The American Revolution has a hit on its hands with Hamilton, the hip-hop musical currently lighting up Broadway. “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” the cast sings in its sly retooling of our republic as the story of Alexander Hamilton’s rise through the imperial city of New York (“History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen/to be in the greatest city in the world…”).
But wait. Wasn’t Philadelphia the cradle of liberty and our first capital? Wasn’t it in Philadelphia that Hamilton orchestrated the consolidation of federal power, and was it not, moreover, Philadelphia where his busy libido came to grief and scandal? Yes, but… Hamilton loved New York and lobbied hard for it as the temporary capital; Philadelphia was his third or fourth or fifth choice, so I guess you can say that at this late date he finally got his way. He usually did.
So we will stand up for the lesser-known glories of Philadelphia in this issue (timed in part to its April antiques show)—for its art, architecture, parks, bars and restaurants, and the most walkable visual pleasures per block of any city in the country. There is a lot to be said for a city where you can make your own discoveries rather than having its shopworn treats thrust at you like New York’s tarted up Times Square with all its awesome badness.
From the eye-popping eighteenth-century interiors of the Waln house described by Alexandra Kirtley to its role as a jazz capital in the twentieth century to a magnet for artists, architects, and adventurous eaters now, Philadelphia has always been a different and more interesting city than generally supposed. I hope we have done it some justice.
Other surprises in the issue: the emergence of the George Eastman Museum in upstate New York as a center for the history of everything the camera can do—from the inception of photography to the present day; James Gardner’s impassioned account of Old Master portrait painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (a woman, yes, a woman!); and recently discovered photographs of the early modernist apartment of MoMA founding director Alfred H. Barr Jr. and his wife, Marga.
That is all fine, you think, but what is the secret to getting tickets to Hamilton? I don’t know. Buy the cast recording. This is a New York show; it goes way, way, way too fast, and without the discs you’ll miss the best jokes and all those sassy rhymes: “Monsieur Lafayette/How you say, no sweat.”