A review by Joey Madia
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. —Joseph Campbell
As a writer and teacher of writing for the stage, page, and screen and avid reader and researcher, my tastes are pretty eclectic, so it’s not unusual for a book that I review to resonate with me on some very personal level.
That said, the overlaps, resonances, and synergies with Mike Anthony’s Life at Hamilton are nothing short of remarkable.
I believe that the Universe, if you trust it, has an intelligent design that helps us find our bliss. To connect with the people that we are supposed to in this life, so that we can fulfill our potential. Our mission. Call it Source, or God, or even your Higher Self. And that fulfillment might just be what some have termed our Soul Contract.
Regardless of what one calls it, one of the keys to not only finding, but following, our bliss (a concept brought to the West by Joseph Campbell) is to embrace the quote that opens this review, also by Mr. Campbell.
Campbell knew what he was talking about, and so does the author of Life at Hamilton.
Mike Anthony can write. And he can write because he loves. His words nearly pop off the page, taking us through not only his life, but the life of the musical phenomenon Hamilton (as well as its predecessor, Into the Heights). That is one of our overlaps. I was introduced to the soundtrack of Lin Manuel Miranda’s take on the Founding Fathers five years ago by one of my acting students (being all-in “theatre people” since we were teenagers is another commonality). Always quick to accept such a recommendation, I promptly downloaded the 47 tracks. Since that fateful day, I have listened to many of the songs hundreds of times and, as my family will tell you, no one knows when I’ll burst into “Farmer Refuted” or “The Story of Tonight.” Anytime, anywhere.
Performing, and more precisely, storytelling, is in my blood, the same way it’s in Mike’s.
And, again like Mike, I believe Miranda is a special kind of genius. Both of my home writing and multimedia studios have a picture of him hanging on the wall. In the room where I am revising this review (a “room where it happens”), he is wearing a t-shirt that says “Artist” while typing away on his laptop wearing headphones: writing like “he is running out of time.” I get that. In my other studio room, he stares down at me as Hamilton (a page taken from the book Hamilton: A Revolution, a bible-sized tome I devoured in a week), daring me not to write. Not to Create. Not to use Story to make the world a better place.
And that’s what Mike does in Life at Hamilton. And he does it wonderfully well. It is heart and soul at a time when that isn’t always popular. He calls to task conservative politicians who seek to exclude. He takes us through his heartbreak when Trump/Pence were elected, and narrates the night Pence attended Hamilton. I remember it well. Every theatre person does. I also remember Trump’s tweet the following morning, calling for apologies for a “very good man.” That was game on as far as his Twitter tirades—a different kind of storytelling that would make for a much less resonant, important book…
Mike makes you ponder what makes a “very good man”… a very good person, by introducing us to many of them from his position as bartender and then bar manager at the Richard Rogers, from the time of Hamilton’s debut to the closing of Broadway due to COVID-19.
If you love Hamilton, that’s one reason to read this book. There are plenty of insider experiences, many celebrating Miranda’s improvisational genius and generosity toward cast, crew, theatre staff, and the public. He truly is a mensch. And so is Mike.
Much of the book is Mike’s Facebook posts during that period, and then at the onset of the pandemic. If you like stories about celebrities (who doesn’t?) he’s got plenty—from Amy Schumer’s $1,000 and $2,000 bar tips, to Bernie Sanders shouting “Who?” when his wife tried to explain to him who one of the “real housewives” was, to Mike’s kidding around with megastar quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers.
But those stories, as funny and charming as they are (because Mike has an awesome, at times Jimmy Stewart–esque self-deprecating sense of humor and everyman charm), pale in comparison to the stories of children—some of them terminally ill—and families whose lives suddenly made a little more sense, that shone a bit brighter, because they were experiencing Hamilton live.
There are times in Life at Hamilton when you will cry, probably because Mike did, because his emotion lives in the text, waiting to be lifted—through the act of reading—up and into your heart. But also because we are human, and the stories Mike tells reside at that overlapping sweet spot in the Venn Diagram of socio-political-economic differences where we share a Common Humanity.
Now, to the subtitle: Sometimes You Throw Away Your Shot, Only to find Your Story. Fans of Hamilton (though, again, you needn’t be one to find value in and love this book) know that the core of Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton is his vow to “not throw away [my] shot.”
Mike also took a shot—racking up $100,000 in college debt to earn an MFA in Theatre. That’s commitment. I earned a double-major BA in Theatre and English Lit and, when I didn’t get into the grad school writing program I wanted to (because, according to what the program head told my writing mentor, I didn’t know anyone there, so how could I get in?) I enrolled for an MA in Theatre, lasting a semester before realizing that Experience was where it was at. I’ve never looked back, working in theatre, commercials, film, and industrials while founding an acting school and social justice theatre company to train teenagers to become, not just working actors, but citizen-artists.
I don’t usually share my story in such detail in these reviews, but, like I said, Mike and I have a lot in common… and, far more importantly, Mike, in telling his story, inspires you to tell yours. And, as any wise person knows, the world not only needs inspiring, inclusive, accepting stories—they are the stuff from which the Universe is made.
As funny as the stories in Life at Hamilton can be, there are some tear-bringers as well. And not only from children with terminal illnesses.
Mike rotates through several Broadway theatres for the umbrella company that owns them. At one theatre, the great Robin Williams was doing a show and struck up a friendship with another staff member, an older female. I was heartbroken, but innately understood, when he took his life rather than experience the deterioration of his genius-level comedic and storytelling skills. Reading about their encounters as Mike witnessed them confirms everything I knew about this generous, sensitive person whom I still miss very much.
Most appropriate to the work I do as a paranormal investigator and experiencer who has been gathering evidence for life after death for over a decade, the stories about Mike’s dad, with whom he was extremely close, are truly inspiring. Mike’s response with evidence in the face of cynics (one a famous magician in the Houdini/Randi tradition) in the form of a butterfly appearing where butterflies should not be at the exact moment the question of consciousness surviving death comes up is a highlight of the book.
Mike’s research into life after death, specifically through messages from his father, are the subject of his second book, Love, Dad, which I am currently reading and will also review.
In these troubled, transitional times, we need to find inspiration everywhere we can and Life at Hamilton is at least as inspiring—and inspiriting—as the ground-breaking musical from which it takes its name. As to Mike’s (as well as my own) deep respect for the genius of Lin Manuel Miranda, genius comes in many, equally essential, forms, as Mike himself says:
“I’ll tell you what I think my genius might be; it’s the tendency to notice and be moved more often by what’s good than by what isn’t yet.”
It is in this use of “yet” that the core of Mike’s own kind of genius lies.
TITLE: Life at Hamilton: Sometimes You Throw Away Your Shot, Only to find Your Story
AUTHOR: Mike Anthony
PUBLISHER: Waterside Productions