If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, or have talked to me in real life, you know that I’ve been a tiny bit obsessed with a new musical called Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars in the show as Alexander Hamilton. The show’s premise? The life (and death) of founding father Alexander Hamilton, told through a variety of musical styles (from Broadway to hip-hop, with a whole lot of other influences and a ton of references), performed by a diverse cast.
If you live here in NYC, Hamilton has become ubiquitous — everyone is talking about it. The show ran at the Public Theater, off-Broadway, this winter into spring, and opened on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater this summer. I bought tickets to see the show at the Public way back in December, and in early March, just before seeing it, I bought tickets to see it on Broadway in August. All of us who have been following the show knew before we saw it that something special was happening here.
For this post I’ve pulled together a group of Hamilton fans, some of whom participated in my Fun Home round robin review. We’ve all seen the show. Some have seen it on Broadway AND off, like me, while others only have seen one production or the other. We’ve all listened to the cast album, which was released a few weeks ago. Before it was available for purchase, it was free to stream on NPR. Now you can stream the album on Spotify or purchase it online or on CD (you can even download the lyrics for free!).
That said, I think we would all suggest that if you have the opportunity to see Hamilton anytime soon, don’t listen to the album. The show is so smart, so surprising, and so thoughtful, that if you can go into it without too much information about what’s going to happen next, you should. That means that if you don’t want to be spoiled, you shouldn’t read all of this post, either. Check out my original, spoiler-free review of the Public production and stop reading this review at my “SPOILERS AHEAD” mark.
So let’s get started with our Hamilton the BROADWAY musical review and discussion! Here on the blog today I have Kate (K), Maya (M), Alix (X), and Allie (A), who were all here for the Fun Home post. Also joining us are Sara (R) and Julian (J), and I’m Sarah (S).
S: I first heard about Hamilton from Kate and Maya, who are huge fans of Miranda’s Tony Award-winning In the Heights. After I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap from the 2009 White House Poetry Jam, I was in. It doesn’t hurt that the American Revolution is one of my favorite historical periods, or that I love the musical 1776 (which Encores! at the New York City Center is putting on next summer with a diverse cast!). What drew you all to the musical?
M: Well, I planned an entire vacation from the West Coast to see it in its run at the Public, so you could say I was a little excited about it. I’ve been a fan of Lin’s work since the In The Heights album came out, and I got to see the show during its Broadway run about five years ago (long after Lin had left- but it was still excellent!). I remember back when Hamilton was going to be a rap concept album…but I can’t say I’m disappointed in what it’s turned into! So, I’ve seen the off-Broadway version at the Public and listened to the cast album (a lot).
A: I’m pretty sure you did, Sarah! I remember hearing you talk about the show before I was aware of any of the hype. But when the hype hit, it hit hard — you couldn’t live in NYC without hearing about it. Honestly, though, before I saw the show, I was a little unsure about the concept and how it could be executed. Despite the hype and your recommendation, I tried to go in with my expectations managed. Not necessary: Even if I had high expectations, the show would have shattered them. I’m a total convert now.
J: What’s really incredible is how Hamilton is that rare thing which can actually meet the hype. People always like to say the new hotness is the best thing ever, and I’ve never seen a musical get so much praise and attention from so many corners. Like Allie, I went in with my expectations raised to an unreasonable degree — and was blown away. It’s possible that Hamilton can’t be overhyped. There, I said it.
R: I was already familiar with Miranda from having seen both In the Heights and Bring it On (anyone else? no? yeah…) on Broadway, and I saw Miranda perform in the City Center Encores Production of Merrily We Roll Along. At some point, I started following him on Twitter, and I was hooked. Miranda refers to his Twitter community as “Twitterico”, and it is this magical place filled with West Wing references and stories about his dog. I started hearing chatter about the Hamilton Mixtape a while back, completely regretted missing the American Songbook presentation, and swore I wouldn’t miss it again — hence my seeing Hamilton twice at the Public!
K: Yes, HUGE Heights fan here especially as I live in the titular neighborhood and teach in a very similar Bronx community. The fact that there is work of musical theatre (my favorite music genre) that speaks through and to the genres and vernaculars of my kids, neighbors, and their families — so powerful. Hamilton does the same thing but, of course, on a giant scale in terms of the production and the source material. I actually got into the Hamilton loop, however, before I knew much about it as a former high school classmate of mine has been a cast member from early readings on; I was super excited to discover she was working with Miranda & Co and wanted to follow her journey with the production. Her journey happened to dovetail with a gigantically successful musical theatre revolution, so… bonus. =)