“Hamilton An American Musical” was not something I “had to see” but became the thing I was compelled to see a second and third time. Is it over for me? “Not yet.” It’s terrific.
My thoughts will inevitably compare New York and Chicago performances, having seen them both. My essential impression is this:
“the show is the show.”
The cast changes; the venue varies; the audience alters the atmosphere. Yet nothing matters more than the amazing artistry brought to the stage by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the team that created Hamilton. It matters little if one performance piques your preferences more, if one song soars higher than the rest, or if one actor’s authenticity rings more true.
What matters is finding one’s deepest energies stirred by this combination of words, music, lighting, choreography, costumes, characters, revolution, rhymes, reversals, defiance, debates, duels, history, honesty, humor, wanting, waiting, winning, losing, longing, lasting, the fights, the failures, the rooms, the booms, sisterhood, brotherhood, being misunderstood, time and place, voice and face, — all at great pace, while hearts and minds race to absorb every trace of the brilliance that is Hamilton.
The show, the show. On any stage, this package is filled with treats for the soul. Some things that get one hooked on Hamilton are obvious, others subtle, and a few are both. Historical significance is obvious in this tale of founding fathers. Historical significance is also subtle with new ground broken in music, casting, and costume for future stage performances.
I knew nothing of the musical and little about Hamilton himself before walking in the door of New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre in October 2015. By intermission, I had purchased the CD compilation at the souvenir stand because a single hearing was not going to be sufficient.
I was surprised that major actors were about to play new characters in the second act. By the fade of applause to final bows, I was beginning to memorize their names.
I lacked the depth of true “Hamilfans” regarding cast, creator, and character backstories. Within hours I began auditioning for fandom through YouTube videos, Twitter, dissection of the Playbill, on-line reviews, mapping the island of Nevis, researching James Madison’s chronic illness, reading George Washington’s 1796 farewell address in book form, and more.
I immediately dubbed what I witnessed to be “creative brilliance.” As final notes drifted away, it was clear this was the best theater creation I had ever seen. So? That statement itself is perhaps a low bar:
- I’m not a Broadway show aficionado, though I have seen many.
- I’m not a great fan of musicals, preferring dramas of the spoken word over theater that is primarily sung.
- If I knew every critical word would be set to tune, I would think it “opera” and acknowledge that my one foray on that front was a lark, never a longing.
- If I knew that many of those words would be the “rap” genre, my prior disdain for such would have negatively biased any expectations.
How does one arrive at “the best” with hardly a hook upon which to hang that accolade? I knew this because I could personally place Hamilton with the top music/optics/storytelling combination of another medium in my recollection.
Think of a package with music, visuals, drama, characters, and history. How often do these all come together with excellence? My mental image? The movie “Dr. Shivago.” Those elements drove my appreciation for the film, and now Hamilton theater had also masterfully combined them, but, incredibly, in a live performance.
Yet nothing enamored me more than the words that floated in through the ears and refused to leave the brain. Poetic, descriptive, fun, fitting, phenomenal words, carefully crafted to tell a story, to entertain an audience, and to elevate a piece of history to a new consciousness while lifting a modern (niche?) music genre to, literally, a new place on the stage.
“The best” is not a diminution of others. This was the creation of a new level of appreciation for the art of Broadway. I was hooked on a two-act hip-hop pop operetta! My “world turned upside down.”
“What comes next?”
Hamilton 2 – May I have 20,000 words with you?
*Note: Italicized quotes are from “Hamilton An American Musical.”