Via Basel: Hamilton, A Perspective
Born in Iraq (Mesopotamia), also called The Cradle of Civilization, it came naturally to me to have an interest in history. Prior to any of my many trips over the years, be it to sightsee, hike, or just visit friends, I prepared by reading about the historical background of my destination. I found it most interesting, and such research enhanced my appreciation of a country’s people and culture.
Early on as I settled in these United States, my profession and family left me little time to delve into its history. I did however acquaint myself with certain periods such as Lewis and Clark’s expedition west of the Mississippi, the Civil War, and WWII. In late summer of 2015, the musical Hamilton took off as it opened on Broadway in NYC, became a phenomena and attracted my attention. Reading the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, upon which Lin-Manuel Miranda based his musical, was my first assignment. As last year’s election erupted into discussions of one candidate’s knowledge of the Constitution (or his lack of knowledge), I felt the need to dig deeper and study how the Constitution came about as well as learning more about our founding fathers with all their trials and tribulations, genius, and defects. The journey was fascinating and instructive; in fact I felt guilty to have lived here so long and yet not to have informed myself of certain basic facts regarding the foundation of our Republic.
Alexander Hamilton was unique among our founding fathers in that he was an immigrant born outside of the colonial states in the Caribbean island of Nevis from humble background. Self taught, a voracious reader, and extremely ambitious he arrived in New York in his late teens and rapidly rose in social status by marrying into a rich, politically connected New York family. A patriot as well as a prolific writer and talented organizer, he became General Washington’s aide and confidant during the Revolutionary war and continued to assist Washington after he became the 1st President of the United States of America. To name just a few of Hamilton’s accomplishments, he was co-author of the Federalist Papers, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, our 1st Treasury Secretary, inventing from scratch the budget, central bank, taxes, customs, and coast guard. A strong supporter of a central government as well as an abolitionist, he clashed frequently with the Republicans and Jeffersonians.
Finally a few weeks ago, along with my daughter Mandy, I witnessed the phenomena Hamilton in Chicago. Let me preface my following comments about the musical by saying that I am not a theatre critic, and writing about a blockbuster like Hamilton is intimidating. The musical starts with a bang, and the first act had a fast and furious tempo, uplifting and exciting with an irresistible beat. My favorite song was “My Shot,” sung by Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton) and company. The second act was more sedate and definitely sad, with scandals, duels, and loss. I thought King George, played by Alexander Gemignani, was hilarious and the acting was brilliant. Mandy loved when Eliza, played by Ari Afsar, sang her solo “Burn,” which was a heartbreaking result of the Reynolds affair. Most astonishing to me what how Jefferson was portrayed as lightweight, funny, and opportunistic.
Overall, I was well prepared, having done that historical research, and Mandy was not. It didn’t matter. We both loved it. Exceeding even my highest expectations, Hamilton was moving , exciting, and educational. It was art, drama, civics, history, and song all merged together into one. For me, as an immigrant, it was especially affirming, as a citizen, informative, and, as a theatre lover, pure delight.
Please don’t miss it.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Chris Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family.