It’s no surprise that we here at Cultured Vultures are still obsessed with rap/hip-hop retelling of the life of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton: An American Musical. It doesn’t help that the musical has now made its way over to London’s West End, meaning that the British writers among us can actually see it without paying thousands of dollars to fly to New York or San Francisco to secure tickets. Cassie has to wait until September (she’s rocking back and forth in a corner until then) and Nat had the privilege of seeing the show in London last month. With that in mind, they decided to choose one of their favourite songs from each act of the musical, and try to explain why they love the tracks so much:
Choosing a song from the first half of this show was like trying to choose a puppy from a pile of puppies. Super cute puppies. Who all want you to pick them up…anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Hamilton. Well, in the end I chose ‘Satisfied’, the song I keep coming back to as a favourite, whenever I am pressed to name one.
‘Satisfied’ is sung by Angelica Schuyler, sister-in-law of our eponymous hero and Chief Official of See-Through-His-Bullshit. She sings this song at Alex’s wedding to her beloved sister, Eliza, and I would argue that it is a work of art in a giant work of art and contains great examples of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s deceptively simple lyrics. “I know my sister like I know my own mind, you will never find anyone as trusting or as kind” is a favourite line of mine; not only is it an intricate lyric, it also resonates for me as someone who has a close and loving relationship with my own sibling, a sibling I’d be willing to move the planet for too. Miranda has a way of summing up these feelings lots of us have and projecting them back at us. I don’t think he does it anywhere better during Hamilton than in ‘Satisfied’.
It starts off as a toast at the wedding and turns into a character study of Angelica, one of the best characters in the whole show. I love her so much. So much. We find out during ‘Satisfied’ that everything Angelica does is because she loves her sister, but also that Angelica has done everything she has because she likes Alex too. Like likes him. Likes him so much she would actually have preferred to marry him herself, but she needs to marry rich and, like she said, Eliza likes him too and she’ll do anything for her sister.
But the spectacular thing about ‘Satisfied’, the thing that has cemented it as a favourite for me since I saw it on stage, is how it is put together. It literally rewinds the previous song, ‘Helpless’, and tells the story again from Angelica’s point of view. On stage, the ensemble literally rewind too, moving back to their positions to play the scene all over again. It’s a really great device, one I’ve never seen or heard in a stage musical before. And then, just before you think it can’t get any better, Angelica starts to rap and you transcend to a higher plane of existence. She’s the only female character to rap in this show and oh boy, by the end of this mini masterpiece, are you glad that Miranda made that decision.
It’s Quiet Uptown
And then there’s ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’. I’ve just realised that this song is also, coincidentally, sung by Angelica, or at least partly. I should probably point out that there are other characters in this show, and some of them are quite important too. What can I say – I love my girl, and I’m not going to apologise.
‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ is the first song that caught my attention properly when I was discovering Hamilton for the first time and I’m trying desperately to remember why that was. I think it was probably the choral effect of the ensemble who provide the backing that first made me pay attention, and then I realised what the song was actually about.
‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ provides a turning point in the second act, a painfully emotional resolution to one of the big storylines, which is that Alex has had an affair and chosen to tell people about it before someone else told on him (Alex has weird ideas). Eliza has been devastated by this and has been shunning him. Enter their eldest son, Philip, who tries to defend his father’s honour in a duel and is killed for his efforts. ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ begins as the last song ends, with Eliza screaming over Philip’s body, and the only way of describing it is as grief rendered into song.
It’s a ballad, one of the few in the whole show, and the single piano that begins it is a stark contrast to the busyness of the rest of the score. It sounds lonely, and that’s exactly what it means to convey. Alex wanders the streets of uptown New York, broken by his grief and his guilt, watched by the ensemble who note that “his hair has gone grey, he passes every day, they say he walks the length of the city”. Eliza is there too, silent in her grief, and he begs her for forgiveness until, finally, she takes his hand and replies with a single line, agreeing with him that “it’s quiet uptown.” Philip’s death brings them back together, but the cost is high, almost too high to bear.
The true triumph of ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ is that thematically it is also very clever. It isn’t just a tug on the heartstrings ballad. For the first time in the show, Alex is really showing that he has listened to Eliza, that he understands what she has been saying to him the whole time. He repeats some of her lines from earlier, happier times – ‘Look around, look around, Eliza’, and the most poignant “I don’t pretend to know the challenges we’re facing…I’m not afraid, I know who I married/Just let me stay here by your side, that would be enough”. This was something that she said to him in his darkest moment, when he was dismissed from Washington’s army, and the fact he repeats it here shows immense character growth on his part, and gives you hope that perhaps they might make it through this after all. When she takes his hand at the end, it isn’t only Alex who has been reduced to tears.
Wait For It
‘Wait for It’ is one of my favourite songs from Hamilton’s first act for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly, like most of Hamilton: An American Musical, it contains lines that will echo around your mind for months, until you find all new meanings to them. “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes, and we keep living anyway”–a line that could refer to Burr’s own struggles or echo the rest of the musical, foreshadowing for the deaths that the audience will experience as the musical continues.
It’s also a song that illustrates the differences between Hamilton and Burr in their approaches to seizing power and advancing in their careers, with Burr taking things slowly (“I’m not falling behind or running late…I’m not standing still, I am lying in wait”) and Hamilton more eager to make enemies in his pursuit for power and validation, expressed in Burr’s explaining that “Hamilton faces an endless upwards climb”. Despite their different approaches to life, “Wait For It” also highlights how similar the two men are, having lost people in their lives, and placing their children’s safety above all else throughout their songs.
Overall, it’s an inspirational song that shows us how Burr thinks, and why he is more complex and intelligent than Hamilton sometimes gives him credit for.
Oh, cool, a song that reduces me to weeping each time I hear it! I wish that I could say that just as a fun exaggeration, but it’s the truth: I have literally never been able to listen to this song with dry eyes. For me, it’s such a raw and angry–but also an incredibly sad–song that just epitomises everything about Alexander’s tragic journey. It’s the song that explains why he is this incredibly impatient and loud man; we learn that Alexander has been through so many struggles that have made him stronger but also quicker to antagonise and argue with those he disagrees with.
We hear of his tragic childhood and adolescence (“When I was seventeen, a hurricane destroyed my town…I was twelve when my mother died, she was holding me…”) and this sadness permeates the track, juxtaposed with Alexander’s internal anger (“I wrote my way out of Hell…I was louder than the crack in the bell.”) The conflict between the anger and sadness is expressed in the song’s conflicting styles, the loud and soft line delivery, the tempo slowing and then quickening…it reflects Alexander as a man conflicted about his decisions and his actions, the ultimate conclusion of which we’ll hear in The Reynolds Pamphlet.
The line that always gets me more than the others is “And when my prayers to God were met with indifference, I picked up my pen, I wrote my own deliverance.” Lin-Manuel’s delivery of the line on the Hamilton soundtrack is filled with such anger and sorrow; he is no longer talking to the audience but instead talking to God Himself, questioning why his life has been so hard, but also defiantly crying out that he doesn’t need the God who has seemingly abandoned him, as he has written his own fate.
Will I burst into tears when I hear this song performed live in September? You bet! Sorry, everyone else in my row!
What are some of your favourite Hamilton songs? Do you agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments below!
Thank you to all of the artists who gave us permission to use their fanart in our article! You can find credits for each person under each of the photos, and you can find them all on social media here:
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