In spring 2016, my partner entered a lottery and won the chance to buy Hamilton tickets. He chose the soonest date (a matinee more than six months away) and the best seats available (right orchestra). The date? Wednesday, November 9, 2016 — the day after the presidential election.
The days leading up to the 2016 election were hopeful. I was cautiously optimistic that women would come through for Hillary Clinton. While she was not perfect in every way, it felt like a foregone conclusion that she would become our first woman president. All we had to do was show up at the polls, and we’d be set for four, and possibly eight, more years.
She was not my first choice, but I knew she would be an interesting president, a historic president and would work harder than any man to get the job done. Women have to be better, smarter, more hard-working and faster than the man competing for the same positions at the top of any game. That’s just the sad reality women in America face every day.
On election night, it was too close to call, but Trump was leading. I went to bed not knowing who the next president would be but fearing the potential outcome. The following day, I got up early to get my children off to school and get to the office before I had to leave midday for the theater. It was a gloomy, wet day and the mood of my fellow commuters was also gloomy and dark. Along the way, I absorbed the news — Hillary seemed to have the popular vote, but Trump had the electoral votes. She was going to concede mid-morning.
I didn’t have the heart to watch it while at work. I needed to put my head down, get my work done and get to the theater.
Later, seated inside the Richard Rodgers Theater, the mood was somber. I looked forward to letting the songs, which I knew backward and forwards, wash over me. I wanted to be enveloped by the story and immersed in the music. I wanted to be transported from what was happening around me.
Instead, what was happening around me became part of the show. In the fourth song, “The Story of Tonight,” Hamilton and his fellow soldiers are in a pub, planning, toasting and boasting, as men are wont to do. And then John Laurens sings the line:
“Raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away.”
People from the audience hooted, hollered and called out. Others joined in and the sound grew. Everyone was standing to scream and clap. I was crying. In 30 years living in New York and even more attending Broadway shows, I had never seen a show stop like this. This line, on the day after Donald Trump was elected president, was truly a show-stopper.
Despite Trump and his ragtag band of grifters, we were and are Americans, standing for freedom. It’s in our DNA.
And then it happened again in the second act. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton are hashing out how they will run the new country in “Cabinet Battle #1.” George Washington says to an exasperated Hamilton:
“Winning was easy, young man. It’s governing that’s hard.”
The several hundred people sitting around me seemed to be feeling the same way I was. They were screaming and crying, cheering and calling out. The show stopped again. That one line brought on an utterly cathartic moment as I collapsed into sobs. I recognized that this experience was extraordinary — to share our sadness, despair, frustration and uncertainty as a collective.
We were shell-shocked by the results and the realization that everything was going to be different. The hope, kindness and civility Barack Obama brought us was over, to be replaced by something we did not yet know, but expectations were bleak. We elected a man who had five children by three wives and yet managed to cheat on each of them. He paid to cover up his affairs but didn’t pay his bills. He joked about grabbing women “by the pussy.” He was crass and tacky. He didn’t seem to have a code of decency. The outlook, especially for people of color and women, was bleak. Back then, we had no idea how awful it would get.
Fast forward to 2020. The days leading up to this election were different. I did not allow myself to feel hope. There is too much at stake and my disappointment would be too great if I allow myself to think ahead. Instead, I wrote hundreds of postcards to voters in swing states, made many small donations to candidates I believed in, bought campaign T-shirts and stickers and did what I could to encourage people to vote. I posted and posted on social media. If I convinced just one person to vote or vote differently than they did in 2016, I accomplished my mission.
One night, a couple of months after seeing Hamilton, I was in the subway traveling home after seeing another show on Broadway. I recognized the actor we’d seen play the Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton standing nearby. His name was Andrew Chappelle. We chatted and it turned out we live fairly close to each other. I reminded him of that terrible day-turned-amazing theater experience.
He agreed, “It was a special show. It was quite a day.”
Seeing that show and feeling a kinship with my fellow theater-goers healed me. I wish I could feel that same camaraderie again.
If I were able to see the show, which line would be the one that resonates, shaking the theater to the rafters? I hope it would be from “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” where the revolutionaries describe the battle that created America’s independence.
“We won! We won! We won! We won! The world turned upside down!”
But it’s more likely to be the refrain from Aaron Burr’s love letter of a song to his lover, Theodosia, “Wait for It.” And guess what?
I am willing to wait for it… all.