Hi everyone! I’ve been promising this post for quite some time, so I’m excited to finally write it!
As you may already know, I’m obsessed with the musical production Hamilton. Here’s a bit on how I came to be so into it!
So my Hamilton obsession began around 10 months ago, and I say that because I have video evidence, sorta. I have followed Christine Riccio’s BookTube YouTube channel (PolandBananasBooks) for some time and had begun hearing about Hamilton around that time. On March 1st of 2016 Christine uploaded her “Hamilton Book Tag” video. Without knowing much about it, I watched it and immediately felt like I needed to listen to the album. I remember I had to write a blog post that night and thought that I could listen to it as background music while I wrote my post.
I was so wrong! Right away from the first notes I was pulled in and I had to put off writing until I listened to more. I listened to the entire album that day straight through, just blown away by the genius of it all. Now, I’m not into rap or hip hop or R&B or anything but this album was just so amazing I couldn’t turn away from it. I’ve also had a deep appreciation for history my entire life so that also drew me further in.
Pretty soon Hamilton was all I was listening to. I even did my own Hamilton Book Tag post which you can read if you’re so inclined. Somehow I waited until May to do it myself! Of course, this was before I really dived back into reading, so if anyone’s interested in an updated tag, let me know!
Eventually I bought the CDs so I could play the entire musical in my car and it’s still pretty much played non-stop with brief breaks to listen to NPR or one of the other musicals that I have on CDs (specifically The Phantom of the Opera and Evita). I also bought Ron Chernow’s Hamilton the book, the book that inspired Hamilton the musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical. I’m still only 30% of the way into that one (it’s over 700 pages!).
I also eventually picked up the “Hamiltome” book, properly titled Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. The Hamiltome contains all the lyrics in the musical with beautiful photos of the cast, background information on how everything came together for the production, and notes in the margins written by Lin himself.
In September I actually got my Hamiltome signed by McCarter while he did a book talk and signing at my alma mater, Elmhurst College. He also provided even more history on the musical than had really been available at that time, including how he and Lin met, some of Ron’s thoughts on how the musical unfolded, and even led an audience sing-along to “The Schuyler Sisters”.
On October 21, 2016 I watched the documentary Hamilton’s America on PBS. This documentary also followed the making of the musical. It seemed amazing to me that so many people had the foresight to know that this was a musical everyone would want to know everything about. There were interviews of the cast, creators, and even President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. There was also clips of the musical as well, and I’ve heard the director say that they showed as much as they legally could show of the musical. It really was a great documentary and it aired at the perfect time. A week later I went to see the musical in person.
I somehow got my mother, sister, and I tickets for the second week of performances and had amazing seats in the dress circle of the PrivateBank Theatre. It was truly an amazing experience. The recording is wonderful but seeing it live was surreal. I was watching so intently and the Chicago cast was so good that I didn’t even notice the audience around me. Of course, I had seen the Tony performances, all the bits I could find online (not the pirated versions though, I really wanted to see it live), and the documentary but there were so many pieces of the musical that I couldn’t have predicted. More on that later in the review section of this post.
Last month I was present for the Chicago cast’s first live #Ham4Ham, where they perform and then a raffle is conducted for $10 tickets to that day’s performance. I didn’t enter the raffle as I was actually downtown to see The Phantom of the Opera already but I do intend to see the musical again. The cast performed a great rendition of “My Shot” and then led the crowd through a round of “Jingle Bells”. So I didn’t go downtown just for the #Ham4Ham performance but if it had been a nicer day out I might have done so!
And the latest work that is fueling my Hamilton obsession is this podcast! The Room Where It’s Happening is an Earwolf podcast hosted by Mike Drucker and Travon Free, where they talk to so many famous people who are also obsessed with the musical. They’ve had cast members such as Ari Asfar (Eliza, Chicago cast) and Anthony Ramos (John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton, OBC), creators such as David Korins (set designer) and Alex Lacamoire (musical composer), actors like Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Kristen Chenoweth (Wicked) and Yvette Nicole Brown (Community), Ron Chernow, and so many more. After 23 episodes I will admit it’s starting to sound quite repetitive but through the podcast I’ve learned that there are actually many references to hip hop and rap music, which I never would have known on my own. Everyone is asked “Are you a Hamilton or a Burr? Are you more of a ‘not throwing away my shot’ kind of person or are you more willing to ‘wait for it’?” and it’s such an interesting question to ponder. Me? I’m a Hamilton. 🙂
That’s really all of my experiences with Hamilton so far. Now, onto a little review!
I almost wish I had done this post back in October, as it was so fresh in my mind. But I’m glad I was able to include so much more in my post as well. I do intend to see it again but the performances are still selling out as soon as they go on sale, so it’s a little difficult when you have to plan at least 6 months in advance to get tickets.
Like I said, I saw the musical in the second week of performances in Chicago. The entire main Chicago cast performed, so I was thrilled. I know understudies are always good too, but it was so hard to get tickets to this musical I didn’t want to miss out on any of the main cast. Since we take the train downtown I decided we would take the early morning one rather than the noon train. The noon train would get us downtown with enough time to spare to run to the theatre, but just barely. And since I don’t like to feel rushed, or have to worry about delays or missed trains, we took an earlier train. We shopped a bit downtown beforehand, but we obviously couldn’t buy much as we would have to 1) stow it under our seats in the theatre and 2) carry it home on the train. We headed down early and picked up our tickets. Once the doors opened we headed up to the landing for the dress circle and looked at the merchandise for sale. I didn’t get anything as I already had the recordings and books. Honestly, merch is expensive so I didn’t purchase a shirt or anything. I did later see someone who had bought a poster and thought about doing the same but decided to not to in the end. The drinks were served in souvenir Hamilton cups which I would have liked but I’m not a big drinker so I didn’t do that either.
As I said, I had seen all the performances I could up to that point but there were so many surprises. The biggest one? In the Chicago version, Aaron Burr PICKED UP Alexander Hamilton from the box where he was standing with Samuel Seabury during “Farmers Refuted”. I worked so hard to stifle my laugh when I saw that!
The musical starts very suddenly for both acts. Everyone was seated for the start of Act 1. The music starts and there’s only a few beats before Aaron Burr walks out. Act 2 is the same, but everyone is much less prepared. The lights indicate that the performance is about to start and the it almost immediately starts, just as everyone starts walking to their seats.
I don’t want to go too much into specifics on the staging as I know others want to see it for themselves but here’s some of my favorite parts. Thomas Jefferson hands the conductor a copy of the Reynolds Pamphlet during “Reynolds Pamphlet”. Maria Reynolds is the one who hands Hamilton the pen to write the pamphlet at the end of “Hurricane” and she is the one that stands with Eliza and Angelica at the start of the musical during “Alexander Hamilton”. Oh, part of the wooden structure changes position entirely at the end of Act 1 before moving back at the beginning of Act 2. The table when Burr jumps is a mirror and the light reflects back onto him in a dazzling way. The cast members served as the bullets during the duels in the musical, George Washington commanded everyone’s attention on stage, King George III is lit in red light until he sings “I’m so blue” and stamps his cane, and the light changes blue at his command. The turn tables were used a lot more than I had thought they would be and were amazing, particularly during the dueling scenes. Alexander feverishly writing on the makeshift table held in place by the cast during non-stop while they intensely sing, asking him how he can produce such work so quickly. Eliza sits between her sisters on a bench during “Helpless” on the turntable while Alexander is asking her father to marry her, while Angelica is closest to the audience and has to lean forward as Eliza leans back to sing and continue facing the audience. The cast stands on the turn table around Alexander as he sings “Hurricane” holding furniture up in the air as if a hurricane is occurring around him. And at the end, Eliza brought the entire house to tears at the close of the production.
The cast worked wonderfully together, and filled the theatre with their performances. Honestly, since it was the Chicago cast, with new and less experienced actors filling the roles, I expected the performance to be full of little flaws and to be choppier than the stuff I’d seen from Broadway. Of course, I knew that the cast would be good, as would the performance, as the creators wanted to put every effort into the production as they had with the Broadway version, but there was still that expectation that it wouldn’t be as amazing as it was. I needn’t have worried, it was a spectacular performance.
The Chicago Hamilton was quieter than I expected, Miguel Cervantes definitely portrayed him more calmly than Lin had. The Chicago Burr, played by Joshua Henry, felt more intense than how I expected the role to be, it felt like Burr was more sure of himself the entire time and it showed. Karen Olivo, who played Angelica, felt like a younger and more energetic performance than the mature, almost stoic performance I was expecting. Ari Afsar, our Chicago Eliza, was amazing. I really felt that she portrayed the young, love-struck bride in “Helpless” extremely well and then evolved into the strong and commanding woman she grew up to be.
The Chicago Hamilton felt full of raw emotion, more uncontrolled in a way than the Broadway performance perhaps, but it’s hard to judge as I haven’t seen it in NYC. Still, it felt like the younger cast played more honestly rather than remain reserved. More as if they were performing in the moment rather than storing away some energy for future performances or in an effort to ensure consistent performances for each audience.
I’d love to see it in New York City where the actors are older and more experienced. I’ve also learned that the PrivateBank Theatre is larger than the Public Theatre, where Hamilton started, and the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton is currently performed, and would love to see how that changes the feel of it. I’d also love to see it from he orchestra section, closer to the stage but those tickets are in the $500+ price point in Chicago, so I’m holding off on that.I’m going to wait a bit before seeing it again but I do want to see it at least a few more times.
So those are my thoughts on Hamilton! This is quite a long post so if you’ve stuck with me all the way though, you’re amazing!
So let me know, have you seen it or plan to? On a scale of 1 to 10 how obsessed are you? And of course, are you a Hamilton or a Burr?
Thanks for reading!