Seeing Hamilton In Chicago – Our Complete Journey

My wife recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and so I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with a special event.  Because she’s been dying to see Hamilton for years, I figured that would be something special for us to do.

However, tickets for Hamilton are always in demand, so I had to plan ahead if I wanted this to work out.  Way back in January, I bought tickets for the May 19th matinee.  (You can do the same by clicking HERE.)  Be prepared, the tickets range from ridiculously expensive to fairly overpriced.  Unless you buy at the very last minute, you’re going to spend a pretty penny.  But our loved ones are worth it, right?  Absolutely.

We originally planned to take the Amtrak train from Normal to Chicago.  We’ve done this in the past and it’s always been a simple endeavor.  Shockingly, Amtrak cancelled our train the week before departure.  Again, I scheduled these tickets back in January, so this proved unwelcome news.  I discovered when I called to find out what caused the cancellation that they had transferred our train tickets to bus tickets without telling us, so I immediately cancelled those and told them we’d be driving ourselves.  Oh, by the way — the reason for the train cancellation?  Line work.

I don’t mind driving into Chicago, but it does introduce a new set of challenges —  primarily the issue of parking.  Fortunately, this turned out to be easy.  I found a website called iParkit which allows you to reserve a spot.  This particular spot could be found in a parking garage near the theater.  I just had to mark the date, the arrival time, and the departure time.  They then sent me a QR code via email.  When I got to the garage, I simply scanned my code and drove in.  When it was time to leave, I scanned my code again and left.  We reserved our spot for ten hours and it only cost $13, which I prepaid.  It could not have been less complicated.  (If you want to reserve a space at the garage we used, click HERE.)

We took I-55 literally from Normal to downtown Chicago.  I think we only actually had to make three turns from the time we got on the interstate to the time we reached our garage.  Driving into Chicago from two plus hours away can be an unpredictable adventure.  The show began at 2:00 and we knew we wanted to grab lunch, so we left at 8:00 a.m.  We reached the garage in just over two hours.  I’ve never reached downtown Chicago so quickly!

After parking the car, we walked around a bit and got our bearings.  We specifically made sure we were clear on where to find the CIBC Theater — home of Hamilton.  We took a look at a few restaurants before settling on Miller’s Pub.  It had great reviews online and rightly so — we loved our meals.  If you have a chance to eat there, I recommend it.  It’s got a great atmosphere with a diverse menu.

By the time we were done eating, we had about an hour before we wanted to enter the CIBC Theater.  We shopped around a bit, then made our way to the show.

We arrived about twenty minutes before showtime.  A large crowd blocked the entire front of the theater.  We walked around them and made our way through the doors.  I’m still not sure if they didn’t realize they could go on in, if they were trying to buy tickets, if they were just gawking — not sure.  Once we got into an actual line, we moved indoors at a good pace.

Security checked my wife’s bag.  We noticed they were confiscating drinks and snacks.  Signs were posted clearly prohibiting such things, but it still caught us by surprise when we saw them throwing away people’s drinks.  Be aware — don’t try to sneak in any food or drink!

We climbed a few flights to the mezzanine.  Upon entering the actual stage area of the theater, a few things struck me.  First of all, I’m not sure there’s a bad seat in the house.  The theater is a relatively small space, but when one considers that it was built in 1906, this may not come as much of a surprise.  We were high up, yet we were still fairly close to the stage.  No need for binoculars, that’s for sure.  Also, the seats are very close together, both in terms of width and leg room.  Don’t plan on stretching out.  Luckily, I had my wife on one side of me and an average sized woman on the other, which afforded me plenty of shoulder and elbow room.  Had a man similar to my size or bigger sat next to me, it may have been uncomfortable.

My wife loved the actual show itself.  Miguel Cervantes starred as Hamilton.  He performed magnificently with a charismatic voice and fun comedic timing.  Cervantes aptly pulled off both song and rap, and could also deliver more sentimental moments.  His blend of charm, intelligence, and street toughness felt authentic.  I won’t run though the whole cast, but no one stuck out as performing poorly.  Everything seemed top-notch.  The voices, the dancing, the costumes, the choreography — perfect.  (If you want to learn more about the cast, click HERE.)

Theater is always hit or miss with me.  I’ve loved things I thought I would hate and hated things I thought I would love.  Hamilton fell somewhere in the middle for me.  I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it.  My wife described it as a musical history lesson, and she did so affectionately.  However, in my view, that’s an apt description, but for a different reason than my wife’s.  Hamilton is a lot of standing around explaining.  There are few scene changes, few costume changes, few moments of actual action.  Dancing is happening all of the time by the background dancers, but Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson — they are all mostly standing still while singing to us about things that are happening.  As a writer, I believe firmly in the old adage:  “Show, don’t tell.”  I found all the explanation a little boring, to be honest.  Show me what’s happened and happening, don’t just tell me about it.

Even with that being said, though, I want to be sure to voice my appreciation at the genius of the writing.  The musical unfolded in complete song.  To deliver so much exposition in perfect rhythm and rhyme — it felt Shakespearean.  Seriously.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’d like to make a few comparisons … if I may.  First of all, I love Shakespeare, yet I’m the first to admit that he also could lean heavily into explanation.  I feel that the more I study Hamilton, the more I’ll probably grow to love it.  Also, some are very troubled by the fact that Hamilton is not entirely historically accurate.  All dramatist are known for fudging facts a bit for effect.  Shakespeare also played fast and loose with historical fact if it meant a good payoff for the audience.  Let’s not get too bogged down with historical accuracy when seeing a musical, okay, folks?  Take a history class at your local university or community college if you want textbook precision.

On a related note, I found the cast diversity thrilling.  I noticed it, but it did not bother me in the least.  I’m glad this musical is more than willing to give people of color their shot.  Talent should be the driving factor in doling out these roles, and let me tell you, the talent shined.  Again, for those crying foul, for those concerned that every major historical role in the play was filled by a person of color — relax.  I don’t think anyone but the severely uneducated are going to walk out of Hamilton believing that George Washington was black.  This is not a big deal.

Speaking of “shot,” I personally found the themes of seizing the moment and working against time interesting.  I think we can all probably relate to these themes, which may explain the musical’s popularity.  Knowing Hamilton’s ultimate fate, we could forgive his burning desire to achieve at the cost of his personal and family life, even as his friends and family couldn’t.  That’s called “dramatic irony,” by the way — when the audience knows things about the plot that the characters don’t.

For the financially minded — are the tickets worth almost $200 at the minimum?  Frankly, no.  It astounds me that the floor prices were over $500.  I saw some near the $1000 mark.  However, we are a economy that thrives on supply and demand.  I’m not going to begrudge the artists, management, or the theater itself for taking advantage of the musical’s fame.  It’s hard to make money in the art business — go for the profits while you can!

Including the intermission, the musical concluded at just under three hours.  My wife and I did not use the bathrooms, but from what I understand, there are not many of them in the theater and they are not very big.  Again, considering the venue’s time of origin, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

Leaving the parking garage offered no problems.  I scanned out as easily as I scanned in.  Google Maps took us on kind of an odd route out of the city, but I think that was due to construction.  We still made it back home in just over two hours.

All in all, it was a wonderful time.  We had a ton of fun, my wife loved Hamilton, and it was nice to spend the day together as husband and wife.

If you’re thinking of attending the show, I hope this serves as a helpful guide.  Thanks for reading.

Hamilton

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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What’s In a Name?

I’ve noticed that authors have a great deal of difficulty doing something rather necessary — naming characters.  Names have such power that this endeavor should never be taken lightly.  After all, the name an author assigns a character will likely outlast the author him or herself, especially if the piece catches on.  Can you imagine Hannibal Lecter  by any other name?  Or Hermoine Granger?

On a personal note, I have struggled with this venture as well.  Here are four strategies I’ve developed over the years that have always proven helpful.  This doesn’t have to be limited to naming literary characters, by the way.  Feel free to take advantage if looking to name a pet or child.

  1. Use Your Allusion
    Perhaps your character has something very much in common with another famous person or place.  For example, it’s rare to find a villain in popular culture named “Arthur.”  That name has become so synonymous with “good” and “noble” that the name alone can establish characterization.  “Paris” insinuates sophistication.  “Diana” connotes royalty.  Unfortunately, some previously established names are forever off-limits.  You’ll never get away with using “Einstein,” “Sherlock,” or “Beyonce.”
  2. With a Little Help From Your Friends
    Along the lines of the previous advice, look to your own circle of friends or social network for inspiration.  If you have a friend who is incredibly intelligent and you correlate that name with intellect, tack it onto your character.  The subconscious connection will round your character out and ground them to your mind’s reality.  Conversely, let’s say you have a friend of a friend who is a total jerk.  The name of that person alone may be all the push you need to set that character’s creative tone.  Of course, tread lightly with this strategy.  Friends will read perhaps too deeply into characters named after them.  What may have been a relatively simple decision by you could severely alter a relationship if they don’t care for their namesake.
  3. This Is Gibberish
    If writing science fiction or fantasy stories, nonsense words will likely prove very useful.  I remember a wonderful interview in which Neil Gaiman said “Coraline,” the name of his famous character, occurred simply due to a typo.  He meant to write “Caroline.”  This era has the distinct benefit of the internet, which provides countless “name generators” for every genre imaginable.  I also like to use the old school method of simply combining parts of words that describe the actual character.  Let’s say I have a science fiction character who is deceitful and murderous, yet also charming.  I may put together a name such as “Chare Itous.”  Be aware, though, that the more outlandish the name, the more likely you are to lose your reader.  Readers need names that standout and are easy to remember.  To this day, I can only recall a handful of the names from “The Lord Of the Rings.”
  4. The Randomness Of It All
    If you want to avoid friends and family making any kinds of associations, and if you desire for your characters to remain free of any preconceived notions as the byproduct of an allusion, then I suggest allowing fate to decide for you.  Put a phone book in front of you, close your eyes, open it, and point.  Use the first name of the person you’ve selected as your character’s first name.  Repeat this process for the last name.  By doing this, you will truly allow your writing to establish the characterization of your creations.  This method dodges any shortcuts, crutches, or flat-out plagiarism.  It’s pure.  It’s authentic.  It’s random.  Of course, the internet has generators for random names as well, but it’s nowhere near as fun.

Naming a character can sometimes become an overwhelming endeavor.  I hope these four strategies are useful so that you can get on to the most important thing — actually writing!

Hello, Name, Tag, Sticker, Paper, Event, Greeting

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Thumb War – My Latest Short Story Available On the NOOK and Kindle

Hannah Cane has taken the underground competitive thumb wrestling world by storm. Her intellect, improvisation, and unrelenting willpower plays a role in defeating her opponents with such efficiency that she’s been nicknamed “The Machine.” At the championship match, however, she’s accused of fraudulence. Is there any way an average sized woman could somehow cheat her way to victory against men twice her size? The answer will surprise you.

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THUMB WAR

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A Book Review

I took a chance on this very quick read after a friend recommended it.

Ella Minnow Pea is a unique concept.  The premise is that a small island exists off the coast of South Carolina.  This entire island’s culture is based upon Nevin Nollop, the man responsible for the blessed phrase: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Though a literate, incredibly well-spoken people, the island’s inhabitants are thrown into complete disarray as a statue of Nollop begins to lose letters from the sacred phrase.  They take these jettisoned letters as spiritual intervention, and so they remove each letter from usage as it falls.

Because the book is written as literal correspondence between characters, a dark farce ensues.  The messages begin missing those outlawed letters, and, by book’s end, the notes between characters are nearly incomprehensible.

To make matters worse, the town punishes anyone caught using the banned letters.  Beatings, exile, even death can result as a byproduct of usage.  Things get very bleak very quickly, yet the circumstances continuously remain hilarious.

While the story itself did not make a lasting impact upon me, Mark Dunn’s execution absolutely impressed.  To literally omit those letters banned by the town in the actual story — that’s no easy feat!  I enjoyed the structure, construction, and style of the book immensely, and I would recommend reading it for that experience alone.

Image result for ella minnow pea

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis – A Book Review

You all know I struggle with Superman.  Many writers get the “super” right, but fail to truly capture the “man.”

Max Landis absolutely put the “man” before the “super” in this collection, and Superman is all the more “super” as a result.

The premise is short and sweet: Landis depicts key moments in Clark Kent’s life that define the hero he will one day become.  As a result, we get to see what is not often addressed: failure.  We see Clark as a child fearful of his own abilities.  We see Clark as a teenager reluctant to help out for fear of hurting someone.  We see Clark take a walk on the wild side with booze, boats, and women.  We see Clark get outsmarted and embarrassed by Lex Luthor.  We see Clark, for the first time in his life, have to truly fight to survive.

I love this collection because Clark is so normal.  He’s funny; he’s a jerk; he’s fearful; he’s clever; he’s heroic; he’s full of doubt.  In a word, he’s all of us at some point in our lives.

Landis also addresses some nagging issues about Clark’s childhood such as how in the world did he avoid doctors?  The answer may surprise you.  Also, with the way  kids talk, could he ever really keep his abilities a secret while in Smallville?  That answer may surprise you as well.

Furthermore, Landis does not shy away from the fact that Clark Kent lives in the DC Universe.  While this is not necessarily the mainstream Superman we enjoy from month to month, this world still offers us a glimpse at Oliver Queen, Batman, Dick Grayson, Hawkman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others.   The brief appearance by Batman is especially relevant to this Superman’s mythology.

Each installment of this collection is a must-read in part because of the story line but also because Landis works with a different artist for each chapter.  I want to say that each artist perfectly embodies the tone of that specific issue, but each of these artists are so talented that they make everything look good.  You could assign any of them any of the installments and they would make it shine.

Next to All-Star Superman, this is my favorite Superman story ever.  I would love to read more of Landis’ take on the DC Universe.

Image result for superman american alien amazon book cover

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)