The last Saturday of summer, Aug. 27, I had the pleasure of seeing Hamilton on Broadway in New York City. Located at 226 W. 46th Street, Hamilton is put on in the lovely Richard Rogers Theatre. The venue possesses a nice lobby where drinks, snacks, and show merchandise are sold. The theater itself is very well designed. In my opinion there’s not a bad seat in the house. Ideally one would sit on the main floor as close to the stage as possible, but I was seated close to the back of the second level. My ticket was labeled “obstructed view,” but I could see everything. Sometimes an upper level on the stage was cut off, but if I ducked my head slightly I could see the actors completely. Every audience member gets what they paid for.
And what they paid for is phenomenal. Hamilton: An American Musical, tells the story of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton through a roughly two-and-a-half hour hip hop musical. Hamilton racked up an astounding 11 Tony Awards, including best musical and best score. These two go hand in hand, as the show is almost completely sung/rapped through. The award-winning score is truly amazing, bringing together musical theatre and hip hop in a way that has never been done before. Hamilton was composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also played the title role in the original Broadway cast. Lin’s first acclaimed musical, In The Heights, introduced Broadway to hip hop, while Hamilton ensured that it will stay there. The original cast album hit number one of the Billboard Rap Chart, something no musical has ever done before.
In the show I saw, Lin did not perform, as he left the cast this past summer. He has been replaced by Javier Munoz, who fills his shoes perfectly. Javier was part of the production from day one, acting as Lin’s alternate, and apparently watching Lin perform from the wings every night in an effort to meet the role’s requirements. He has been dubbed “the sexy Hamilton.” I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Javier entering the stage door before the show began. He arrived about an hour before the curtain. I also saw the actor playing Aaron Burr, Brandon Victor Dixon, roll in 30 minutes before curtain, cutting it a little close in my opinion. Despite his late arrival, he gave a stellar performance, delivering notes with a sweet tenor voice. Brandon replaced Leslie Odom Jr. as Burr, who won a Tony for the role. Though these men have left, some of the original cast were still there. Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Okieriete Onaodowan (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), and Anthony Remos (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) performed at the show. Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler) and Christopher Jackson (George Washington) were still a part of the cast, but their understudies performed the day I saw the show. Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson was played by swing Andrew Chapelle, who added a more flamboyant side to the role than I believe his predecessor, Tony winner Daveed Diggs, may have. All in all, the cast was full of talent making it an enjoyable show.
The success of the show mainly lies in the music (words cannot describe the talent that is composer Lin-Manuel Miranda), but many artistic elements contribute to it. Actors are dressed in colonial garb from the neck down, and from the neck up they are modern. The cast is mainly African American or Latino, mainly because these people are typically the best to perform rap/hip hop/R&B. It’s also seen as “the story of America then, told by America now.” This philosophy makes Hamilton somewhat of a way for people of those ethnicities to take back a part of history that they may have felt excluded from. The set is a rustic stage with a wooden upper level, often used as a colonial bar. Different chairs, tables, and benches are placed on the stage throughout the production to go to a more specific location. Parts of the stage revolve to show the passing of time or advanced movement.
The story is a mostly factual tale of the revolutionary war and the early stages of the U.S. government. It also displays many emotions and issues that are still relevant today. Hamilton’s eagerness to prove himself and Burr’s tendency to wait for things to take their course make these characters nice foils. Burr, Madison, and Jefferson show jealousy when they believe that Washington is on Hamilton’s side as opposed to theirs. The love story between Alexander and Eliza is… complicated. Their love is shown to be true and meaningful, Alexander, striving to provide for Eliza and Eliza unconditionally loving Alexander, only asking that he “take a break” from time to time to be with her. Things go sour when Hamilton cheats on Eliza with Maria Reynolds. Then tragedy strikes when their son Philip is mortally wounded in a duel.
Hats off to Anthoy Remos for making Philip’s death extremely emotional. I will admit I got a little choked up. The song “It’s Quiet Uptown” describes the grieving process of losing a child as something that “words cannot reach.” Overall, Hamilton is a story of A. Ham’s ambition and the life that he led due to it.
I wish I could pick my favorite songs from the show, but they’re all great. The big numbers, however, prove to be “My Shot,” “The Schuyler Sisters,” “The Battle of Yorktown,” “Non-Stop,” “Take A Break,” “Say No To This,” “Washington On Your Side,” “One Last Time,” and “The Room Where It Happens.” That may seem like a lengthy list, but there are 46 songs on the cast album. The show is high energy, historically accurate, and emotionally touching. Hamilton gets 5/5 stars. It gets 10/10 stars. It gets 100/100 stars. Hamilton gets however many stars you can think of, thanks to the stars that light up the stage. The tickets are currently pricey, but if you ever get a chance to see it, seize that opportunity. As New York Times critic Ben Brantley so eloquently put it, “Yes, it really is that good.”