History’s Eyes on Soo

July 10, 2016 at 12:01 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , , , )


On Broadway, she’s played, sung, “lived and breathed,” Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, now Phillipa Soo puts pen to paper – writing the foreword to a new book about the wife & widow of Alexander Hamilton.

Soo-Miranda_Hamilton

Woo-HOO! Right?

Alas, the projected bio is to be a children’s picture book: “Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton”, by Margaret McNamara (Schwartz & Wade, fall 2017).

Great for youthful readers (for whom, I guess, the “clean” Broadway cast album has been produced – since the play has become a hit with school teachers), but what about the rest of us?! _I_ cannot be the only reader interested in hearing more about “The Schuyler Sisters”: Angelica, Eliza – and Peggy.

Their history is particularly relevant to those of us in the north-east U.S., so close to the action of Albany, New York, where Philip J. Schuyler (a “Revolutionary War general, U.S. Senator, and business entrepreneur”) lived in a lovely mansion that still exists — and can be visited.

Schuyler Mansion NY State Historic Site

Schuyler Mansion – a New York State Historic Site

Described on the website as, “The Georgian structure, reflecting Schuyler’s English tastes – was built on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River,” the house is open from May through October. Cost (in 2016 dollars) is a very reasonable $5.00 ($4 Seniors & Students; free for children under 12) [for groups, see their rate sheet]

  • NB: Combined tickets can be had for Crailo, the Van Rensselaer mansion, across the river.

Of course the main topic targeted is the life of Philip and Catharine (Van Rensselaer) Schuyler. ALTHOUGH there is a *special* tour offered this year (on selected days), “When Alexander Hamilton called Albany Home”. Surely, among the moments recounted will be Alexander’s marriage to Elizabeth – which took place here in 1780. [NOTE: THIS focus-tour is by reservation only]

Schuyler_Mansion interior

Maybe next year the Schuyler mansion will highlight Eliza Schuyler instead of Alexander Hamilton. One news story, about Phillipa Soo, highlights one reason I find Hamilton such a compelling listen:

“As Eliza, she’s got a trip through the ringer as the shy middle child of the wealthy, covetable Schuyler sisters; by falling for Hamilton in the first place, her fate is already sealed for a whole spectrum of heartbreak, including infidelity and, of course, death. She emerged as a key reason for the show’s emotional resonance, most especially delivered in her final-scene solo, in which she recounts Eliza’s accomplishments after her husband’s death, redeeming a somewhat lost historical figure through tears. It was the most notable part of Hamilton, for me—that Lin-Manuel Miranda would end the show by righting the essential erasure of a woman who was key to the creation of America”

— Julianne Escobado Shepherd

History finally has its eyes on you, Eliza! The lyrics to “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is an astonishing move for a play about Alexander Hamilton, bringing Elizabeth Hamilton fully into the spotlight. It would be nice to page through 800-pages of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography in order to pluck out of it Eliza’s story – but here’s hoping some one takes the baton from Margaret McNamara and delves deeper into the lives of the Hamilton women. As Shepherd quotes Soo saying upon first working on Hamilton, “‘Oh, I don’t really know that much about Alexander Hamilton, and who is this Eliza person that I’ve never heard about?’”

“History waiting to be unlocked,” is Soo’s understated summation of her involvement in the play. “I think it just reminds us that women have such a huge place in history but their voices weren’t necessarily as loud.”

Anyone following Hamilton will know that three leads ended their performances last night (July 9th). The New York Theater website has a concise history for the trio on the occasion of the “original cast” breaking up, including a link to Facebook footage of the “final curtain call” – which already has well over a MILLION views.

Soo moves on to another new musical – based on the de-light-ful French film, Amelie!! (If you’ve never watched the movie, run to get a copy; you’ll be ready to book a flight to Paris soon afterwards…)

* * *

Two personal notes: _I_ just love how a history-slash-biography BOOK can make a name (and money) for its author a decade after its publication. Writers dream of film and/or TV – few would dream of their work being the basis for a stage musical. Still, Hamilton shows what FRESH ideas can do for any industry.

Also, I have my father to thank for a LOT of my interest in Hamilton. Last summer (June, 2015) I dragged him down to New York City. A three-month, temporary job had just ended and I had LONGED to visit two archives, which, indeed, have given me SO MUCH Smith & Gosling material.

Everything fell so perfectly into place – I got a seat in the archive for the entire week; and found a place to live, a new Air B&B listing in Weehawken, New Jersey – just a bus ride through the Lincoln Tunnel, which offered parking (for we drove down from Vermont).

Although not affecting me (except when walking from/to the subway stop), the rain was so bad that parts of nearby New Jersey sustained flood damage. Yet, the rain kept my father – who wasn’t inclined to visit Manhattan on his own – close to “home”.

NYC 1 June 2015

It was he who discovered, just around the corner, near THIS FABULOUS view of Manhattan, this historic marker:

hamilton-burr duel

July 11, 1804

The most famous duel in American History took place on this date at the dueling grounds in Weehawken, between political rivals, General Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice-President of the United States, Colonel Aaron Burr. Hamilton fell mortally wounded, and died the next day in New York City.

Tragically, Hamilton’s son Philip had also met his death here in a duel in 1801.

Dedicated on July 11, 2004, the 200th Anniversary of the Duel.

* * *

Just for fun:

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