In a show with a cast recording that boasts 46 tracks, it’s understandably hard to pick out a single song from Hamilton to call your favourite – or even the best. Despite the ‘hip-hopera’ label it’s occasionally given, there is a range of genres included which provides variety as well as an opportunity to bring across a character’s personality; its sung-through nature also becomes slightly less awkward than some, as the use of rap decreases the need to sing conversations instead of simply speaking. My favourites can vary depending on my mood or what I’m doing at the time (My Shot is great for an adrenaline boost, Wait for It and Hurricane are wonderful character development moments, and Non-Stop invariably pops into my head when I “write day and night like it’s going out of style”), but if you forced me to make a decision I’d probably end up at The Room Where It Happens.
Given that I’m not a particularly big fan of rap (though I do now appreciate hip hop a lot more), it’s not much of a surprise that I’ve picked a less rap-based song – and the jazz-tinged musical theatre style that makes up most of the song is exactly the kind of thing I’m naturally drawn to. It’s another big Burr number, though Hamilton, Madison & Jefferson also get a say, as well as there being some great support from the ensemble. It’s one that stands up well as a track to listen to on the cast recording, but something really special happens when you watch it being performed. As well as Giles Terera’s sensational vocal & acting performance, Thomas Kail’s direction, Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography and Howell Binkley’s lighting design are the elements that really combine well in this number, as it builds to a dramatic & seismic conclusion.
Because it’s not just the catchy chorus or the effortlessly cool music that appeals to me with this song. During my English Literature GCSE lessons, the importance of Act 3 scene 1 in our set text of Romeo & Juliet was drilled into me; it’s just over halfway through your average Shakespeare play and it serves as a tipping point in the story. In Romeo & Juliet, this is the scene where Romeo’s life is turned upside down: Tybalt kills Mercutio, then he risks his own execution by killing Tybalt, though he is in fact banished instead. As I’ve previously compared Lin-Manuel Miranda to Shakespeare, I might as well continue that here – The Room Where It Happens sees Hamilton acting like a politician rather than the brash, confrontational manner he often adopts, though in his complacency at outwitting Madison & Jefferson he goads Burr into finally making a move, admitting what it is he wants from life.
Throughout the musical there is an overlapping of character themes, lines and recognisable riffs – this song is no different, with Hamilton referencing previous interactions he’s had with Burr, both to show his growth and suggest that Burr might want to learn from him too (see The Election of 1800, later on: “I’m chasing what I want. And you know what? I learned that from you.”). Where “wait for it” sounds logical coming from Burr’s lips, it’s twisted into a taunt by Hamilton, who has never really understood his opposite number’s character: superficially they may have a lot in common, but in fact they are two very different people. Burr’s caution and outsider status is something I relate to, and his personal struggle with that comes through loud & clear here.
The song also paints a very recognisable picture of politics as we know it today; “no one else was in the room where it happened” can point to a multitude of events in history, though the Trump/Putin ‘summit’ and Brexit negotiations come immediately to mind. In one memorable ditty, it sums up the lack of transparency and responsibility taken in political ventures – and the reason why there’s such great distrust between the public and politicians. The gamelike nature of politics is continually referenced, as “the art of the compromise” boils down to who can play it better, and also raises the question of whether they’re in it for the victory & their legacy, or if their actions are in the best interest of the population they represent.
Do you agree with this assessment? And I’d love to hear what your favourite Hamilton tracks are, too!