Elizabeth: Emotional Impact

My week of vacation had barely started on Saturday when I burst into tears.

It was a great day.

Hmm . . . perhaps I should explain.

After a long, long, long wait, I finally got a chance to see a performance of Hamilton this Saturday.  The first time the show came to town the performances were completely sold out in a heartbeat.  I diligently entered the ticket lottery every day but, sadly, was never successful.  I was disappointed, not just because I wanted to see the show, but because I had been trying to get the tickets for my son, who really, really wanted to see the show.

Alas, no tickets.

Instead, I gave him the book, Hamilton the Revolution, which has all of the lyrics and story notes and such, and a promise of tickets “someday.”

This year, “someday” finally appeared on the calendar – it was this Saturday as a matter of fact.  We hopped on the train, headed to the city, and made our way to the beautiful Orpheum theater with a few thousand other folks.

Now, American history is not my strong suit, but I knew the basic gist of what would happen in the show.  I’d seen a behind-the-scenes documentary about it on the local PBS station, and my son had helpfully gone through the songs in the first act with me, so I’d have a clue what they were saying.

Nevertheless, as the final song was sung and the audience was surging to their feet with applause at the end of the performance, I was crying like a baby who’d been completely caught by surprise.

How did the creators (and cast) do that?

I knew about the Alexander Hamilton / Aaron Burr duel; I knew Hamilton’s son was also killed in a duel, but when those events happened on stage I was oddly caught by surprise and emotionally sucker-punched.

To be fair, those scenes even made the creators/performers cry:

“I wept the whole time I wrote this scene” ~ Lin-Manuel Miranda

“Actors cried while singing it, the production team cried while listening to it.  [The choreographer] couldn’t bear to choreograph it.” ~ Hamilton the Revolution

Those scenes, and the songs that went with them were heartfelt and touched on very basic, universal emotions of loss and longing.  Anyone who has had a child could probably relate to how the characters felt after the loss of their child, just as anyone who has had a spouse could undoubtedly relate to how Eliza felt after the loss of Alexander.

The words and music and staging and pacing and story development all worked together in order to drive toward that deep, emotional pay-off at the end.

I wondered if it was just the newness of the story, in conjunction with the raw energy of live-theater and the music itself that caused me to have such a strong response, so I listened to the full soundtrack (thanks Amazon Prime) when I got home just to see.

Crying again ensued.

So, either I’m just wildly emotional (not) or appealing to your audience at a basic emotional level is the way to go.

Must cogitate.

So, for those who have seen this show, did you have a similar emotional reaction?

For those who haven’t seen the show, have you seen other shows (or read books) that have delivered an emotional sucker-punch?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Emotional Impact

  1. Oh, I cried the first three times I listened to the cast album. That song, that build up. I really don’t see it as a sucker punch, because it’s not cheap emotionality. It’s been foreshadowed, and it really, really happened.

    I don’t like being emotionally manipulated, and sometimes I feel very resentful towards the author for making me cry.

    But with Hamilton? Oh, my. It’s a terrible situation. This guy gets hit again, and again, and again, and bounces back ready to tear off heads . . . until this. It’s quiet uptown.

    I normally can’t take a sad ending. But even in death, there’s some redemption in this story, some forgiveness happening, and Eliza Schuyler Hamilton works hard and dies in peace, it seems. Miranda really is amazing. (And that music . . . OMG, it’s really the whole multi-media heartbreak package.)

    • You’re right, Michaeline. It’s not cheap emotionally and the build up was all there. And yet . . . At some level I think I was still hoping things were going to turn out okay.

      “Multi-media heartbreak package” indeed.

      And I’d see it again in a minute.

      • I often think that taking the plot from real life would be a good idea, but so many times, life is messier than fiction and so darn sad. Chroniclers don’t seem to have much interest in “they fell in love and lived happily for 55 years”.

  2. I haven’t seen Hamilton, but I think it’s incredible that a Broadway show about an historical event has resonated so deeply with audiences and become such a smash hit.

    I tried to think of a Broadway show or a play that made me cry recently, and nothing comes to mind right off hand, which says more about my memory than the events I’ve attended. Certainly there’s something about live performances that creates an immediacy and an energy that is difficult to duplicate on television or film, and that probably creates that emotional bond with the audience. But then again, I’ve been known to cry at the movies plenty often, too. 😀

    • True. Who’d have thought a musical about Hamilton, where he dies at the end, would have people flocking to see it. Pretty sure that says more about the “multi-media heartbreak package” than the subject.

      Such amazing creativity.

      As for any other tear-inducing show, the only thing I can think of is the Defying Gravity part of Wicked. In that case it was driven by the music almost more than the story itself.

  3. Well, “Up” springs to mind. Cartoon movie with a talking dog and a floating house? That should be safe, right?


    Aw, hell.

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