Since it debuted in February 2015, Hamilton has been the hottest ticket in every town it’s been shown in. With shows in New York, Chicago, a touring US show, and soon to premiere in London, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s story of Alexander Hamilton has truly become an international phenomenon. Tickets sell out as fast as they become available, and some are resold at higher prices on a secondary market. To make tickets more accessible to the general public and to honor Hamilton’s place on our $10 bill, there is a lottery system where people can enter to win the chance to buy tickets for $10 each.
Ever since the show came to Chicago in 2016, I have been entering the daily lottery for a chance at those tickets. Well, this week my patience finally paid off and I won tickets to Wednesday evening’s show! It’s now a couple days later, and I’m still reeling from how amazing it was. It was all that I thought it would be and more.
I could hardly believe my luck when I checked my messages Tuesday morning, and immediately jumped on it to get my tickets. I knew that I was going to take my sister, since she was the one who first got me interested in the show by letting me listen to her copy of the soundtrack. She was as excited as I was, especially since she thought it might never actually happen. On the drive in, we obviously listened to the soundtrack off my iPod.
Being the bit of *extra* that I am, I had to dress up to see the show. After getting advice from some others, I settled on a blue dress with some gold and cream accessories to make it a bit more “revolutionary.” When we got downtown, we hightailed it to the theater and the box office so that I could get our tickets. Once again, I could scarcely believe my luck when I saw that they were orchestra level seats! Even better, we were the second row! I never could have afforded tickets that good! When we got in the theater, I had to limit myself to how much merchandise I bought, and only purchased two things other than my sister’s Christmas present.
Before the show, pretty much everyone was as excited as we were, and of course we had to get photos of the stage and of ourselves. Our seats were fantastic, as I’d never sat that close to a stage before. Just from the angle we were at, there were tiny parts of the stage we couldn’t see but that was mostly floor-level things and it didn’t matter much just because we were there!!
Even though I’ve listened to the soundtrack several times through (and it is also my playlist for my half-marathons), actually seeing the performance is a completely different experience. You get to see the roles physically acted out, as opposed to just listening to the vocals, and seeing what the characters do when they’re still on stage but not singing or at the center of attention. This gave the characters so much depth and made them feel more like real people. Thomas Jefferson preened and strutted around like a peacock, interacting with the crowd and encouraging them to applaud him when he first appeared in Act 2. (Also, we totally made eye contact at one point!!!) James Madison stood very straight and was quite fastidious, always having a handkerchief on hand and dusting off the mic after Jefferson “dropped the mic” in a Cabinet battle. George Washington was tall and imposing, exuding the air of dignity and steadfastness that you would expect from our first President. There was a definite difference in how Jose Ramos portrayed Philip Hamilton at different stages in his life. For that actors that played dual roles, it was fascinating to see the change in acting that took place. For example, Hercules Mulligan is good friends with Hamilton in Act 1, but in Act 2 James Madison can’t stand him. The same is also true for the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.
In this respect, seeing the production gave me a greater appreciation for the character of Aaron Burr. As the character says, “I’m the villain in your story,” but he really is so much more than that. Seeing the characterization of him made that real for me. You get to see his frustration, anger, sadness, and regret. At the end, he actually wept, which definitely touched me. You also see him get angrier and angrier over the 30 years of perceived slights by Hamilton, from losing out on the position on Washington’s staff during the war to Hamilton outright endorsing Thomas Jefferson over Burr in the Presidential election – all of these culminating in demanding that fateful duel where both their lives were irrevocably changed. Seeing the show also helped me realize how Burr is the narrator of the story. Much of it is told from how he perceives Hamilton’s actions, with a few exceptions. The truth of the matter is that the two men were not very different. They both had many of the same opportunities, except Hamilton usually threw caution to the wind, acting on impulse, when Burr kept his cards close to his chest and made the safe choice. The one time Burr did not is how he is remembered by history. And a quick side note – Gregory Treco (who played Burr) also appeared in the Broadway production of Hamilton.
One thing I also loved is how the actors made the role their own. It wasn’t a straight mimicry of the what is on the Broadway cast recording. Waiting an extra beat or two for emphasis or slightly changing the intonation or pronunciation helped give the role life and showed they were truly inhabiting it. King George is a great example of this. Alexander Gemignani was fantastic in the short time he had on stage. He would throw in an extra sneer of disgust, a different whoop or delight at someone’s misfortune, or just an extra pause for one of his delightful facial expressions. He completely embodies the haughty King of England, and gives the audience plenty to laugh at. I believe the character had less than 20 minutes on stage, but Gemignani makes the absolute most of it.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the performance of Miguel Cervantes in the titular role of Alexander Hamilton. He has starred in the role since the show started in Chicago last year. Cervantes truly carries the brunt of the work in the show, being in nearly every scene and number. He grabs your attention from the very beginning and pulls you along for the ride through the end, all while you are treated to a singing and dancing spectacular about one of our lesser-known Founding Fathers.
The choreography is simply stunning, and one of my favorite examples of this is the song “Satisfied.” The ensemble is celebrating Hamilton’s marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, and as maid-of-honor Angelica toasts the bride and groom, she flashes back to when both Schuyler sisters first met Hamilton. Characters literally retrace their steps to the previous number, doing everything in reverse. In “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”, the world is literally turned upside down, with characters turned tables and chairs upside down above them. Another favorite example is at the end in “The World Was Wide Enough.” Once Burr lets loose that fatal shot, everything moves is slow motion as Hamilton’s mind races with his final thoughts. A member of ensemble acts as the bullet, being lifted by other members of the ensemble as they make their way from Burr’s pistol toward Hamilton. There are so many other wonderful examples, as there is not a weak number in the entire show. I found myself completely entranced, taking in as much as I could.
Another thing I wanted to talk about is the costuming. I enjoyed how the costuming changes along with the characters, which is something any good show does, but Hamilton does quite well. In Act 1 nearly all the male characters wear their military uniforms, but once we win, you see the personalities of characters come out in how they dress. Hamilton changes into a respectable green outfit, which then becomes even fancier in Act 2 once he becomes even more well-to-do. It’s a bit ironic that Thomas Jefferson derides him for dressing in the pits of fashion while he himself wears a purple velvet outfit with lots of gold accents. The staid Madison wears brown, again underscoring the more severe nature of his character. Washington and Hamilton both wear black while they are in office, and Hamilton wears darker colors after Philip is killed and through the end of the show. I also appreciate how the women’s dresses change as time passes. The musical takes place over the course of 30 years, so it wouldn’t make sense if the clothing the characters wore stayed the same. Angelica and Eliza still wear their trademark colors, but the style of them change with the times. Aaron Burr wears darker colors for the entirety of the second act, even through the end when everyone is wearing white or cream-coloring clothing.
This has obviously been commented on elsewhere, but I absolutely love how diverse the cast is. While it’s true that our Founding Fathers were not black or Hispanic, no suspension of disbelief is required on the part of the audience. The cast reflects how our country is today, and Miranda has commented before that it was intentional. The story of Hamilton is essentially one of an immigrant. He came to the colonies from the Caribbean and got ahead “by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter.”
One of the best things about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show is how accessible it is, and I’m not just talking about framing the story with rap-style lyrics. The fact that you can listen to the soundtrack and not miss any of the story (apart from one brief character moment) means that even if you can’t afford tickets or don’t live near any of the productions, you still have access to it. Even the lottery system was a stroke of genius, because once again it gives those who might not be able to afford regular tickets access to Miranda’s creation. You certainly can’t go wrong listening to the Broadway cast recording, but if you have the chance to see the production, I cannot recommend it enough.
Additional photos by Megan Lantz.
Are you a fan of musical theater? Have you seen Hamilton yourself? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!