Yes, it lives up to its legend.
“Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s extraordinary award-winning musical about Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first Secretary of the Treasury, which has become the hottest ticket in the world, is now gloriously ensconced at the Fox Theatre through June 10.
This show-business phenomenon started when Mr. Miranda wrote a paper in high school about the 1804 duel between Hamilton and Vice-President Aaron Burr; it reminded young Lin (as his friends call him) of old-school rap rivalries.
Then in 2007, Mr. Miranda read Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography “Alexander Hamilton” and told his girlfriend, “I think this is a great hip-hop musical.” She thought it was a cool idea.
Out of that little acorn of encouragement has sprung the mightiest new oak in show business. It has altered the face of an art form.
You may ask how. Mr. Miranda again: “Musical theatre isn’t an art form. It’s 14 art forms smashed together. And when they coalesce in exactly the right way, I believe it is more powerful than pretty much everything.”
All I can tell you is that they have coalesced: Since its Broadway premiere in 2015, “Hamilton” has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical—plus 11 of the 16 categories in which it was nominated. Mr. Miranda has won a MacArthur “Genius Grant,” a distinct honor with a hefty cash prize.
Needless to say, the show has been a sellout since the first day of its Off-Broadway “tryout.” How do New Yorkers smell a hit so fast? As the Good Book says, “A bird of the air shall carry the matter.”
I can tell you that Wednesday night at the Fox, a supercharged audience burst into thrilled applause the moment the house lights dimmed, before the show even started. That’s very unusual.
But what’s it about? The birth of a nation, of course; but the midwives are not marble statues of dead white men, but instead—immigrants! These states were created by people who came from other places or their immediate descendants. From the beginning Mr. Miranda envisioned a multicultural cast, especially black or Hispanic, to represent a nation born to welcome immigrants and to signal our diversity. Do you perceive any relevance to 2018? To quote a phrase repeated in this almost entirely sung-through show: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I am not throwing away my shot.”
Or as Hamilton (Austin Scott) and his French comrade in arms, the Marquis de Lafayette (Chris De’Sean Lee) say: “Immigrants. We get the job done.” The audience shouts its delighted approval at this and other moments: This libretto has penetrated the Zietgeist.
Hamilton himself came to New York as a teenager from St. Croix. The show’s opening line, a question posed by Aaron Burr (Nicholas Christopher), is a telling one: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” The show answers that question.
One way “Hamilton” alters the art form is by insisting that music heard on pop radio—rap, hip-hop, R&B ballads, blues—all can meld with touches of Broadway to carry the narrative force necessary to make a show soar—and that’s what “Hamilton” does.
Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and even sly King George III are all here. There are 36 cast members, including the ensemble, in this two hours and 45 minutes show. Of enormous importance are the Schuyler sisters—Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy. Eliza (Julia K. Harriman) becomes Hamilton’s wife. Sabrina Sloan as well as Ms. Harriman are standouts in a show full of standouts.
I must mention Andy Blankenbuehler, the choreographer and movement wizard whose brilliant work breaks new ground in the organic use of movement to enhance a story line. The movement is completely mesmerizing. “He carves out…an electric lyricism unlike any I’ve ever seen,” says Mr. Miranda, and he’s right.
David Korins’ sparkling, wooden, scaffolded set, with two turntables at its center, is an earth-colored marvel.
Alex Lacamoire’s music supevision and orchestrations are heaven-sent. By the way, I suppose you know that Mr. Miranda wrote the book, music, and lyrics to “Hamilton.” It took him several years; let’s just say he didn’t win that “Genius” award for nothing. As you know, he was also the show’s original Alexander Hamilton.
The direction is by Thomas Kail, and it is perfection. There are many moments in the show, such as when the sound of the singers and orchestra starts to swell in “My Shot” and the movement of everyone on that beautiful stage is so right and in such God-ordained sync that your eyes tear up. So I’m sorry, folks, the CD, glorious as it is, is not enough. I would call the stage version of “Hamilton” an almost perfect work of art. It must be experienced.
If you can’t get tickets to the show at the Fox, “the room where it happens,” see it later. And even though it’s pretty much sold-out for the entire run, nothing’s impossible. Be sure to check the website below (and only that one) for information about stray tickets—and the online lottery!
I’ll be thinking positive thoughts for you, even as I think thoughts of profound gratitude that I was there.
For more information, visit foxtheatre.org.
I was there too, in perpetual awe, start to finish. The singing, the movement, the storytelling— all memorable. In this moment of reflection, the performance still takes my breath away.
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