I’ve been offline for a couple of days. Drove 6.5 hours one way from Ohio to New Jersey and back this past weekend to visit an old friend of mine who beguiled me with tickets to Hamilton to celebrate my big birthday this past year. That last sentence should be enough to explain that she’s a pretty good friend.
We took the train into New York City Sunday afternoon. Got out at Madison Square Garden and walked to the theatre district. Oh man, was it ever cold! She’s a former resident of the city so she had her earmuffs firmly in place but I’m a silly Midwesterner who thought I could get away with gloves, a warm scarf and a hood. Nope. The city is WAY cold in the winter when you walk blocks and blocks…
Anyway, we get inside the theatre and I discover we were sitting seven rows from the stage, house right: so so close. The Richard Rodgers Theatre is pretty intimate to begin with but still: what a delightful surprise. It was Javier Munoz’s last performance in the lead, having taken over for Lin Manuel Miranda who originated the role and wrote the whole thing. The audience was uncharacteristically rowdy from the perspective of my prior Broadway experience, and totally pumped up for the show. Javier appeared on stage to extended applause and whoops, as did a few of the other lead actors.
From the opening line of the show, you could tell it would be different: an in-your-face, gripping story of a man who overcame unbelievable odds but whose accomplishments aren’t lauded.
About 15 minutes into the show, tears streamed quietly down my face. I couldn’t believe how remarkable this performance was. Not that I’m a Broadway aficionado, but what art form tells the story of the Revolution? What musical virtually avoids all spoken word but raps and sings throughout? Tell me what Broadway event showcases modern dance and hip hop throughout the entire performance? I’m telling you, every single word was punctuated by a movement or gesture at just the right moment by the principals and cast. This wasn’t mere stage blocking…this was magic. The cast mimicked a hurricane, they became part of the set, props in a scene…
The words flew out of their mouths like rolling waves of history. So so fast. It was as if you had to hear an entire phrase and absorb it on delay to appreciate what they were saying. The speed of the speech was incredible. And it’s rap so it freaking RHYMED! You can claim that you hate rap and you therefore have no interest in this show, but I beg you to reconsider. The best kind of rap is storytelling with soul. And that is Hamilton.
How can you even begin to appreciate how much dialogue is in this show? At 3-5x the rate of any other type of entertainment? This is a story being told with speed, dynamics, rhythm and rhyme, poetry and motion, not to mention color. The deliberate multi-cultural casting of the show is brilliant. As a line the playbook says: the story of America then being told by America now.
I swear, it seems that growing up we studied the Revolutionary War starting in 1st Grade all the way through 8th Grade. Memorizing dates and battles and commanders in a meaningless haze, to the point where I had zero interest in revisiting any of this history. Boring. Mindless. Yes, we formed a new country. Yay. Men died. Understood. We kicked the British out. Yep. Got it. Heard it, read it, been there, done that. Yada yada. I know that sounds flippant. Arrogant. But nothing I had heard about the early days of our country really jazzed me.
This telling gave you an appreciation of who these Founding Fathers were, what motivated them, what doubts they had along the way, and what qualities they had that mirror Americans today. And how every single one of them came from somewhere else, with their own dreams for success in this land, the French, English, Caribbean, and Dutch, to name just a few back then. That’s the beauty of theatre. It stirs emotion in you that makes it somehow relatable. I’m sitting there thinking of what characteristics Hamilton and Washington and Jefferson and I have in common. I’m still thinking about it, the connection of Founding Fathers over time to their American child: me.
There were moments in the show that blew me away. The music was a constant until one point in the show, when maybe Hamilton is actually using spoken word or maybe not, when the absence of accompaniment had an almost klieg-light effect on what he was saying. There was another poignant moment when the music became a heartbeat, and you could hear a pin drop.
And King George was hysterical throwing a subdued hissy fit. Every single restrained line was absolutely delicious. And it seemed that his words could be just as relevant to us today as they were intended to be at that point in history.
It was breathtaking. It was freaking genius, every single bit of it.
It’s been three days now since I’ve seen that show. I keep humming the themes and phrases that repeated throughout. I marvel at the remarkable drive of Alexander Hamilton, not to mention the irony and tragedy in the line, “I am not throwing away my shot”.
All I can tell you is, hands down, Hamilton is the most amazing artistic performance I have ever seen. A total game-changer in terms of entertainment. The story of an old world told by a new world. I am forever changed having seen it – so so proud to be American – and I urge you to see it in New York or in a city near you when it tours.