As a kid, my family would occasionally visit my mother’s younger brother and his wife in Greenwood, S.C. Transplanted Minnesotans alike, my mother and Carl found the American south a welcome home. These trips usually included cold Coors Light for the adults, Carl’s homemade salsa for all, and, at times, an awakening for me.
Some trips would include a visit and a show nearby at the Abbeville Opera House. Tucked in a bucolic southern town square, it’s hard for me to remember which shows we saw there over the years and visits. But I do remember always enjoying the live theatre, whether I understood Neil Simon’s jokes or not, and watching with awe as the actors would come into the neighboring bar following the show, breezing past our table with confidence, charm and all eyes on them, ready for the nightcap and congratulatory salutations.
Years and adulthood later, I find my greatest joy is seeing my own daughter on stage. This precocious little girl – now, somehow, she’s 13 – starved for a spot on stage for years until she finally turned 8. That’s when Sanford, N.C.’s Temple Theatre allowed her first opportunity during a summer conservatory. Half a decade later, we find we have to redesign Allison’s resume. We can’t keep every role on one page.
I can look back on those trips to visit Carl and Gail and recall how much live theatre moved me then, as it does today through Allison. Although I could never be moved enough to perform myself, I have great admiration for those who can, and while speaking in front of a group is OK, acting in front of them offers me a window into terror.
And then there is singing.
Not only can I not carry a tune unless it’s housed in an iPod, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of singing in front of other people.
I can’t sing. Everyone in my beloved extended family, though, can. My daughter, my lovely wife, my sister-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, the nieces, their dogs, cats, the wind outside their homes – it all comes with a lovely voice. Meanwhile, not only can I not carry a tune unless it’s housed in an iPod, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of singing in front of other people.
Not that this would ever happen. In fact, going on 40 years now, it hasn’t. And I can’t imagine a time and place it ever will. That something I’ve never experienced remains perhaps my greatest fear, though, makes it no less relevant to me. While beautiful and soulful voices can move me to chills and to tears, I cannot be moved to join them, unless under my breath in a toneless whisper reserved for the empty car I drive.
Then came Hamilton.
Seeing Allison perform in everything from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to “The Music Man” to “A Christmas Carol” has helped add some cultural weight to my admittedly thin repertoire of knowledge, which before Allison, centered primarily on Chicago Cubs losses. And through her rehearsals and work on lines with her tireless “momager,” Allison’s talent has allowed me entry into a world I truly never knew. That said, my singing has always been out of the question.
Hamilton, though, has been different.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t to say I can rap – I can’t. Oh, oh, oh how I can’t.
But I can recite. And I can pick up and rip through a line or two – or three, four, or entireties of “My Shot” and “Yorktown” – with Allison. Or with my wife. Or at the top of my lungs in the car with the sunroof open.
Hamilton has given me a voice.
We blast this incredible cast album on every ride to school, on every trip to Grandpa’s, between every dance song at her 13th birthday party a week ago.
I, like the rest of the world not named Ron Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, knew little of Alexander Hamilton beyond the $10 bill before 2015. But history speaks to me, and Chernow’s book, this show and Miranda’s couplets and genius all speak to me.
They speak to Allison, too. Allison and I trade lines from Hamilton every single day. I write a verse on her coffee cup at 6:40 every morning. I fill in the historical context from my study of the brilliant founding father for her. We blast this incredible cast album on every ride to school, on every trip to Grandpa’s, between every dance song at her 13th birthday party a week ago.
We share Hamilton. In words, and in song.
Finally, this week, we saw Hamilton. My wife and I bought tickets months and months ago, sat on our secret until Christmas morning (see the video above), and since have counted down the days. Now, finally, we’ve had our moment.
I had chills. I had tears.
And I sang…with my daughter.