Hamilton Broadway musical – review and discussion

X: Like Allie, I think I might have first heard about Hamilton from Sarah, too! Anyway, I wasn’t aware of it until shortly before the Public run, and I’ve still never seen/heard anything else Lin-Manuel has done. I knew vaguely who Lin was, but Heights hit during the years I didn’t really follow theater (the years I lived in New York were also the years I was least interested in theater, so . . . that sucks).

S: Happy to be helping convert people. :) Big picture, what was everyone’s favorite part of the production? Not specific songs or anything (I imagine we’ll get to that!) but favorite element? I have too many, but I would say that the way the story is told makes history feel like a living thing — the founding of the US doesn’t seem inevitable. Instead we see some of the personalities and decisions that shaped the country and you get the sense that if one conversation went differently somewhere along the line, things could be very different for us. Does that make sense?

K: My love for Hamilton evolved from the outside in — I was first drawn to the innovative structures: persons of color comprise the entire cast (aside from King George), hip hop is the default language of the revolution, and as Sarah notes the characters feel a lot more human than those of your traditional founding fathers narrative. When I attempt to explain the show to someone who’s never heard of it, I go straight to one of its PR taglines: it’s “the story of America then told by America now”. I don’t feel I had a best appreciation for the actual lyrical and musical content until I was able to have more contact with the material — a second viewing of the production and (currently) 5 full listens to the cast album and then some.

A: I had so many favorite parts, it’s hard to choose just one. Setting groundbreaking casting, writing, musical direction aside… I’m going to go with the choreography and the chorus of dancers. It was just so strong, so ambitious, so complementary to the themes of the musical. Often I found myself enjoying the lead singer’s voice in my ears while my eyes were glued to the chorus. Andy Blankenbuehler also did the choreography for In the Heights and Bring It On; I just love the strength and cohesiveness in his style.

R: I truly enjoyed the inclusion of women in a story that could have easily ignored them. Of course, Angelica and Eliza are central characters in the show. But the show includes women everywhere — walking on the street, as soldiers, sitting in the cabinet meetings — and historically this is obviously very inaccurate. But this, too, is another innovation — saying that yes, women should have been present at all of these things, so now we’re showing them where they should have been all along.

K: That’s a fantastic point about the ensemble, Sara! The Schuyler sisters hold prominent positions in the foreground, but you’re absolutely right — inserting women into the “background” narrative is as equally a revolutionary “America now” component as the many colors up on stage.

J: I was really impressed by Lin’s (mostly successful, I think) attempt to make a story about the Founding Fathers as little a story about dead white guys as possible while still being (historically) about story of dead white guys.

M: I loved that it presented a narrative of the Founding Fathers that runs counter to the one that we usually see. I’m a born-and-raised Virginian, which means I was indoctrinated into the cult of Thomas Jefferson practically at birth. As I’ve grown up, some of our attitudes towards the previously sacred positions of the Founding Fathers (i.e. some of them were huge assholes, and let’s stop deifying slave owners please) have started to shift, but Hamilton is the first major part of pop culture that I’ve seen address that. That being said, Virginians are the shit and there’s a reason lots of important stuff/people came from there.

K: “Young man, I’m from Virginia, so watch your mouth.” ;)

S: All right, this is a good moment to say SPOILERS AHEAD. No, really — you will get spoiled from here on out! 

K: So the past 2 days or so I’ve been mostly listening to the album on shuffle and it has been highly enjoyable to hear fun parallels like counting off duel commandments and counting off (in French!) piano lesson melodies within back to back tracks. There have been countless articles and Twitterico conversations about the myriad outside musical theatre and hip hop references peppered through the score, but I find most fascinating these internal references — recurring lyrical and musical motifs.

My favorite of late is that the gorgeous harp arpeggios in “Burn” actually first appear in the piano part under the choruses of “Wait For It”. Both songs are direct responses to Hamilton’s choices but very different in nature: waiting and waiting vs. literally burning shit on stage. However, the line “I am the one thing in life I can control” (perhaps my favorite of the show?) applies to both these Ham foils and Hamilton himself. Everything fits together and complements and I love it. What are your favorite internal or external references??

S: I’ve enjoyed playing “spot the musical theater reference”. I love how the references can be light-hearted nods (“Sit down, John, you fat motherBEEP”, cf. 1776) or moments that add layers of complexity or even foreshadowing (“Nobody needs to know” at the end a song about adultery, referencing “Nobody Needs to Know”, a song from The Last Five Years about adultery, and hinting that this is probably not going to end well).

R: Also “you’ve got to be carefully taught” from South Pacific! Which is a kiiiiiiiiind of racist show.

A: And “The boy is mine” (cf. Brandy and Monica 1998). Does that count?! Anyway, Kate, it’s funny you bring up “Wait For It,” because that song has become my favorite after listening to the playlist on repeat for the last week. It wasn’t a standout in the show by any means; I’m pretty sure I forgot it as soon as it was over. But when you listen to it, it’s perfect. The clave rhythm in the background gives it a slightly different flavor than any other song in the show, which allows the parts of it that match other songs (like the harp — you’re right, it’s gorgeous) to shine in a new way. Not to bring up the Tonys so soon in our conversation, but I think his performance of that song will win Featured Actor for Leslie Odom Jr. (Unless they consider Spring Awakening’s Daniel N. Durant in that category, which they probably will since John Gallagher Jr. won it in 2007 for the same role, which means my head will explode trying to decide who gave a better performance. But I digress.)

K: (iTunes tells me I have listened to “Wait For It” 29 times. This does not count phone plays. This does not count NPR plays.)

R: I think there’s an argument for submitting Leslie Odom, Jr. in the Lead Actor category, and Daveed Diggs in the Featured Actor category. Diggs’ performance literally had me punching the air with every move he made on stage. Miranda is great in his role — emotional and powerful. But he’s certainly not the best performer up there. While he might just win the Lead Actor Tony because of all the surrounding hype, I think the show is better served if Manuel wins for Book/Original Score, and Odom gets to make a run for Lead Actor.  

K: In total agreement, Sara. I looked up the Lortel nominations/wins; Lin and Leslie were both submitted as lead actor with Lin winning, Pippa winning lead actress (probably not her Tony category, though), Daveed winning supporting actor, and Renee winning supporting actress. (SWEEP!). I agree that Leslie’s performance and role showcase are slightly more award-worthy than Lin’s — I mean the stretch of “Your Obedient Servant” to “The World Was Wide Enough” alone, even just in audio form, qualify him for a win in my book.

J: Lin may not be as polished a performer as Leslie but he’s really incredibly scrappy. JUST LIKE HAMILTON!

A: “Young, scrappy, and hungry!”

X: I think my favorite part of the production is the subtle brilliance of the doubled roles. It’s impressive, of course, to see one actor play vastly different characters at different points in the show, but beyond that, I’m still awed by how much depth the doubling brings to the characters and story.

Most prominently (to me), there’s Daveed Diggs as Lafayette in Act 1 (with the greatest French accent ever) and Thomas Jefferson in Act 2. As Lafayette, he’s a Frenchman coming to the Americans’ aid, who then returns to France; as Jefferson, he’s an American who’s just returned from France and seeks to aid the French in their revolution. Perfect.

Then there’s Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy Schuyler in Act 1 and Maria Reynolds in Act 2. While the parallels here aren’t as strong as the Lafayette/Jefferson connection, it does allow Jasmine to sing “Me? I loved him” along with the other Schuyler sisters in “Alexander Hamilton,” the opening song. Although in Act 1 she’s Peggy (although I actually think of the opening as kind of separate from the main narrative, but anyway . . . she’s dressed like Peggy, at least), the only one of the three Schuyler sisters without a romantic attachment to Hamilton, it still works beautifully for her to sing this line with her sisters, since we’ll see her in Act 2 as Maria, the woman Alexander has an affair with.

There’s also Anthony Ramos as John Laurens in Act 1, then Philip, Hamilton’s son, in Act 2. This doubling gives Anthony the chance to play two men Hamilton loved and lost — first his friend who died in battle, then his son, who died in a duel. (Lin confirmed on Twitter, by the way, that the line “Hey, Laurens, I like you a lot!” is a nod to the possibility that there was a romantic attachment between the two men.)

The other double-role actor is Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison. To be honest, I don’t see much of a meaningful link between these two characters, though I also don’t feel like I have as strong a sense of either character as I do of the others, but please chime in if you think of something!

S: I think the link is in what opposites Mulligan and Madison are — Mulligan has a huge, brash personality (which he somehow tamps down enough to be an effective spy!) whereas Madison comes across as cautious. But they’re each, in their own way, giving all they have to the cause of building a new nation. Okieriete inhabits both of those roles SO beautifully — his tone and mannerisms change so completely, it’s wonderful.

R: Jones is definitely singing as Maria “in her players clothes” in the opening number — LMM also confirmed this on Twitter!

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1 Comment

  1. Sarah

    October 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    On the list of “things that didn’t make it into this post but could’ve”: A link to this fabulous piece on The Toast called Race, Immigration, and Hamilton: The Relevance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s New Musical. http://the-toast.net/2015/10/01/race-immigration-and-hamilton/

    How it starts:

    The first Republican Presidential debate for the 2016 presidential campaign aired while Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, celebrated its opening night on Broadway. While Bobby Jindal declared that “immigration without assimilation is invasion,” an opening night audience watched a musical about the Founding Fathers that rests on an ideal explicitly stated in the first act: “Immigrants / We get the job done.”

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