I gotta say it: this show sounds absolutely fantastic, and my hat is off to the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda for conceiving and creating it. I saw a 60 Minutes report (transcript here, video here) on it back when it first aired in November, and although my first thought on the whole idea of “hip-hop Founding Fathers” was, umm, profanely uncharitable, let’s say, the more I read and hear about it, the more I realize what a wonderful idea the whole production was.
Burr really has two roles in the show: the omniscient narrator, and himself in the present moment. In the affecting finale, as he recounts the moments that led up to his and Hamilton’s fateful, fatal conflict, Odom’s voice takes on a note of barely disguised panic. As the keeper of the narrative, he knows what is coming yet is powerless to stop it.
Odom has said in interviews that he lets himself be shocked by the ending every night, lets himself believe it can be avoided until it can’t. He is a miraculous actor, one whom you can watch thinking, a rare and impressive skill. As he takes his position in the final duel, his eyes wide with fear, you can feel every inevitable step that led to this. Burr’s last “present-moment” word, as he’s shooting Hamilton, is “Wait!” in a terrifyingly sad recollection of his earlier catchphrase, which was the watchword of his ambitions—now to be dashed.
This leads to his all-too-knowing coda to the duel: “History obliterates—in every picture it paints, it paints me in all my mistakes…Now I’m the villain in your history. I was too young and blind to see—I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” (That last is something the real Burr actually said before his own death at 80.) Odom weeps as he sings this, both out of regret and out of catharsis for all the pent-up frustration he’s been holding in the entire show.
If you’re in NYC, you probably ought to consider making a beeline to this one as soon as you can. Miranda has done the nation a real service by bringing American history–too much of it forgotten by too many of us–to glorious life for modern audiences, and he deserves all the credit in the world for it.