Some Thoughts On... Hamilton's Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story
Hellooo! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has watched the Hamilton film on Disney+ a good few times since it was released! I haven’t seen the show live but it is definitely at the top of my wishlist now and I love the filmed version of Hamilton! I have plenty of stand out songs from the show and one of those is the show's finale, Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story! I love how the song wraps up the show and completes the story. If you haven’t seen Hamilton, please be aware that this post will include spoilers!
Washington opens the song with a section that is reminiscent of History Has Its Eyes on You, which also asks the question “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”. Burr then introduces Jefferson and Maddison to give their takes on Alexander Hamilton.
The ensemble repeats the line “Who tells your story?”, building up to Eliza Hamilton’s entrance where the female ensemble members then answer the lyric with “Eliza”. During the build up, the cast walk around the stage as the song gains pace and come to a standstill for Eliza’s entrance. I love the delicate sound of the female ensemble’s response and how it reflects Eliza’s portrayal throughout Hamilton, along with how it repeats the melody used for Eliza’s name, which is first featured in The Schuyler Sisters. In the background, a melody with similarities to the opening melody in Burn is played on the piano, which ties in with the lyric “I put myself back in the narrative” which again, links back to Burn. Eliza continues by singing “I stop wasting time on tears, I live another fifty years, it’s not enough” and I love how powerful those lyrics are.
Eliza then goes on to tell the stories of other characters in the show, starting with “I interview every soldier who fought by your side”, to which Mulligan, Lafayette and Laurens sing “She tells our story”. Angelica is next in Eliza’s story and when she is introduced, Eliza and Angelica sing her name together, with Angelica singing her name in the melody featured previously in the show. Following Angelica, Eliza continues with “I raise funds in D.C. for the Washington Monument” and there’s something about the way Washington responds with “She tells my story” which really hits me! There’s so much emotion in his voice and in the film, I love Christopher Jackson’s performance. Another line that gets me is Eliza’s “You could’ve done so much more if you only had time”, where she wishes she had done more in her life even though what she has accomplished in the song so far is incredible.
Once she has told everyone else’s stories, Eliza then goes on to tell her own story. Eliza opens with “Can I show you what I’m proudest of” before telling how she “established the first private orphanage in New York City”. This section is sung quietly by Eliza, as though she more reserved and modest about her achievements that she made for herself. Eliza sings about the other characters’ stories with power behind her voice however, when she begins to sing about her own achievements, she starts quietly, and asks if she can show what she is "proudest of" as though she is asking permission. Up until now, Eliza has been showing what she has done to continue everyone else’s legacy, before showing her own work. In Phillipa Soo’s portrayal in the Hamilfilm, she is also looking down, showing her reservations in celebrating her accomplishments. As Eliza sings the line “I get to see them growing up”, Phillipa’s voice gains power and she looks up with pride evidence in her expression. I love how the character gains confidence with her achievements as she is telling her story.
The acapella ensemble section at the end sounds beautiful and I love the harmonies and layers in the vocals. This leads into the well known gasp! In the Hamilfilm, Phillipa Soo’s gasp is so full of emotion and had me in tears! I love how many different theories there are about this moment, is this Eliza’s death? Is Eliza seeing her legacy and the orphanage that is still open? Is Eliza seeing the audience that are watching their stories unfold on stage? Is Lin-Manuel Miranda still playing the role of Alexander Hamilton or at that point, is he himself? My personal favourite theory is that Eliza is seeing the audience full of people who have gone to watch their stories and she is realising that her work paid off and their stories are being told but also her orphanage is still open. I also love the theory that the show’s name is actually referencing both Eliza and Alexander Hamilton, which reflects how Alexander opened the show and Eliza closed it! I love that in the show, the cast step back for Alexander’s entrance and then again for Eliza’s gasp, giving her a moment at the front and centre of the stage in the spotlight.
As with the whole of the Hamilton musical, every melody and lyric is carefully considered and is there for a reason. I love how there are so many repeated melodies throughout Hamilton, both in the lead parts and in the background. Phillipa Soo’s voice sounds incredible as Eliza Hamilton and her acting in the Hamilfilm is flawless and so full of emotion, particularly in Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of points from this song but I love that there are so many different references and you can notice something new every time you listen to it.
Thank you for reading and stay safe!