It was only August 6th of last year when Hamilton debuted on Broadway and blew us all away. Mastermind behind the hip-hop version of America’s roots, Lin-Manuel Miranda, quickly transcended all other playwrights with his ingenious lyrics, captivating characters and memorable music. Celebrities and political figures alike have graced Richard Rodger’s theater to see the play, the performers are popular guests on talk shows and the dense biography that is its inspiration has scored a spot on the “New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year” list. The ticket cost for close seats catapulted into the thousands and climbed exponentially when Miranda announced the end of his role as Alexander. But the majority of its fans have never attended a performance!
Hamilton is especially popular among young adults. Thousands of teens religiously listen to the soundtrack, write fanfiction, create fan-art and generally enjoy the play. A quick search on any social media network reveals a slew of dedicated fans who run accounts and connect with others that share their passion. Hamilton has single-handedly reignited a nation-wide interest in the history of America.
So without further delay, I would like to share with you my personal experiences at two different shows of Hamilton.
The First Showing
New York was my family’s escape for Thanksgiving break. We bought second row seats to Hamilton on the faith of good reviews; no one knew what it was about or what we would be in for. All I was told was that you cannot go to the Big Apple without seeing a Broadway show, and Hamilton was the highest rated.
We arrived thirty minutes before the opening act, and already the line for Rodger’s theater curved around most of the street and into the lobby of a hotel. A young lady with an “I Heart Lin” T-shirt was selling copies of the soundtrack to the buzzing crowd. We were surrounded by eager fans of all ages, clothed either in Hamilton merchandise or formal wear.
I am not, nor have I ever been, claustrophobic. However, I had to fight the urge to push my way back onto the street once we got inside; the theater lobby was filled to the brim with over a thousand people. Getting a snack or even a souvenir before the start of the show was unthinkable–it was a Herculean effort just to get to our seats!
But I have to say that it was well worth it. Our row was only a few feet from the stage, and as the curtain rose and Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom) made his debut, I could see the spit fly from the sheer force of his singing.
Most listeners of the soundtrack understand the incredible appeal of the music, but it’s another experience entirely to witness its performance in person: the set and costumes were beautifully done, the actors sung clearly and the dancers were humbling to watch. I was dazzled.
Intermission came too soon. I stood up to stretch and caught sight of most of the audience before the mad dash to the bathroom. Every chair seemed to be filled and every face seemed to be smiling. The small space hummed with warm energy, and I struggled to wait patiently for the second act.
The rest of the play unfolded into a series of emotional and comical scenes–each piece balancing the other–and ended on both a triumphant and sad note. It was so unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. Hamilton ended, an awed silence spread over the crowd, the performers came out to bow and a thousand plus people leapt from their seats in an explosion of blaring applause.
The shining faces of the actors mirrored our own, and there was a feeling of intense connection between the characters and the crowd. I walked, dazed and smiling, out onto the street into a noisy aggregation of taxis, limousines, ubers, and rickshaws waiting to snatch up the people spilling out of the tight building.
Hamilton was all that played in my earbuds for the rest of the trip.
The Second Showing
It took until late June for me to realize how lucky I was to have seen the entire original cast and to have sat so close to the stage. We always talked about flying up to New York for the weekend to see Hamilton again, and I was thrilled when a date was finally set.
The line was about the same length when we arrived, for the second time, to Richard Rodger’s Theater. A different lady was selling merchandise, but the restless anticipation of the crowd remained the same. Inside was even more chaotic, and a loud, brash New Yorker yelled next to my ear, “Yeah, the big ones are here: Lin, Renee, Phillipia, but a few…” the rest of the conversation was lost in the noise. I later figured out that understudies for John Laurens/Philip Hamilton and Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds were performing instead of the original actors (they were just as good).
We ended up at least fifteen rows back from where we were in November. But instead of craning my neck to watch the play, I had the entire stage comfortably in view. However, I missed a crucial part of the performance that I took for granted the last time: facial expressions.
It’s no surprise that actors on Broadway are enormously talented; every gesture and facial tick adds to the quality of the performance. During this second showing of Hamilton, I enjoyed the big picture perspective–which allowed me to pay more attention to the set and background characters–but the minute facial expressions were lost.
Despite this minor disappointment, the rest of the time I spent watching the play was in pure happiness. I knew every word to every song this time (I loved exercising to the music back home), and I had to restrain myself from singing along and ruining the show for the people beside me.
We reluctantly left after another stellar performance and another enthusiastic standing ovation. If I had the opportunity to see Hamilton every night for the rest of my life, I would take it without hesitation.
Lin-Manuel Miranda created something so magical that it instantly became an entertainment phenomenon. Anyone who has truly listened to the soundtrack or seen the play in person can attest to its excellence. The enthusiasm and emotion of the performers draws the audience into the story, which is made even more interesting because of its historical element. If you are offered the chance to see Hamilton, please take it. It is genuinely something special.
Leading Image Credit-Alexandria Andrews