I went to see Hamilton on Saturday afternoon in Omaha. This is the second time I’ve seen the show—it was the last thing I saw in a theatre before Covid, and now, it’s the first thing I’ve seen in a theatre since that time. It felt amazing to be at a show again, so thank you science! (And shout-out to the Orpheum staff, who actually enforced their mask rules—the dingus couple behind us who couldn’t be bothered to wear their masks during the show were told to shape up by an usher sometime in the second act. You love to see it.)
Anyway, I’m simply fulfilling my Hamilton bargain—if you go see it, the rule is that you have to talk about it long and copiously so that everyone knows you went to see it and also starts to hate you a little bit for your diminished capacity for any other conversation for weeks afterwards. By spending hours writing about it instead, perhaps you’ll be sparing some who come in contact with me this week from lots of Hamilton talk. Thank you for your service.
So, without further ado, I’m not throwing away my shot—let’s get this Hamiltonian party started.
Thank you as always to WhiteSpeedReceiver for the graph work!
1. Ohio State - Thomas Jefferson
First Place Votes: 18 High: 1 Low: 1 Last Week: +0
Ironically, for a musical about Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson might be the best character—and that’s largely due to the incomparable Daveed Diggs’ origination of the character on Broadway. Crafting a persona composed of rapid-fire arrogance and a lot of incredibly energetic dancing, Diggs’ Jefferson steals every single scene he’s a part of, and it’s worth watching on Disney+ just for the close-up reactions of Diggs/Jefferson in every scene.
Jefferson was also brilliantly written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a depiction that highlights his brilliance, but never for one second makes you think he’s especially heroic. In fact, he’s an asshole in purple velvet who thinks he’s better than everyone else. In spite of his antics, the audience is also perfectly aware of how deadly a political enemy Jefferson could be. By the end of the show, you are pretty sure you wouldn’t necessarily like spending time with Jefferson, but you’re also kind of in awe of how effective he is at what he does.
Ohio State is also the best character in the Big Ten this season, but they are not without some flaws. Their talents so far have been just enough to keep everyone else in the Big Ten from knocking over their pedestal. No one likes them, except for their own fans, who find in their team a sense of purpose and self-esteem otherwise missing from their lives. As a result, talking to an OSU fan becomes an insufferable experience, and usually one missing the comedic touch Diggs’ imbued into his Jefferson (not to mention considerably less dancing). Insufferable or not though, OSU is damn good at what they do—which is win the conference every year, including this one.
2. Michigan - Aaron Burr
H: 2 L: 5 LW: +0
One of the throughlines of the musical is the similarity between OG frenemies Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Both are orphaned at a young age, both are brilliant, and both are endlessly ambitious. However, while Hamilton is outspoken and principled, Burr is portrayed as an opportunist whose calculations cost him friendships, and at times, political success. He’s introduced, by himself, to the audience as “the damn fool that shot him (Hamilton).” It’s an interesting journey for Aaron Burr.
While the musical ends Burr’s story with Hamilton’s — Burr, who was the SITTING US VICE PRESIDENT at the time, murders Hamilton in a duel. Burr’s fate as an American villain is sealed with a 1993 “Got Milk?” advertisement, but the real Aaron Burr’s life had a much stranger (and sadder) denouement. After escaping trial for murdering the former Secretary of the Treasury, Burr finished his term as Vice President, but things were awkward after that and he lost all political traction. He fled to Louisiana, where he was involved in shady dealings that may have been legal, or may have been intended to overthrow Spain and place Burr at the head of a new country; but all of which were viewed as treason by a livid President Jefferson. After escaping prosecution once again, Burr spent a couple of decades doing nothing but spending too much money, before marrying a wealthy widow at the age of 77 and spending all of her money in a matter of months, before dying on the day she divorced him.
So yeah, Aaron Burr kinda sucks, but he’s also one of the most interesting figures in Early America. Did I mention that he was also the grandson of Jonathan “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Edwards, famed preacher of the First Great Awakening? When kids rebel, they always rebel hard.
Right, Michigan. Well, like Burr, Michigan spends much of their time feeling jealous and cheated of what they consider to be their birthright—the top spot of the Big Ten conference. They’ve got the name, the pedigree, the talent, and they know all of the right people! But for some reason, at the end of the season, they’re never in the room where it happens (Lucas Oil Stadium) and you bet that this chaps their asses. Every season ends with a duel between them and their oldest, archest rival, but overwhelmingly, they are the ones who wind up with all their hopes dead.
3. MSU - Dueling
H: 2 L: 6 LW: +0
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine—it’s the ten duel commandments!” Another motif in Hamilton is the sheer number of duels that the characters are involved in (typically in New Jersey - everything’s legal in New Jersey). Early in the musical, John Laurens challenges Charles Lee to a duel for disparaging Gen. Washington, and Hamilton acts as Laurens’ second; Hamilton’s 19-year-old son Phillip dies in a duel with George Eaker; and finally, of course, Hamilton himself is killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. Although at one point the characters query “Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?” this does not appear to slow their rush into these deadly confrontations. The male brain is truly something to behold.
Before I get accused of participating in some sort of “War on Men” with that last comment, let’s talk about why I’ve chosen this dubious pastime for our friends in East Lansing. Like Hamilton himself, MSU’s rise this year was improbable and surprising, and the higher they climbed, the more they had to lose. Soon, they were in the stratosphere - top five in the country! Mel Tucker’s turnaround was truly something to see. But he forgot about one thing— Purdue Harbor. The Boilermakers don’t ever throw away their shot when faced with a Top Five team, and this time around was no different.
Luckily for Spartan fans, the doctor on site (turned around, so he could have deniability) has declared this wound non-fatal. MSU fell to only #8, and they’ve got some good chances to prove their resilience before the end of the month - both Maryland and Ohio State beckon in the weeks to come.
4. Wisconsin - Cabinet Battles
H: 2 L: 7 LW: +4
This may be because I’m a historian, but I absolutely love Cabinet Battle #1 & #2. Modeled on rap battles, these two songs pit Thomas Jefferson/James Madison facing off against Alexander Hamilton within George Washington’s cabinet over some of the leading issues of the day: a plan for a national treasury and whether or not the US should aid revolutionary France. (There’s also a Cabinet Battle #3 that didn’t make it into the show about the decision to punt any meaningful action on slavery to the next generation, and which makes Hamilton into a rather more ardent abolitionist than the historical record suggests—worth a listen.)
What I love is that the stakes of these somewhat mundane topics are pretty faithful to the contours of the actual debate, dressed up in a humorous face-off. “You must be outta your GODDAMNED mind!” Hamilton spits at Jefferson, before sarcastically reminding him “We signed a treaty with a king whose head is now in a basket/ would you like to take it out and ask it?/ “Oh, should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?”/ “Do whatever you want, I’m super dead!” Classic.
Unlike King Louis’ head, Wisconsin is, surprisingly, not super dead, at least not as it pertains to the West. Thanks to Iowa’s implosion, Purdue only bothering to beat ranked teams and Nebraska, and an extremely manageable schedule the rest of the way, the Badgers are looking to finish in a position that seemed unlikely only a month ago. Still, four teams are currently tied in the West, so Wisconsin is going to have to look alive and be prepared to throw down in all three of their remaining games if they’d like another trip to Indianapolis.
5. Purdue - “Guns & Ships”
H: 3 L: 6 LW: +1
How does a ragtag volunteer army, in need of a shower
Somehow defeat a global superpower?
How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire?
Leave the battlefield waving Betsy Ross’s flag higher?
Yo, turns out we have a secret weapon
An immigrant you know and love who’s unafraid to step in
He’s constantly confusing, confounding the British henchmen
Everyone give it up for America’s favourite fighting Frenchman
Enter Daveed Diggs, again being amazing and spitting absolute fire (at one point, he gets out 19 words in three seconds). “Guns & Ships” concerns itself with the improbabilities of the Continental Army militarily defeating the global superpower, Great Britain.
Does this sound like a certain school with an infamous “Harbor” that has a habit of taking out teams ranked in the top five nationally, the “global superpowers” of college football, if you will? It does! While they don’t have Lafayette, they do have David Bell — and they are based out of (West) Lafayette, Indiana. Taken together, it’s a dangerous recipe that manages to lift the Boilermakers victorious from the quagmire far more than anyone would ever guess.
6. Penn State - “Satisfied”
H: 3 L: 8 LW: -2
In my personal, but for purposes of this power poll, authoritative opinion, “Satisfied” is easily a top two song in this musical, in large part to the incredible performance by Renée Elise Goldsberry. Goldsberry’s portrayal of Hamilton’s sister-in-law (Angelica) haunted by her hasty dismissal of his prospects and enduring love for him is an anthem for all those “what might have been” situations.
In reality, though Angelica and Hamilton were certainly close friends, there is scant evidence that their relationship was ever romantic. Nor did she have to pass on poor poverty-stricken Alexander in order to “status climb” for her family because “her father had no sons” - in fact, he had fifteen(!!!!!!!) children, though only eight lived to adulthood (two of whom were sons). Still, it all makes for some emotional heft and drama, and allows for another strong female character in a story that has relatively few women in it.
Penn State has found it hard to be “Satisfied” this season. There have been times when it’s seemed that all was within their reach. But it turns out that sometimes it’s hard to judge accurately on early looks, and much like Angelica too-quickly sizing up Hamilton, we were all a little too impressed with PSU’s win over Auburn and close game against the Boobirds of Iowa. After a 9OT… affair… at Illinois, we’ve had plenty of time to repent of our early bullishness on Penn State. Still, with games left against both Mitten teams, PSU can still make a respectable, profitable arrangement out of the season, even if it’s not quite what they hoped it could have been.
7. Iowa - George III
H: 5 L: 8 LW: -2
What is run on heredity and nepotism? The British monarchy, but ALSO, Iowa football. Let’s deal with these one at a time. In Hamilton, the representative of the former is the famously mad King George III. Played in the original by Jonathan Groff, whose performance became instantly iconic, perhaps no other character on stage for maybe ten minutes of a musical has ever made a bigger impression. Dismissive, condescending, and yes, a bit mad, George III can’t quite believe that the colonies are rejecting his rule—and when they finally carry their point, he’s not optimistic about their chances for success. “They will tear each other into pieces, Jesus Christ this will be fun!” he gleefully predicts.
If George III was arguably correct about the self-shredding (at several points in US history), his predictions that “they’ll be back” never really panned out. Eventually, he had a final relapse of his mental illness, and the last ten years of his reign featured the regency of his unpopular son, George IV. George IV is mostly known for his highly stylish lifestyle and the deep hatred which he engendered from his own people. He and his wife also had what might be the most acrimonious and unhappy marriage in the history of the British monarchy (non-Henry VIII division), which is really saying something.
Like the British monarchy, Iowa football is also run on heredity and nepotism, as eternal
king coach Kirk Ferentz has placed a crown upon the head of his untalented son, Brian. Like George IV, Brian enjoys not the love of his people, reaping their scorn for his utter lack of ability on the offensive side of the ball over which he ostensibly rules. Nevertheless, in spite of these obvious systemic issues, the Ferentz Dynasty parlayed their limited talents into a brief, but memorable #2 national ranking. That’s naught but a memory though, and the confident pronouncements of only a few weeks ago by Hawkeye loyalists now seem naught but the rantings of fevered brains.
8. Minnesota - “The Reynolds Pamphlet”
H: 5 L: 10 LW: -1
After displaying some very questionable decision-making and self-control while his wife and children are upstate, Hamilton finds himself on the receiving end of a blackmail effort - Mr. Reynolds’ reminds him that it was his wife he decided to— . While Hamilton hopes to keep the affair a secret with regular payments to the opportunistic Mr. Reynolds, the whole thing soon blows up when he’s accused of embezzling funds to pay off Reynolds. In order to clear his name, Hamilton publishes an account of the entire affair in order to prove that the hush money was, in fact, all his. “You ever see somebody ruin his own life?” asks a gleeful Jefferson.
The highlight of this song is the exuberant chorus which features Hamilton’s political enemies dancing through a torrent of pamphlets while exclaiming “He’s never gonna be president now!” It’s one of the catchier tunes in the entire show, highlighted by Jefferson’s glee and a random but funny cameo by George III. It’s also a time to pause and reflect on a more quaint time when news of paying off your mistress effectively ended a political career instead of further endearing you to your “family values” base, but hey, it ain’t 1797 anymore.
Minnesota has also exhibited some puzzling behavior and self-control this season. An early loss to Bowling Green seemed a damning lapse in judgment, but of late, it appeared that they were ready to move past that embarrassment. But then they lost 14-6 to *checks notes* Illinois? Although the Gophers are dealing with numerous offensive injuries, turning in a six-point performance against a mediocre-to-bad team is the most puzzling form of self-immolation we’ve seen for a minute.
9. Illinois - “The Adams Administration”
H: 7 L: 11 LW: +5
A relatively forgettable song in the grand scheme of Hamilton, “The Adams Administration” is mostly notable for the delightful moment where, in response to Adams calling him a “creole bastard,” Hamilton tells him to “Sit down, John, you fat motherf*cker!” As you might guess, these are not exact historical quotes, though the general sentiments expressed did happen.
Illinois, too, is mostly forgettable in the grand scheme of the Big Ten this year, but then they do the occasionally unexpected thing, like win a nine-overtime game against PSU or strangle Minnesota, that ensures that you’re still paying attention. Tempted to dismiss Hamilton’s political prospects after his outburst against Adams, Jefferson and Madison reflect that “Hamilton’s a host unto himself/ As long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat.” While Illinois doesn’t have near the inborn talent that Hamilton possessed, a similar sentiment seems to be true of the Illini—you count them out of the game at your peril.
10. Maryland - Theodosia Burr
H: 8 L: 11 LW: +0
In spite of not appearing in Hamilton, Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron, gets a pretty big shout-out in the form of the song “Dear Theodosia” where Burr reflects on the responsibilities of fatherhood. It’s a real tear-jerker. But there is actually more than one Theodosia mentioned in the musical— Aaron Burr’s lover-turned-wife (once her pesky British officer husband conveniently dies) and Theodosia Jr.’s mother, is also named Theodosia. Theo Sr. sounds like an incredibly interesting person in her own right. In spite of being married to the aforementioned British officer, Theo Sr. was an open patriot, and offered her home to a variety of leading American patriots while her husband was commanding British troops in New Jersey. This actually helped her husband keep the home, as it otherwise would have been confiscated due to his British sympathies. Theo Sr. was also super smart and very funny, as well as being a feminist. It’s entirely possible that she was a lot of the brains behind Burr’s political rise. I think she could be a pretty awesome musical herself.
Theodosia II (fun fact: it was quite common in the 18th and 19th century to name daughters after their mothers in the US, and that only stopped in the 20th century when we apparently decided as a society that only men’s names should be handed down) was carefully educated, as both her mother and father believed deeply in women’s education (you love to see it!) Tragically, Theo Jr. was lost at sea only six months after the death of her only child, making 1812 a particularly brutal year for the Burr family.
Maryland has also been largely invisible in the Big Ten this season, and yet, they’re quietly sitting on the cusp of bowl eligibility, so they’ve done enough things right behind the scenes. Their task now is to keep from being utterly shipwrecked against MSU and Michigan, and then grabbing their sixth win from the troops from New Jersey to close the regular season and send them to a bowl.
11. Nebraska - “Wait For It”
Last Place Votes: 1 H: 9 L: 14 LW: +0
A relatively down-tempo song in a show that can be described as “frenetic,” and a song that shines a light on Aaron Burr, “Wait For It” is a meditation on the capriciousness of life, why things work out easily for some people and not for others. Death doesn’t discriminate/ Between the sinners and the saints/ It takes and it takes and it takes/ And we keep living anyway/ We rise and we fall and we break/ And we make our mistakes reflects Burr, as he thinks about the reasons why things work out so differently for him and his frenemy, Hamilton. It’s easy to sense his frustration, as he observes with both admiration and spite that Hamilton doesn’t hesitate/ He exhibits no restraint/ He takes and he takes and he takes/ And he keeps winning anyway/ He changes the game/ He plays and he raises the stakes.
You can’t help but feel a bit for Burr’s character, who possesses loads of talent, and does his very best to put himself in a position to succeed— but who keeps being passed over or bested by Alexander Hamilton. Sometimes this is through Burr’s own miscalculations, sometimes through Hamilton’s superior talent, or sometimes through sheer, dumb luck. But regardless of the why, Burr always seems to come up short.
The Huskers, likewise, are, on paper, as talented as most teams in the Big Ten, and always seem thisclose to a breakthrough moment, to figuring it out. But they never do, and instead are left to watch others (Purdue) get the big surprising wins, or the sustained success they so desperately crave. Is it just bad luck? Is it cosmic purpose? Is it some inborn flaw? Whatever it is, the Huskers and Scott Frost simply aren’t able to overcome what’s starting to feel like inexorable destiny.
Also, this is the best song in Hamilton. I gave it to Nebraska because it’s the only nice thing they’ve gotten this season, and I wanted them to have something redeemable.
12. Indiana - Peggy Schuyler
LPV: 6 H: 11 L: 14 LW: -3
Poor Peggy. As the third Schuyler sister behind force-of-nature Angelica and “best of wives and best of women” Eliza, Peggy is basically a non-entity in this show. I’m pretty sure she’s only in the show at all because Lin-Manuel Miranda realized that this thing was quite a sausage party as it is. So Peggy’s main contribution is acting as a spoilsport to her sisters when they’re out on the town in “The Schuyler Sisters,” worrying about the various admonitions their father gave them before fading into the background for the rest of the song (and show).
The historical Peggy apparently had a bit more chutzpah—she eloped with a man six years her junior when she was 25 (Angelica actually eloped as well— Ts and Ps to Papa Schuyler). He wasn’t a fortune hunter though—he was a Van Rensselaer, whose family was one of the most wealthy and big-time in New York. So, well done, Pegs. Sadly, all but one of their children died before adulthood, and Peggy herself only lived to be 42.
Like Peggy, Indiana has captured our imagination with feats of daring and surprisingly dazzling performances. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, all of those were last season, and this season, they’ve headed toward a premature and disappointing denouement.
13. Rutgers - “It’s Quiet Uptown”
LPV: 5 H: 10 L: 14 LW: +0
Before you rake me over the coals, let’s get this out of the way—this song is about the grief and aftermath of losing a child, while sorting through the aftermath of a very public infidelity. Obviously, even Rutgers football isn’t that sad and complicated, so please don’t think I’m actually comparing the situations. They are different kinds of sads.
Nevertheless, Rutgers football IS very sad (again) and so is this song. After all the hope and optimism of the early season with three straight wins, it turns out that “improvement” was rather illusory - Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware weren’t exactly murderers’ row. The real warning bells should have rang when Rutgers somehow lost to putrid Northwestern, but if any weren’t ringing yet, the 52-3 loss to Wisconsin should have set the rest off. That’s a downright Ash-ian score, and certain cause for alarm.
So, what’s a Rutgers fan to do in The moments when you’re in so deep/It feels easier to just swim down? Um, hope the basketball team is decent, I guess, because having a non-awful football team is starting to feel unimaginable.
14. Northwestern - “What Comes Next?”
LPV: 6 H: 12 L: 14 LW: -2
Another great song from our friend King George III. A lesser writer would make this comparison based on the average Northwestern student’s concerns with butlers and other trappings of wealth and the similarities that value system has to the monarchy. But I am not a lazy writer, and so we shall focus on the content of this little ditty.
George, finally accepting that his colonies have escaped his loving grasp (he would send a fully armed battalion to remind them of his love, the ingrates!) begins to taunt, but not unwarrantedly, about the challenges likely to face a recently emancipated nation that has, among other things, scant central government and no real way of raising revenue. What comes next?/ You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead?/ You’re on your own/ Awesome, wow./ Do you have a clue what happens now? The answer to that, as any student of US history knows, turned out to be a resounding… kind of!
The same questions have been swirling around Northwestern this season. True, they do tend to be cyclically bad, so in and of itself, a down 2021 might not be cause for alarm. However, the Wildcats are not just “off” this year—they’re very, very bad. Does Fitz actually know how to fix this this time? Will 2022 dawn with a surprisingly strong Northwestern team that will find a way to win the West? Maybe. Stranger things have happened in history. But there’s also a palpable sense of unease that the improbable tricks of the Fitzgeraldian administration might be running on borrowed time… Da da da dat da dat da da da ya da, Da da dat da da ya da!
Which Hamilton song is your favorite?
This poll is closed
I’ve never seen Hamilton, but I love that picture at the top of the article of the Ferentz dynasty.
I’ve never seen Hamilton, but I’m an Iowa fan and hate that stupid picture because it’s so accurate.
"Wait for It"
"Guns and Ships"
"The Reynolds Pamphlet"
"Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story"