauses. Some find Pinter a difficult playwright. He is if you listen in your own meter. Follow his rhythms and you see the whole picture. The same is true in "Hamilton," the mega-hit about Alexander Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, lyrics and book for the musical, is being hailed for breaking new ground in the musical theater form. On the surface, that is a fair observation. Part of the brilliance of "Hamilton" is how it is rooted in theatrical tradition and America history, while incorporating a relatively new sound on Broadway: rap. Musically speaking, there is hardly any lyrical form as deliberate as rap. It is all about rhyme and meter. The seemingly random stops and changes in rhyme are anything but random.

Rhythm is key. It was just as important to another rhyme radical, William Shakespeare. What makes "Hamilton" different from, say, Shakespeare's history plays is that Miranda gets all the facts right; every minute detail of how the political sausage is made is on display. He stuffs his songs with lyrics as dense as a knackwurst, and the result is something unexpected and flavorful. Familiar and new at the same time.

The story onstage -- of an immigrant who rises to the pinnacle of power only to be undone by the character flaws that also had made him great -- is a story for today. Lines about "immigrants getting the job done" and "everything is legal in New Jersey" get added chuckles in our political climate.

"Hamilton" is a complicated musical piece because Miranda is not telling the back story of two witches from Oz; he is telling the back story about the men who created the United States. Whether the "Hamilton" phenomenon would be less in a less politically charged time, I do not know. But we live in politically charged times when what is not said is often as damning as what is said.

I missed Thursday's GOP presidential debate from South Carolina to see "Hamilton." I have listened to segments of the debate online, and Ted Cruz's slam against "New York values" hit home for me as a native New Yorker.

If there are "New York values," they are no different from the ones that existed when the nation's first capital was in lower Manhattan. New York has always been a diverse place. There have always been liberals and revolutionaries, as well as conservatives and reactionaries. As Donald Trump perfectly said, William F. Buckley was a New Yorker.

But Trump said something more meaningful. He reminded the audience of how New Yorkers responded to 9/11. Everyone has seen video of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers and the aftermath. …

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