Arts & Culture · Theater

An Immigrant Story: Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’ Opens this Week

hamilton-21Lin-Manuel Miranda in his new Broadway musical, ‘Hamilton.’

This past April, I was able to bring my teenage daughter down to New York for a special performance of Hamilton, a fundraiser for my high school alumni association. I wondered if she (or I) would need a bit of a refresher on our nation’s former secretary of the Treasury. My query was met with a typical teenage response: disdain. “I’m taking AP U.S. History,” she reminded me. (Duh.) At intermission, we had to agree that history class was never quite like this.

From the first number on through two fairly long but fast-moving acts, Hamilton lived up to all its hype. Although set pieces, costumes and props were evocative of the Colonial era, it didn’t attempt to be realistic or historically accurate. Yet I feel I know more about Alexander Hamilton (not to mention George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr) now than I did back when I was studying for my own high school history class. Miranda’s work has expanded on a passionate and colorful historical figure — Hamilton had a starring role in one of our nation’s first sex scandals — and, in doing so, elevates Hamilton’s story to a mythic place. He is the odd man out who fights his way up through determination and hard work. He is the American immigrant.

The cast is multi-talented — and multi-ethnic. Miranda, a New York native of Puerto Rican descent, plays the title role. Burr, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are played by black actors (respectively Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson). The two Schuyler sisters, with whom Hamilton was involved romantically, are played by black actress Renee Elise Goldsberry (as Angelica, his confidante) and Chinese-American Phillipa Soo (Elizabeth, his wife). King George is played with comic aplomb by white actor Jonathan Groff. In addition to providing work for tremendously talented actors whose diversity would limit their involvement in a more traditional project or literal interpretation, it dramatizes how the United States was piece-worked together. The not-so-subtle undertone: “We are a nation of immigrants. Get over it. And get back to work.” A timely message indeed.

Another important take-away is the story of Mrs. Hamilton, Alexander’s wife, Eliza. After his death, she made it her life’s work to curate and preserve his papers and his place in our history. Soo, whose performance was quite heart-breaking, ended the show with her own show of strength, love and forgiveness. It was interesting to think about the other women who must have contributed to this country’s history but whom history has chosen to forget.

In addition to the sold-out performance, the night we attended also included a “talk-back” with Miranda and some of his key cast members. He was smart as one would expect, but also personable, engaged and funny. “Did you ever have that dream,” he mused as he looked out at the friendly crowd, “That everyone in the audience was someone that you know?” After answering questions, he and his team delighted the audience with an impromptu rendition of a rap about Hamilton’s nemesis John Adams that had been cut from the show.

Since that extraordinary evening at the Public, I’ve been raving about Hamilton to anyone who will listen. The response I get most often from friends my age: “I don’t know. I don’t really like hip hop.” To this, I emphatically explain that there is so much more to Hamilton than its contemporary urban beat. It’s a genius (and, yes, I hereby nominate Miranda for a MacArthur Award) synthesis of historical and contemporary politics, human passion, strength and tragic flaw. I highly recommend it.

But you may have to wait a while. As of two weeks ago, the advance ticket sales for Hamilton were $27.6 million. That’s a lot of 10-dollar bills.

Hamilton opens at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Aug. 6.

 

 

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  • Chris L. August 4, 2015 at 9:03 am

    In that first performance at the White House, Miranda said he was working on a rap mixtape album abt Hamilton, and I started looking/waiting for that. What it’s morphed into is amazing, and so is Alex’ remarkable tribute here.

    Reply
  • Andrea August 4, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Wonderful review of a brilliant show! It will be playing for years I’m sure! It’s a must see!!

    Reply