“Best Hamiltunes ever!”
After several hours of invigorating “Hamilton” songs in two back-to-back events, Donald Milton III, whose bright blue T-shirt says “Raise a Glass to Freedom,” jumps onstage at the Vista Room. That’s what he shouts into the microphone.
“Hamilton” fans and fanatics respond with whoops and hollers, a “Hallelujah!” and a couple of “Yeah, babys!”
Wait — didn’t Milton declare it “best Hamiltunes ever!” last time? And the time before that?
That’s because they do keep getting better — from the level of energy and excitement in “the room where it happens” (to steal the title of one of the show’s catchy, upbeat numbers), to the overall caliber of the talent.
Milton launched Hamiltunes ATL more than two years ago at a former church in the Chosewood Park vicinity. The Vista Room is his third location for the event, essentially a chance for anyone bitten by the “Hamilton” bug to sing through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2015 rap-heavy show about Alexander Hamilton, our first secretary to the Treasury. It won 11 Tonys in 2016, as well as the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A national tour is bringing the show to the Fox Theatre May 22-June 10.
Hamiltunes ATL is billed as “a safe, supportive place to sing your heart out.” It’s karaoke, but Milton prefers calling it a “singalong”; he uses the original cast recording with vocal tracks lowered. Most of the often 100-150 attendees sing right along from their seats and seem to know every line of Miranda’s poetic, tongue-tripping lyrics.
When you register online in advance ($17.76), that gives you the chance to indicate which roles in which of the 46 songs you want to “perform” onstage — get the mic for that bit, that is.
Organizers try to play fair and not allow one Hamil-Maniac to hog the spotlight. (Participants are assigned up to three songs in advance; any slots still open are then filled on a first-come basis at the event.)
Do you want to do Aaron Burr in the opening number? (“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean … “)
Or you might be more drawn to Burr’s softer “Dear Theodosia”? Or maybe channel your inner Daveed Diggs, that breakneck-speed rapper who won the Tony Award in the featured-actor category for playing the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette (in Act 1) and Thomas Jefferson (in Act 2)? Do you want to be the spicy Angelica Schuyler introducing herself in “The Schuyler Sisters”? Or perhaps choose a powerhouse number done by her sister, Eliza, wife of Alexander Hamilton? Eliza’s big turns include “Helpless,” “Burn” and the emotional finale, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”
The sing-through unfolds from top to bottom and it all goes bam-bam-bam. (The next Hamiltunes is June 10 at the Vista Room.)
The recent Sunday night event was the ninth “adults only” Hamiltunes ATL. Claudia Strange, who by day is the public relations and marketing manager for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, is among regulars who have been to every one so far.
“Hamiltunes has been a real life-saver for me,” Strange says. “As a busy working mom, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to do something just for myself. I couldn’t be more thankful for this crazy bunch of Revolutionaries.”
More than a year ago, Milton added an “all-ages” Hamiltunes that’s been dominated by kids ages 7-13, although some adults get up to sing alongside kids ages 2 (no kidding) to about 16. (The kids’ event precedes the adults’ event and is scaled back — all of Act 1, then a few selections from Act 2. Kids are advised to skip over the “bad” words.)
“It was my friend Amelia who told me about ‘Hamilton,’ ” says A.J. Marshall, 8, who’s home-schooled in the Tucker area. “That’s how I began my whole craze. And then I told Lily about it, and that’s how Lily began her whole craze.” Her friend, Lily Smith, 11, a fifth-grader at DeKalb County’s Oakcliff Elementary, was among the most animated — making wild hand and arm motions while singing.
The very height of “Ham” fashion in a Revolutionary War costume, A.J. took the stage as much as possible at the kids’ event. (She impressed the crowd doing one of Burr’s best lines, “I’m a trust fund baby, you can trust me.”)
For the Morrises of Lake Claire, “Hamilton” is a family affair — ever since daughter Lily learned to sing “My Shot” two years ago with the Inman Middle School chorus. The family regularly sings “Hamilton” via their home karaoke system. They’ll finally see the show on May 27 at the Fox.
Jack Morris, 9, nailed King George’s big number, “You’ll Be Back,” complete with the signature move of shoulders alternating up and down. A few hours later at the adults’ sing-through, his dad, Brad, also put on the crown and did the shoulders bit. Everyone ate it up. Not to be left out, mom Lisa also was King George in a “You’ll Be Back” reprise.
“It’s your moment to shine,” says Jack, considered a King George “specialist” among friends and family. At Hamiltunes, “it’s OK if you mess up. Everyone still claps for you and cheers you on.”
That’s what it’s about for Milton, who started Hamiltunes ATL as a passion project. (He’s also the 10-year director of music for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta and the interim music director of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus.)
Milton believes that “everyone can sing, everyone should sing, and that people were meant to sing together, both good singers and bad. Everyone leaves Hamiltunes feeling like a million bucks.”
He calls “Hamilton” storytelling at its highest level. “It’s historically significant and also very timely. It is musical and theatrical genius.”
Marshall Mabry, 16, is so serious about “Hamilton” that he got ahold of some of the show’s audition materials — thanks to a friend who has had several casting callbacks for it. (Besides the Broadway show in New York, there’s currently a Chicago production plus two touring productions. A London production opened in December and another is planned for Puerto Rico.)
“As soon as I heard there was a musical about the Founding Fathers and they were rapping, that was it,” says Mabry, who’s home-schooled in Fairburn. “I started listening to the cast album while mowing the lawn, and it hasn’t stopped since.”
At his first Hamiltunes, he took command as Hercules Mulligan in “Yorktown: The World Turned Upside Down,” and as Burr in several songs. He’s also been studying voice, acting and movement.
“Being in ‘Hamilton’ is my No. 1 goal,” he says.
While Scott and Grace Shickler of east Cobb just attended their first Hamiltunes, they’re hardly new to “Hamilton.” They’re super fans who caught on early, seeing the show in early 2015 at the Public Theatre in New York, before it moved to Broadway. Then they snapped up more tickets to see it in New York before it became the rage. They’ll see it for an eighth time in Atlanta and also have tickets to see it in London.
“When you’re watching the show,” says Grace, “you’re really not supposed to sing along — and I’m dying to. So Hamiltunes gives me that kindred-ness with other people who really want to raise a glass to this amazing show. This event really delivered for me, and some of the talent was phenomenal.”
Through redbubble.com, Grace custom-made herself a “Probably Singing Hamilton” bumper sticker.
Chances are very good that she’s singing “Hamilton” this very minute. She’s young, scrappy and hungry, and she’s not giving up her shot anytime soon.
HAMILTUNES ATL AND OTHER CHANCES TO SING OUT
With a Facebook page inching up on 2,000 “likes”/followers, Hamiltunes ATL is one among more than 35 similar endeavors around the country.
“Hamilton” producers got wind of things and now require that all proceeds from such singalongs go to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to benefit the show’s education programs.
The next Hamiltunes ATL is June 10 at the Vista Room, 2836 Lavista Road, Decatur. An abbreviated all-ages version ($12 in advance, $15 at the door) begins at 3 p.m.; sing-through of entire show for adults ($17.76 in advance, $25 at the door) starts at 6 p.m. Stay tuned in: facebook.com/hamiltunesatl. “Hamilton,” which sold out right away, will run at the Fox Theatre (foxtheatre.org) May 22-June 10. There will be lotteries for the chance to buy 40 $10 seats for every show. See the AJC’s Music Scene blog for details.
Starting Hamiltunes ATL inspired Don Milton III to launch a company called Sky Punch, which produces other singalongs and interactive community music events. Thus far, Sky Punch has hosted a night to sing popular Disney tunes, another for “Disney villains” songs, and another loaded with Michael Jackson hits.
If you’re hot for ‘90s pop like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, Sky Punch has scheduled a “90s Boy Band/Girl Pop Sing-Along Dance Party” at 8 p.m. May 18 at Avondale Towne Cinema, 106 N. Avondale Road, Avondale Estates. For tickets, go to EventBrite.com and search for “90s Boyband/Girl Pop” in Decatur.
“Sing out” opportunities are everywhere these days. Happy Karaoke, Karaoke Melody, Fam-Fam Karaoke and Ai Tunes Karaoke are just four metro-area venues where you can rent out a room for an hour or more and let loose among friends.
OTHER POPULAR PUBLIC KARAOKE OPPORTUNITIES
• Sister Louisa’s Church Organ Karaoke: Organist T.T. Mahony accompanies on the Baldwin organ. 10 p.m. Wednesdays. Choir robes optional. Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium, 466 Edgewood Ave. SE, Atlanta. 404-522-8275, sisterlouisaschurch.com.
• MetalSome Karaoke: Rock out and sing punk, metal and more with live band accompaniment at 10 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, or try MellowSome (to live acoustic music) at 10 p.m. Tuesdays. Doors open at 9 p.m. 10 High Club at Dark Horse Tavern, 816 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. 404-873-3607, darkhorseatlanta.com.
• Mary-oke in East Atlanta: It’s widely considered one of the hottest karaoke venues in the area. The popular host is CJ and he offers more than 10,000 tracks from which to choose. Look forward to “epic” singalongs. Tuesdays and Saturdays. Mary’s, 1287 Glenwood Ave. SE., Atlanta. 404-624-4411, marysatlanta.com.
• Chaplins: One of the oldest karaoke spots around, Kings of Karaoke offers more than 100,000 songs and hosts singing action five nights a week (start and end times vary, Wednesdays through Sundays). 555 S. Atlanta St., Roswell. 770-642-6981, chaplinsroswell.com.