We always want what we can’t have, right? I’ve had a crush on “Hamilton” since it opened at the Public Theatre a year and half ago. I’ve continued my courtship since it opened on Broadway with no success. At this point, the lottery rejection email has become as much a part of my daily routine as my morning coffee. Of course, there was that ONE time I got the green light, and after a brief and borderline hysterical dance around my apartment, threw down two tens, got dressed to the nines and headed out the door for my long awaited date only to have that fickle d*** cancel on me at the last minute claiming he “overbooked.”
One night I sat online and refreshed the Ticketmaster website for four hours straight before finally snagging a single obstructed view orchestra seat for a very reasonable price, especially given that a seat in the last row of the balcony now goes for $6,453 and your firstborn. I needed to see Lin Manuel Miranda in the title role and wanted to see the show before the Tony Awards, in hopes that the majority of the original cast would still be in the production. On May 26th, a year and a half after I started trying to see the show, I settled into my admittedly very obstructed-view seat, but I was in the room.
The thing about waiting so long to see something so acclaimed is that it nearly always fails to meet my expectations. That’s why I intentionally avoided listening to the soundtrack for as long as I could. (I lasted a week) As a theatre kid it’s hard not to hear the music and decide exactly how it should look so thatwhen I finally get in the theatre I am always surprised to find that the director did not get my memo about how he should have directed his show.
This nearly always leads to disappointment. And to be honest, sure—there were a couple of choices I disagreed with or didn’t understand—most notably the over utilization of the company within the choreographic design as well as the final moment of the show—but these things were so small in relation to the huge impact this show had on me that not only were they forgivable but I think, they’re simply a matter of personal taste. With all the hubbub about this show right now, it’s easy to call it overhyped and overrated but honestly, it’s a phenomenon for a few really good reasons.
1) History Has Its Eyes on You: Political relevance to the state of our nation.
This show is important right now. For a country that’s facing a future potentially lead by a reality television star, this show encourages people to take a very hard look at our origins, the birth of this country and how far we’ve fallen from our forefathers’ original vision for the United States. The line “Immigrants— they get the job done” is a humbling reminder of our current political state of affairs and hearing it uttered by such a diverse cast makes it impossible not to take a close look at the precarious nature of our future. That a Broadway blockbuster can do this and still be entertaining should not go unnoticed.
2) What Comes Next: Simplicity in storytelling
I breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that the design and staging was going to be strikingly simple. I appreciated that the director and design team trusted and respected the score enough to let it stand on it’s own. There were bold and brave choices made in letting the actors stand center stage and just sing —just connect—and tell their stories. For this reason the most beautiful moments in the show are the quiet, still ones. Burr and companyin “Wait For It” as he stands center stage singing and the company surrounds him in stillness is profoundly beautiful. The moment at the end of “It’s Quiet Uptown” when Eliza takes Hamilton’s hand brought me to tears. In “Dear Theodosia,” we see Philip for the first time, as we’re saying goodbye to Laurens and that moment is staged so delicately, so beautifully, so simply that I can still see it days later. In keeping the staging so simple, a movement like the company’s collective transition from seated to standing during a heightened moment can inform, transform and was more powerful than any flashy choreography or light design.
3) Blow Us All Away: Tear down the 4th Wall
In 99% of “classic” Broadway productions, the audience finds the fourth wall firmly in tact. Their function as audience is very clear and perfunctory but in “Hamilton” the cast works to make sure that this wall, though present simply by merit of the proscenium, is never divisive. There’s SO much eye contact in this show—and not the traditional “break the 4th wall convention as a stylistic choice” eye contact. I’m talking tear-the-fucking-wall down and single out audience members so they know you SEE them. Hamilton and Burr were standouts in doing this—and what I found is that lines that I’d never liked in listening to the soundtrack suddenly felt right because they served as true audience asides that reeled us further into their world. Of course what this also means is that when knob-head audience members tried to film the Cabinet Battles, Lin not only caught on—so engaged was he with the audience—but he called him out (“turn it off!”) without (literally) losing a beat. Besides this egregious audience member behavior, there were so many other times that cast members sought connection with the audience that it changed the entire tone of the show—it made us a part of it—this thing that so many of us have waited months to see. That’s a lovely gift to give your audience, especially on Broadway where the divide can feel exponentially wide.
4) Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story: Diversity.
With all the talk of Trump’s proposed plans for “building a wall,” Lin is tearing them down with this show and that is something that shouldn’t, can not go unnoticed. In the hugely homogenous landscape that is Broadway and the entertainment industry, it’s so incredibly important to see a cast of diverse actors onstage, especially given the characters they’re playing. There’s something jarring and thought-provoking and let’s face it, downright historical about what Lin Manuel Miranda has done in telling this story the way he has—between the genre of music used, the staging and diverse casting—this IS something we should keep talking about, because we need to see this as a model for the direction the theatre community should move and not just a one-off box-office hit. Similarly, to let Eliza end the show, to place her center stage with the company (and notably her husband) standing behind her is to show us that at the center of this male-centric story stand very strong, educated and historically important women. We should probably keep talking about that too.
5) Burn: Reach.
Sure, Lin concedes now and then and gives the baby boomer old fogies that still infiltrate Broadway audiences what they want from a Broadway musical (Looking at you King George!) But he also makes sure that this population gets a little schooled with a genre of music that’s likely largely unfamiliar to them, but largely familiar to the population of people who will *hopefully* become future theatre-goers. The fact that “Hamilton” is reaching an astounding number of people outside of the typical Broadway audiences is not only incredible but important. “Hamilton” is to 2016 what “Rent” was to 1996 and yeah, the hype can sometimes feel a little excessive but it’s absolutely, 100% deserved.
6) The Story of Tonight: The Score.
Here’s the thing about “Hamilton.” What Lin Manuel Miranda has done is penned an incredible score that stands on it’s own. He’s made a piece of art that will outlive him, and if that’s not a gauge of artistic success I don’t know what is. This soundtrack has topped the charts despite the fact that 98% of listeners haven’t seen the show and that’s because you can listen to it and SEE IT without being in the theatre. But man, if you can—if you have the time and energy to court “Hamilton,” do it. I guarantee you’ll be satisfied.