Broadway fans across the city rejoiced this week as “Hamilton,” the musical sensation that’s taken the country by storm, finally landed in Austin, delivering on the anticipation that had been building since the tour was announced in early 2017. If you’re not obsessed with “Hamilton,” chances are you know somebody who is — or maybe you’re obsessed and just don’t know it yet.
It wasn’t until after I’d made plans to attend the show’s second night that I made a huge confession to my date: I didn’t know a single song on the soundtrack. I, someone who called herself a musical theater fan, had somehow completely missed the craze of the past four years.
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As I made my way through a packed Bass Concert Hall, past fans in well-worn “Hamilton” shirts from performances gone by, I tried not to feel like an imposter. Would I, a “Hamilton” newbie, even be able to fully appreciate what I was about to experience?
The answer was yes, of course. The show was stunning, unlike anything I’ve ever seen on stage. It lived up to the hype in every way, and despite my unfamiliarity with the lyrics, I felt a strong kinship with lead actor Joseph Morales. You see, it wasn’t the first time Alexander Hamilton had graced the stage in Austin. And I had played him.
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Back in 1999, before there was “Hamilton,” there was “Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution,” a stage adaptation of Jean Fritz’s children’s book on the Constitutional Convention. And who better to tell the tale of such a pivotal time in our nation’s history than the fifth-grade classes at Pflugerville’s Parmer Lane Elementary?
We didn’t have the glitz and glamour of Broadway, but we did have an elementary school gymnasium, the stage transported back to 1787 with walls covered in butcher paper and scenic landscapes. Wardrobe instructions were simple: white shirt, black pants, tall white socks. Jacket or vest optional. If your mom had an eye for jazzing things up (as mine did), you might show up with lace embellishments for your wrists and collar (as I did). If your parents REALLY went the extra mile — looking at you, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin — the look was completed with a tricorn hat. The finishing touches were handed out at school: powdered wigs from a communal bin and a large cardboard nametag, hung from yarn around our necks. Just like in Philadelphia.
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I donned my Hamilton sign proudly as I sat sandwiched between my fellow Founding Fathers on stage, ready to deliver my memorized lines and plea for a strong central government. Sure, the stakes weren't as high as the actual ratification of the United States Constitution, but we all had a role to play. My clearest memory is the titular song, which involved us repeating “Shh! We’re writing the Constitution” ad nauseam.
The rest of the performance was … fine, I think? Looking back, it was probably among the least thrilling of the elementary school productions my parents attended — nothing like my kindergarten performance of “The Color Factory,” starring me as the professor and my best friend Sandy as the color red — but this was in the days before Lin-Manuel Miranda had given us rap lyrics to make American history fun! In fact, I asked my parents for a three-word review of the show, 20 years later, and was met with these responses:
Mom: Informative, patriotic, fabulous wigs.
Dad: Funny, educational, necessary.
Necessary: A rave review. What the show might have lacked in excitement, it made up for in heart, just one in a long line of school activities over the years that encouraged my younger brother, Joshua, and me to have fun with friends in a supportive, creative setting. It was in that same spirit that we pursued band in middle and high school (and beyond, in my brother’s case: He’s now an assistant band director at McNeil High School in Round Rock) and developed a love for the arts. We weren’t destined for Broadway, but Pflugerville ISD had our backs.