I have been desperate to see Hamilton ever since it debuted on Broadway in July of 2015. The media hyped this play so intensely that I felt like I was missing out. Tickets were a struggle to obtain even a year into its running, signifying just how in-demand it was. When I saw the announcement that the touring production was set to arrive in Providence this year, I was overjoyed. I made it very clear to Billy that it was absolutely vital for us to get tickets. Luckily, we did. So now that I’ve seen it and had a chance to reflect, did Hamilton truly live up to all that hype?
Being the Broadway powerhouse that it has become, you may find it surprising that I went into my viewing of Hamilton completely blind. A rare feat for someone so enamored by musical theater. I had never heard the soundtrack, never watched the YouTube live performances, and frankly new less than I care to admit about his historical presence. But this made my experience with Hamilton that much more authentic. Unlike Wicked, for example, where I had the soundtrack memorized for years prior to my viewing, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this play. And with my expectations so elevated from the constant hype, I was expecting nothing but perfection. I’m happy to say – this play completely and utterly shattered my expectations.
Right off the bat, the concept of Hamilton is shear genius. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s idea to tell the story of an unsung hero, and pivotal character in developing American history through a modern, urban interpretation is masterful. Alexander Hamilton’s legacy is one that very few people ever reference, and yes his influence on government is still seen today. I found it particularly empowering to watch his story unfold and learn just how much he accomplished in his short lifespan. I’m sure my mom, a former Social Studies teacher, will be happy to hear that I now know what the Federalist Papers are.
What makes Hamilton shine above other musicals, is its ability to carry powerful themes throughout its entirety. These themes are dynamic. At various times throughout the narrative, they sometimes carry a different meaning, or even change character, and yet always stay relevant to the story. I found this to be the most compelling part of the writing. Hamilton’s constant race against time, Eliza’s helplessness, or Angelica’s battle with satisfaction, are just a few of the many themes. There’s so much to write about on this topic, that someone actually created a recurring Podcast analyzing the lyrics of each individual song. The poetic lyricism is truly astounding.
The set was simply themed itself to depict the inside of an 18th century building. What made the set really come alive was the floor. This is not something you would typically notice in a musical set. But the center floor moved as a giant ring in a circular direction. It often gave the illusion that the characters were walking. The cast made expert use of their ability to spin in a multitude of ways, pushing the perspectives of a simple stage in new and creative ways. The spinning stage also helped push the over-arching theme of Hamilton’s struggle with time.
Lastly, the choreography was truly astounding. The hybrid dance collection of the quick and harsh hip hop/street steps interwoven with the soft and melodic contemporary moves was a pleasure to experience. The dances helped elevate the notion of this urban interpretation of the 18th century.
Interestingly, I found Aaron Burr’s character to be one of the most compelling pieces to the narrative. We are taught in history lessons that he was a traitorous figure who was responsible for Hamilton’s death. In the play, we’re given an opportunity to see his perspective of history, where, in his eyes, Hamilton is the antagonist. Alexander is always one step smarter, one step faster, and one step more beloved than him. After Hamilton’s tragic death, Burr admits his fault to the audience and acknowledges his place in history as a villain. Whether or not Burr is deserving of our sympathy, I found the humanization of his stoic character to be deeply powerful.
I am happy to say that Hamilton really blew me away. It surpassed every expectation that I had, and those expectation were soaring. I can always tell how much I loved a play based on how many times I decide to play to the entire soundtrack on repeat the following day. Let’s just say – this one lasted for a few days. In fact, listening to the soundtrack the next day gave me an opportunity to really appreciate the genius lyricism in the words. To describe Hamilton as genius is honestly an understatement. It was that good.