I say “surprising” because I am not a fan of musical theater, the kind of not-a-fan-of-musical-theater who pointedly self-describes as such should musical theater come up in conversation. But there I was, gripping my seat, as Leslie Odom, Jr., the virtuoso who plays Aaron Burr, stood onstage by his lonesome in “Wait For It,” my favorite song in a show lousy with fantastic songs.
That number, all about frustrations and ambition and jealousy and doubt, knocked me on my ass the first time I heard it on the album, — like, wtf, do I actually like musicals now? — and the live experience was equally overwhelming. I’d read somewhere that Odom and other cast members regularly focus their attentions on particular audience members while performing, and I’m 95 percent sure that Odom was looking dead at me in the sixth row, as I mouthed along all the words to his song. Just two Philly dudes separated by a few dozen feet and a gaping chasm of musical ability sharing this moment of real connection.
I told my colleague/friend Stephen Thompson, who was with me that night, about this during intermission, and he joked that it was probably because Odom and I seemed to be the only black guys in the theater that night. We laughed, but it was hard not to notice that while Hamilton has been hailed for deliberately casting actors of color as some of America’s most venerated Dead White Men, and “reclaiming the American story…for the people whom history habitually forgets”, the actors onstage seemed to make up the majority of brown people in the house the night I went.
Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images