Down the rabbit hole

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Now, here’s a thing…  If you follow an idea ‘down a rabbit-hole’ it can be surprising what you find out (You’ll never guess where this is going to end up!) Anyway, it starts  with ‘I never really liked Mary Poppins, the original film’. Not even when I was 9 and saw it at the cinema. Too long, too twee and too middle-class.

So, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the recent sequel that came out 55 years after the original. I think the main reason for that was the excellent choreography, something very much lacking from other recent musicals – non-existent in ‘Les Misérables’, fun but amateur in ‘Sunshine on Leith’ and downright terrible in ‘Mama Mia’ (an all-round stinker of a film).  Also, though, the hugely likeable and engaging character of Jack the lamplighter, played by the American actor Lin Manuel Miranda.  Yes his cockney accent was dodgy, but much less so than Dick Van Dyke’s in the original, and he made the character really likeable (compared to Mary Poppins herself and the insufferable Banks family).

Miranda, of course, is the writer, composer and star of the hit musical ‘Hamilton’, based largely around Rap music. I’m not really a fan of Rap music, finding the lack of melody irksome and many of the lyrics offensive. But actually, I have found, that that is just one variant of Rap, ‘Gangsta Rap’, described in Wikipedia as ‘ a distinct but highly controversial rap subgenre, whose lyrics assert the culture and values typical of American, predominantly black street gangs and street hustlers.[1] Rap apparently goes back through a long line to African traditions and speech patterns.

Anyway, a recording of the Broadway production of Hamilton was available on the new Disney+ streaming channel and I managed to watch it,  and it was really good – exciting, melodic, well-performed and yes, with good choreography.  Miranda is excellent and the music not at all the hard rhythmic unrelenting sort I associate with ‘Rap’ (so shame on me).

The musical is based upon the biography of Hamilton by the historian Ron Chernow[2]. It’s 800 pages long and I realise I’d read it a while ago. Inevitably the musical misses out some of the complexity of Hamilton’s character, life and motivation.  Just by dint of him being the main character it probably also makes him seem more heroic and essential to the American revolution and establishment of the United states.

In the musical, towards the end, Hamilton makes a reference to going to Church  and saying, ‘I pray, that never used to happen before’ and I remembered suggestions that Hamilton had a Christian faith and so went back to the book. As Hamilton lay dying (shot in a duel in which he had vowed to fire away from his opponent) he said this: ‘I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ’[3]. So, there we are – down the rabbit-hole. It starts with not liking Mary Poppins goes on to learning more about Rap Music and ends up with an American Revolutionary hero professing his faith in Jesus Christ. Strange indeed.

[1] ‘Gangsta Rap’, Wikipedia, (Probably a reliable source in this case!)

[2]Alexander Hamilton’, Ron Chernow, Penguin Press, 2004

[3] Chernow, page 707