|Michael Luwoye as Hamilton, photo @ Joan Marcus|
So ... how was it? Was it worth the three year wait? (Seriously, it took me 2 years just to get that Ticketmaster pre-sale code that allowed me to buy tickets). The long and the short of it is that Hamilton is a very, very entertaining, well-crafted musical. Lin Manuel Miranda mixes contemporary hip-hop with R&B, jazz, and classical musical theater styles and crafted a musical that is intelligent, funny, and thought-provoking.
|Lawson and Gonzalez as the Schuyler sisters, photo @ Joan Marcus|
The second act was given a jolt of energy by the arrival of Thomas Jefferson (who is played by an actor who doubles as the Marquis de Lafayette in Act One) and then the musical moves inexorably towards Hamilton's demise. Act Two is so much stronger than Act One in every way -- dramatically, musically, structurally. For one, the debates between Jefferson and Hamilton on Washington's cabinet are the most thought-provoking parts of the musical. Their arguments still resonate today. The best songs are also in Act Two -- the insanely catchy "What'd I Miss" from Jefferson, Aaron Burr's big dance production number "The Room Where It Happens," "It's Quiet Uptown," the heartbreaking song after Hamilton's son Philip dies in a duel, and finally, "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" is an exquisitely quiet finale.
|Daniel Breaker as Burr, photo @ Joan Marcus|
|Iglheart as Jefferson, photo @ Joan Marcus|
After it was all over I contemplated why this musical became such a smash hit. It's not perfect. Besides the issues I already mentioned the choreography by Andy Blankenbeuhler is often way too fussy and frantic, especially for the ensemble. Sometimes I wanted the characters to just sing without the interruption of 10 ensemble dancers weaving in and out of the turntable set. The score is great -- full of catchy earworms. But there's many musicals with great scores. And then I realized that all the characters of Hamilton are keenly intelligent. The rivalries between Burr and Hamilton, Hamilton and Jefferson, etc. arise not because one side is wrong and the other is right but because both sides are right. People like to see smart, likable characters onstage and that's what LMM gave us. He didn't dumb things down. The Compromise of 1790 gets more playtime than the typical love triangle stuff of musicals. Of course LMM slightly tips his hand in favor of Hamilton, as is shown in this lyric that is Hamilton's response to Jefferson:
“Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor, “We plant seeds in the South. We create.” Yeah, keep ranting. We know who’s really doing the planting”The other part of its appeal is that Hamilton is that it captures a very Obama-esque zeitgeist. The racially diverse cast, the value placed on thoughtful civic debates, leaders who despite personal and political flaws acted for the good of the country -- that's Obama-era thinking that disappeared on November 9, 2016. If Donald Trump saw Hamilton I can only imagine his tweet: "Three hours of a musical where no one Wins? And no mention of how immigrants are killing Americans and taking their jobs? Boring, overrated, Sad!" So in 2018 it's more important than ever that a musical like Hamilton remains a hot ticket. It's a reminder of the country the Founding Fathers knew we could be, rather than the country we currently are.
I mean watch Lin Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech at the Tony's. Gracious, intelligent, and uplifting. And he created a musical with as much class as himself. That is the appeal of Hamilton.