Earlier in the year, I wrote a post about although COVID restrictions had forced the cancellation of our beloved July 4th tradition of gathering with my spiritual center to listen to an outdoor concert by the North Carolina Symphony followed by a firework display, the holiday was still going to be special because they were going to show a filmed version of HAMILTON: The Musical on Disney+! So I signed up for 1 month of Disney+ and my son and I had an outdoor feast and watched HAMILTON. Completing the holiday with that phenomenal musical helped turn that holiday into an uplifting experience. (For the full story, read the original post by clicking here.)
This year, we have been celebrating the Season of Lights with a series of meals and readings and candle lightings, first for Diwali and lately for Hanukkah. But I haven’t really been feeling Christmas yet. As much as I try not to get enmeshed with non-uplifting news, the double whammy of skyrocketing rates of COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and what seems to me to be the clearly un-Constitutional attempts of an alarming number of elected public officials trying to invalidate the votes of the people was not filling me with Christmas cheer.
However, once again HAMILTON came and rescued me from my doldrums. Now I’m feeling Christmas again, thanks to the HAMILTON Holiday Celebration I wrote about on last Friday’s blog post. This live-streamed event was the perfect trifecta for me, as it combined three of my loves: Holidays (at least I USUALLY love them), American Democracy (in all its flawed beauty), and BROADWAY MUSICALS!
The Hamilton Holiday Celebration was, to me, simply delightful. It was hosted by Jonathan Groff, whom I loved even BEFORE his fabulous portrayal of King George in HAMILTON, and Sasha Hutchings, who was one of the ensemble cast in HAMILTON that I didn’t really know before but is a real firecracker (not to mention a native Georgian).
It was designed as a fundraiser for the two Democratic senatorial candidates in the run-off elections in Georgia that will determine who controls the Senate in 2021. So the show also contained two of my personal political rock stars. First there was the ever earnest, always passionate, extremely intelligent, and unapologetic liberal wearing her bleeding heart on her sleeve, Senator Elizabeth Warren. She did her usual excellent job about the need for Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock to win in January. She was followed by the person who was my personal favorite of the 20+ original Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Cory Booker. He looked relaxed and festive with the woman he calls his “boo,” actress Rosario Dawson, sitting on his lap. He made a great pitch about the difference that is possible by having the Senate committed to progressive legislation around civil rights, health care, global warming, and other Democratic priorities.
The two candidates also spoke at the event. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve heard Jon Ossoff speak before, but I was so impressed. He is an eloquent, even poetic, speaker about the importance of democracy. He described his political journey: he started out working for the legendary John Lewis, but became disillusioned by the power of money in politics. Therefore, he let to become an investigatory journalist to shine a light upon wrong-doing in elections and public governance, which he did wonderfully for many year. Eventually he decided he needed to return to politics and become part of the process of changing it from within. So here he is now, running against the Republic incumbent Senator Purdue, one half of the current Georgia Senatorial pair that he labeled “the Bonnie and Clyde of political corruption.”
Rev. Warnock, who is a minister at Dr. Martin Luther King’s former church, is a little more folk-sy in his speech, but very moving in his own way. He pointed out the irony that he, as someone who grew up in public housing, is running against the member of Congress with the greatest personal wealthy. However, he also celebrated that as a demonstration of the American dream. He acknowledged his position came from what he called smart public policy. As a toddler, he was supported by the HeadStart program; as a teen, by the Upward Bound program, which is designed to help young people become the first person in their family to graduate from a 4-year university. And that, indeed, did happen. Rev. Warnock is the 11th of 12 children, and the only one in him family to complete a 4-year college. He wanted to attend Rev. King’s college, Morehouse College, which he did due to generous scholarships. He argued that investments in programs such as these are better uses of money, not to mention a more moral or positive investment, than the huge sums we now spend on jails. He pointed out that the US contains 25% of the entire world’s sum of incarcerated prisoners. He is an inspiring example that proper social programs could turn around the current situation of too many Americans, especially Black males, ended up in jail.
Sandwiching the political discussions were marvelous renditions of holiday music by the incredibly talented cast of the original HAMILTON Broadway show. The “stars,” such as the ones shown in the photo above–the people playing the Schuyler sisters or Aaron Burr or George Washington–tended to have more soulful solo performances. But the ensemble cast–people like Sasha Hutchings, who I didn’t know by name before but is entirely charming and so very talented–provided a lot of the most infectiously cheery songs. For example, if I lose my Christmas spirit again, I’m just going to re-watch this video (the first singer is Sasha Hutchings):
Or for something that is a little slower-paced, but brought tears to my eye, check out this ensemble performance:
However, if you AREN’T into holidays, and if you AREN’T into politics–if you are only here for HAMILTON–I’ll add this final video. This event raised over $2 million in pre-sales to go towards the January run-off campaign, but Jonathan Groff and Sasha Hutchings wanted the show to make an even BIGGER difference. So they said they would do something special if at least an additional $250,000 was donated during the live stream. They reached that goal–in fact, they raised over $2.5 million in total donations–so we got this extra treat! Sasha and Jonathan switched tops, and she taught him the hand movements that go with the HAMILTON song, “10 Duel Commandments.”
All in all, it was the best way to spend my Sunday evening after a difficult week. Thanks so much to everyone involved in this broadcast. You made a big difference this weekend for me alone, and I know I’m not the only one who felt that way.