So I’m going to be doing a little two-part blog post here for this week and next week, because I haven’t really talked much about my favorite character in the entire play: Aaron Burr. (Actually it’s a tie between Burr and Lafayette, but I like Lafayette because he’s fun and adorable. Burr is more complex.) Don’t get me wrong, Aaron Burr can be a massive sack of crap and I will be the first one to admit that. But he is also one of the most complexly written characters and has two of the best songs in the entire show. Buckle up, folks. First let’s take a look at his songs.
“Wait For It” is the 13th song in Act 1. So just before this scene, Burr has stopped by Hamilton’s wedding where he bumps into Hamilton and his crew, who are drinking and being rowdy as usual (“The Story of Tonight [Reprise]“). And then the gang leaves after roasting Burr a little bit, as they always do, leaving Burr to reflect on his life choices. He thinks about his girlfriend, Theodosia, who is married to someone else, and his dead parents’ legacy, and how Hamilton keeps seeming to shoot up through the ranks while he seems to be getting no where. It’s such a beautiful song and honestly my favorite in the entire show.
“The Room Where It Happens” is the 5th song in Act 2, so it takes place quite a few years after “Wait For It.” *Approximately* 11 years later, but don’t take my word as law here. Anyway, at the beginning of this song, Burr and Hamilton are still buddies. But eventually over the course of the song, Burr begins to realize how much Hamilton has been changed by his power to the point where he is willing to make shady backdoor dealings with his mortal enemies, Jefferson and Madison. The song describes the deal that Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison made and ends with Burr realizing that he also wants political power and decides that he will do whatever it takes to get that power.
I believe that there is a song for everyone in Hamilton, and “Wait For It” is *my* song. That song has gotten my through some pretty tough times. Especially because of this little bit right here. I don’t have any tattoos yet, but I am going to get this tattooed on my side. As a person who lives with bipolar disorder, this lyric speaks to me on a very personal level. And the way Leslie Odom, Jr. sings it so beautifully really touches me. When I saw the show in Chicago, I had the honor of seeing Wayne Brady play Aaron Burr and he sang this song just as beautifully. I was almost in tears in the middle of the show. I know I’m starting to gush, but honest to God I just can’t say enough good things about this song. My goal in life is to be able to write something that touches someone else in the way that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s art has touched me.
So yeah, Burr is one of the main characters so he’s in a lot more scenes than just these two, but these are his big solo numbers. He has vocals in pretty much all the other songs at least in part. Because here is the thing– Aaron Burr is the narrator in a play about a guy he murdered. He steps in and out of scenes and shifts between Burr the narrator and Burr the character because this whole freaking show is told (mostly) from the villain’s prospective. WHICH MAKES BURR REALLY FREAKING COMPLICATED. Even in the first song, “Alexander Hamilton,” Burr is the one opening the show, telling most of the story, and has the line, “And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him!” So we know right away that this dude has some problems. These problems are emphasized by his solo songs, “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens.”
Aaron Burr’s biggest problem is that just like Ham, he really wants to advance his station in life. The problem is, his personality doesn’t allow him to. Ham is like a little yappy dog that never stops barking and Burr is like a cat– cool and collected. We see this in “Wait For It,” which is the overall theme of the entire song. He’s clearly jealous of how quickly Ham is able to climb because he has the line:
“Hamilton’s pace is relentless
He wastes no time.
What is it like in his shoes?
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
And if there’s a reason
He seems to thrive when so few survive, then Goddamnit—
I’m willing to wait for it.”
He manages to keep his jealous in check for Act 1. Burr is *sort of* the 5th member of the Hamilsquad but no one really likes him except for Ham (opinion drawn from the events of “The Story of Tonight [Reprise]”), and that is even debatable at times (Lafayette even flat out says at one point, “You are the worst, Burr.”). Someone pointed out to me that all Burr really wants is to be friends with the cool kids, but they tease him and don’t invite him to hang out with them. When he shows up during “The Story of Tonight (Reprise),” the gang is legitimately surprised to see him, and they just end up roasting him until Hamilton makes the rest of the guys stop. So when you think about it like that, you really kind of start to feel sad for Burr. This also explains why he clings so heavily to Jefferson and Madison in Act 2, because they let him run with in their circle.
At the end of Act 1, the cast sings “Non-Stop,” which covers what happened after the war. Even in the opening of the song, it’s clear that the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr is definitely intensifying. They practice law together for a bit, until Ham asks Burr to collaborate on The Federalist Papers with him, which Burr ultimately turns down, afraid of what a negative outcome will do to his career. Of course, Ham goes ahead with the plan without Burr, and as most of us know, we refer to The Federalist Papers even today. So yeah, Burr missed out big time here. The song covers a few other storylines for a short bit and then all the characters come together and they’re all singing different parts. I actually didn’t catch this for quite sometime because Angelica and Eliza’s parts kind of drown him out, but during this bit, Burr is singing,
“Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?
Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?
Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?
Soon that attitude may be your doom!”
So yeah, Burr is super jealous of Ham and is hella bitter that he missed out on The Federalist Papers. From “The Room Where it Happens” onward, we see this desire for political power completely consume him.
And I’m pretty sure I’ve got the exact point in which Burr truly comes the villain pegged down. If you listen to the song on the youtube clip I provided, re-listen to that part from 3:57 to the end of the song. Throughout the play, Ham has teased Burr and given him crap for not being more politically assertive, beginning in “Aaron Burr, Sir” with the line, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” So at 3:57 when the ensemble is screaming at him, “What do you want, Burr?!” and then his voice turns really sinister and he says, “I wanna be in the room where it happens.” Then from there, his voice escalates and his level of “evilness” grows. Seriously, give it another listen if you haven’t done so yet. It’s at this little point, right here at 3:57 when Burr decides that he is going to stop waiting for it, and his actions eventually lead him to become the villain in our history.
Stay tuned next week and see how that plays out for everyone.