I went to see Hamilton last night despite the ridiculous hype that accompanies it.

Elysha and I went to see Hamilton last night.

After seeing Elysha writing amusing but envious posts on Facebook in response to our many friends who were seeing the show during its brief stop in Hartford, I decided to pivot and give her tickets to the show for Christmas in lieu of my original plan.

I revealed the gift to her on Christmas morning by reenacting the cue card scene from Love Actually.

It was fun.

But I had my reservations about seeing Hamilton. Primarily, it was the hype. For years, I have been listening to people describe this show with the greatest superlatives I’ve ever heard. Folks gush over this show. Memorize the lyrics to every song. Describe it in the most glowing terms I’ve ever heard. They speak about the show by extending their vocalization of adjectives and adverbs in an effort to make me understand that it’s not simply great.

It’s “Ah-mazing.”

I hate that, by the way. Extending the vocalization of a word to accentuate its degree of authenticity is dumb and annoying.

The hype of Hamilton frightened me. So rarely in life has anything met or exceeded the hype. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been told that something would be amazing and it turned out to be amazing.

For this reason, I purposefully avoid overhyping my recommendations. I may find find the cartoons of The Oatmeal consistently brilliant, but when recommending them to you, I would say something like , “Make sure you check out The Oatmeal’s cartoons online when you have a chance. I love them and think you might love them, too.”

See? No superlatives. No gush. No unnecessary hype.

If I had added that The Oatmeal’s cartoons were “Ah-mazing” or “Sooooo hilarious” would you be more likely to check them out?

I don’t think so. I would only risk increasing your expectations beyond reasonable levels.

Seriously, though. Check them out. Matthew Inman is a funny guy.

So we went to Hamilton expecting it to be the greatest show I’ve ever seen. Better than Rent, which is my favorite, and all the other fantastic shows that I’ve seen in the past. This show had to move me beyond compare, at least if I was to believe the hype.

Hype. It can be a dangerous thing.

Then I saw the show. Sitting beside Elysha, we watched and listened for nearly three hours of musical theater, performed primarily in genres of music that I don’t love and telling a story that I already knew quite well.

As the last word was sung, the lights came up, and the bows were taken, I knew instantly that that Hamilton had failed to match the ridiculous superlatives that I’ve been hearing for years.

It exceeded them.

I really can’t believe it, but it exceeded every bit of hype that preceded it. It was the best show I have ever seen. One of the best things I’ve ever seen. As I stood and applauded, I suddenly felt the need to immediately write to Lin Manuel Miranda to thank him for giving me an evening I will never forget and filling my heart with joy, sorrow, and wonder in a way it has never been filled before.

I will, too. Today.

Hamilton, my friends, is a brilliant theatrical production. Better than Rent. Better than every show I have ever seen. Better than any movie I’ve ever seen.

Forgive the hype, but it is genius.

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I was probably typecast.

About a dozen years ago, I starred as the ogre in Plato Karafelis and Rob Hugh's children's musical Stone Soup at the Park Road Playhouse in West Hartford, CT.

Tonight the roles were reversed, and I had the pleasure of watching middle schoolers perform the musical while I was sitting in the audience alongside Elysha Dicks and our overly verbal, mistakenly participatory children.

At one point during the show, the ogre rhetorically asks why nobody likes her.

Charlie shouted out, "I love you!"

What a wonderful trip down memory lane to the many, many nights of rehearsals and weekends of shows that brought a small band of actors together for a short but unforgettable moment in my life.

More than a decade later, I could still sing all the songs, including my solo, and I remembered most of the lines. Had the girl playing the ogre been sick, I could've filled in admirably.

Sadly, I was made to be an ogre.

In fact, during our first performance way back when, I broke the third wall as I was directed me to during the first scene, running up to audience members and roaring my disapproval. But I was apparently too frightening, sending Plato backstage between scenes to calm me down.

"Kids are crying! A couple of them already left!"

I loved that. I still do. I loved all of it.

For a few months, the cast of Stone Soup were like family. That is one of the many beauties of the theater. Human beings comes together, relying wholly and completely on one another to do something hard and wonderful, and through that process, experience a trust and a harmony rarely seen outside the walls of a theater.

Thanks so much to my former cast mate Sara Demos Avery for getting me to the show tonight. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Caught in the Middle: Our world premier!

Caught in the Middle is a contemporary musical that journeys through a day in the life of middle school children. Touching on their, teachers, home work, lunch, "going out", bullying, friendship, and resolution. Don't miss the world premier of this wonderful show. Tickets will be available at the door. Or email vculligan@att.net to reserve at will call. Payment will be accepted at the door.

"Caught in the Middle"
March 18 & 19 at 7:00pm
March 20 at 4:00pm
Tickets: $12.00 adults, $6.00 students
Saint James Episcopal Church
19 Walden Street, West Hartford

Sticks & Stones made it to the stage! I could not have done it alone.

On Sunday, I had the joy of watching my latest musical, Sticks & Stones, performed at a summer camp in central Connecticut. It's the story of a group of middle school students coming to terms with the parts of their bodies and the parts of their lives that they like least. 

As a novelist and columnist, I almost never have the opportunity to watch readers consume my work. People tend to not enjoy having someone stare at them as they read.

At least my wife doesn't like it. She doesn't like it at all. Presumably other people would feel the same. 

But with plays and musicals, I have the opportunity to sit amongst my consumers, listening for the laughs and watching the tears, and I was lucky enough to see and hear both on Sunday.

I say that it was my latest musical, but in truth, none of this would be possible without my writing partner, Andy Mayo. Andy writes all of the music for our shows and is the driving force behind getting them written and performed onstage. He pokes and prods and cajoles me to finish the project. He sets deadlines that I ignore and establishes goals that I am useless in achieving.

Andy basically drags me through the process, kicking and screaming, and I'm only truly happy when I see the work onstage in the hands of actors.  

Nothing that we've ever written would've seen the light of day without Andy/  

Our first collaboration, The Clowns, is a rock opera that has been produced at The Playhouse on Park in 2013 and has been considered by festivals and other theaters since then.  We are hoping to see it on a larger stage someday. It deserves more attention. 

Our second was Caught in the Middle, a show written for tweens that was performed at this same summer camp last year and has recently been picked up by a local children's theater for a traveling tour throughout Connecticut.

Hopefully something similar or even better will happen with Sticks & Stones.

This journey into writing for the theater - which began in 2007 - has been a great lesson for me on the importance of a good partner in creative endeavors such as these. Though I could never imagine writing a book or a column or even a blog post with a partner (but not without my agent or editor), I could never writing a musical without someone like Andy supplying the music and lyrics, and most importantly, the drive and the passion.

Choose your partners wisely (though in truth, Andy chose me). They can take you far.