Show/Venue: Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre
Date: Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 @ 2pm
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda/Javier Munoz, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillippa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Jonathan Groff
When I first moved to New York City in 2009, one of the first shows that I saw on Broadway was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant, Tony-Award winning In the Heights and I was blown away by the cultural references and his ability to tell a vibrant story through rap and hip-hop. Then, I saw Bring It On: The Musical, which also had Lin-Manuel’s influence with smart lyrics and contemporary references that came fast and slick. Sadly, I wasn’t ahead of the game with his latest work, Hamilton. Try as I might, there were no tickets available at The Public Theatre, but the buzz surrounding his work and the show was so high, that has soon as it was announced the show would transfer to Broadway, I was on the hunt for tickets on Ticketmaster. I chose my favorite time for a show, a Wednesday matinee, during previews and consumed everything I could about the show in the coming months.
Yes, I took the day off of work to attend the show and as I arrived the energy in the Richard Rodgers Theatre was electric. The story of one of America’s founding fathers told through a mostly African-American and Hispanic cast. (A brilliant move in colorblind casting, which is still sad that in 2015 this is something we have to applaud.) The usual weekday matinee consisted of older, mostly white people and boy, would they be in for a ride over the next few hours.
All my friends know that I’m an emotional theatre-goer, so I knew I would be on a ride as soon as Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr) appeared on stage. As Burr, he begins to lay the foundation of Alexander Hamilton’s story and how he was “The ten dollar founding father without a father.” I didn’t get the opportunity to see Lin-Manuel in the role of Hamilton, as he was sitting out a few performances during previews to tweak the show. However, his standby, Javier Munoz (also his standby during his run of In The Heights), was on for the role of Alexander Hamilton. I was immediately engrossed.
By the second song, “My Shot,” I already had chills. “Just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwing away my shot,” Hamilton raps and I realized it was going to be a great two and a half hours. But as I started to dance in my seat, the man sitting next to me took out his cell phone and started to scroll through his e-mails! I semi-aggressively grabbed his arm and told him to put his phone away. How important were those e-mails that he needed to check them less than fifteen minutes into the show? At least he was polite about it and didn’t glance or take out his phone at all during the rest of the show.
The Schuyler sisters; Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Phillipa Soo) and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones) are brilliantly played and you might notice the slight nod to another famous female R&B trio. The girls are the only children of Philip Schuyler, a prominent politician in New York. Their introduction shows them sneaking out of their parent’s home to go out on the town, with Peggy showing a bit of guilt for leaving against their parents’ wishes. They get one of the best phrases in the show as they sing of “the greatest city in the world,” which has replaced the usual theme that hums through my idle brain; the theme to the old Nicktoon, Doug.
As one of the ensemble members, Thayne Jasperson (one of my favorite dancers from So You Think You Can Dance, Newsies, Matilda), introduces a proclamation from King George (Jonathan Groff) and establishes the strained relationship between the new America and England. In the next scene, Groff has the audience in his hands, playing the King as aloof and in a fun, poppy influenced number called “You’ll Be Back,” where he taunts the American revolutionaries for leaving him.
With a war looming Hamilton and his friends launch into “Right Hand Man” with influences of Jay Z and other modern rappers. This leads into the introduction of Eliza and Angelica Schuyler as love interests for Hamilton and how he weaves his life into their family in “Helpless,” which is brilliantly staged on the turntable on stage, as the ensemble and leads weave their way in and out of each other. Time elapses and Hamilton wins the love of Eliza, promises to give his life to her and they get married. The audience gets to see a bit of jealousy in Angelica, as she realizes her feelings for Hamilton and how she will not be able to rise above her station if they marry (“Satisfied”). She sees how her sister, Eliza, is smitten by Hamilton and finds a way to introduce them. Angelica is brilliantly performed by Renee Elise Goldsberry and we see her story of how she, Hamilton and Eliza met through a reversed story, including some amazing reverb, more turntable work and an INSANE rap thrown by Goldsberry that had me fan-girling at the stage door with her after the show and goosebumps up and down my arms.
Manuel expertly shows the parallel lives of Burr and Hamilton and how these two men, one who’s life ended in tragedy; were not very different at all. Burr always seemed to be just a bit behind Hamilton in reaching their same life goals. They share stories of being orphans, working in the New World, love of women who are out of their reach; expressed beautifully in “Wait for It” by Odom Jr. as he lays out how Hamilton is “changing the game.”
Hamilton wants desperately to fight in the war, but George Washington (Christopher Jackson, In the Heights, Holler If Ya Hear Me) does not want him in the field and instead, he promotes Christopher Lee. Hamilton still longs to get into battle, so his friend John Laurens (Anthony Ramos) goes into the battlefield for him and they run through the “Ten Duel Commandments,” with the same siren beat I quickly recognized from the Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up,” is that odd? As the debate continues about the duel, then Miranda brilliant plays in a “meet him inside” sample from DMX’s “Party Up (In Here)” and Hamilton finally retreats and heads home.
Once he makes it back home, Hamilton learns that Eliza is pregnant and his tune about fighting in the war shifts. Soo beautifully illustrates like what it was like to live in NYC then and now, her haunting phrase of “look around, look around,” that consistently follows me when I’m walking through the city. Miranda has done an outstanding job of showing Eliza’s story in American history, which was probably passed over in most U.S. textbooks.
I quickly became a fan of Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) during his rap in “History Has Its Eyes on You.” His rhymes come so fast and slick; yet explain exactly the camaraderie between himself, Hamilton and their friends during this time of change. As the men prepare for “Yorktown,” Hamilton’s friends spread across the country to take on the British, with Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan) explaining how he acted as a spy for the American’s advantage, with more stunning raps from “The Mighty Oak,” as he’s known.
As Act One comes to a close, the battle of Yorktown winds down, King George reappears and Groff gets another chance to shine taunting the Americans and saying “don’t come crawling back to me. You’re on your own!” (But seriously, don’t tell me you don’t have “oceans rise, empires fall” stuck in your head or at least the “da da da da” right now.)
Then a tender moment with Burr, as he sings to his newborn daughter in “Dear Theodosia,” showcasing Odom Jr’s chops, which were never really shown to their full potential on SMASH, where I became a casual fan; and how she’ll “blow us all away, someday.” This scene is juxtaposed with Hamilton singing to his newborn son, Philip, and how his “father wasn’t around, [but he’ll] be around for you,” and is echoed by Burr. So much optimism shown through the eyes of Hamilton and Burr, as they become fathers for the first time.
In the next scene, Hamilton & Burr both end up back in New York City, where they have become lawyers. Burr can’t believe that Hamilton is besting him again, “why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room” in “Non-Stop.” This song is also a nod to Hamilton’s insane amount of writing and how he had so much that he needed to express; in fact he proposes a new form of government to Burr and how to take on the U.S. Constitution. Hamilton believes that his essays can help to amend the Constitution and make their government better.
We also see Angelica leaving Hamilton for another man, but their interaction still shows that something else might be there. As Hamilton writes 51 out of 85 essays, “writing like [he’s] running out of time” which will become The Federalist Papers, after his other partners drop out. Washington then appoints Hamilton to lead the U.S. Treasury and Eliza begs him to stay, Angelica leaves and the world waits to see what Hamilton will do with his shot.
Act Two opens with some of the leads turning into new roles, as Lafayette becomes Thomas Jefferson (Diggs), Hercules Mulligan becomes James Madison (Onaodowan) and John Laurens becomes Hamilton’s son, Philip (Ramos). And if you weren’t already impressed with Daveed Diggs, you will be now. As Thomas Jefferson, coming back from France, he asks everyone “What’d I Miss” in a rousing number, as he is introduced to Hamilton. Jefferson isn’t quite sure what to think about Hamilton and if he’s a friend or a foe.
The two meet in a Cabinet meeting that’s presented as a rap battle, cordless microphones and all, and its here that we see they share opposite views on how the country should be run. The battle sets up Act Two and the Jefferson vs. Hamilton rivalry and where Burr fits into the story, and these “cabinet meetings” easily became one of my favorite parts of the show.
Washington then challenges Hamilton to fix their problem, as we see Eliza with a young Philip Hamilton, learning the piano. Hamilton writes a letter to Eliza’s sister, Angelica, lamenting why they are “an ocean away,” and how perhaps, in another place they could have been together. As Eliza beckons, a young Philip shows his father how he’s written a poem/rap for his father. It’s here that Eliza encourages Hamilton to leave the city and to get away from all the government conflict; as she wants to raise their family upstate. On the other hand, Angelica is encouraging Hamilton to challenge the government and notices that with the change in placement of one comma Hamilton has addressed her as “My Dearest, Angelica,” just before she arrives to visit her sister and brother-in-law; how will their relationship evolve?
Hamilton expresses that he cannot head upstate with the sisters, as he needs to get his plan to Congress. As he is overworked and alone, he meets Maria Reynolds and they begin a sordid affair in “Say No to This.” Soon Maria’s husband finds out about their affair and extorts Hamilton to stay quiet about the affair. At the close of the song, Lin-Manuel pays tribute to one of my favorite musicals, The Last Five Years, with a line from “Nobody Needs to Know” and chills went up and down my arms. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed the nod to Jason Robert Brown, but most likely, the rest of the audience were not huge Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick fans, like me.
As an agreement between Jefferson and Hamilton takes place, Burr laments that “no one else was in the room where it happens,” how are they to know what was agreed upon and what they have in store? As great changes in the government ensue, Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler loses his Senate seat to Aaron Burr and his frenemy relationship with Hamilton grows and another rap battle ensues. Jefferson tells Washington that Hamilton is not good for the Nation, as he wants to challenge the European Nations. Hamilton doesn’t want to start a war and Washington agrees that America is too young to start another war. It’s here that Jefferson says “it must be nice to have Washington on your side,” as Hamilton is clearly the teacher’s pet. Jefferson realizes that to take on Hamilton, he will have to resign from the cabinet and that’s not something that Washington was expecting.
As Washington decides to resign from the Presidency, King George wonders how John Adams could be the next President and how someone could “step down” from running the country. The King knows Adams and observes that he will not be able to run the country, but how he’ll love to watch Adams turn America into a giant mess with Jefferson as his Vice-President. Another amusing and crowd-winning performance from Groff, devilish laughter, winks to the crowd and all.
Under the Adams Administration, Hamilton realizes that he doesn’t hold the same power that he did in Washington’s Administration. Hamilton writes and writes about his distaste for what Jefferson is doing with the country. Jefferson realizes that Hamilton must be taken down and they find records of Hamilton’s checks to James Reynolds, Maria’s husband, hoping to extort him for treason. However, they are surprised to learn that Hamilton only paid Reynolds to cover up his affair and wasn’t moving around government funds. Hamilton implores the men to keep everything a secret, but being paranoid that he cannot trust them, he decides to write “The Reynolds Pamphlet” and expose himself before someone else can. With the news being public, Jefferson declares that Hamilton “never gonna be President now.” Angelica appears and Hamilton believes that she is here to support him, but in a change of events, she sides with Eliza and is there for her sister’s support.
As Philip Hamilton graduates college, he’s taunted by a classmate, George, about his father’s honor and challenges him to a duel. Hamilton coaches Philip to shoot his pistol into the sky, in a reprise of “Ten Duel Commandments”, but the classmate doesn’t wait until the count of 10 and fatally wounds Philip. As Hamilton and Eliza rush to Philip’s side, they patch up their relationship as their son dies. It’s Soo’s blood curdling scream that sent tears streaming down my eyes, through the loss of her only son; thank god, I brought plenty of Kleenex.
It’s then that Hamilton & Eliza move uptown to a quieter life. As the next election nears, Adams is out and Jefferson finds himself running against Burr. Surprisingly, Burr has been openly campaigning and winning over voters by not taking a strong stance against any issue, but by being charming. Jefferson realizes that he may need an endorsement from Hamilton to win the election. Able to gain this endorsement and win the election, Jefferson is elected and Burr is surprised to learn that Jefferson doesn’t want Burr as his Vice-President.
With another opportunity taken from him, Burr begins to realize a pattern in his life. Who has been there through everything and taken all of his opportunities, no other than Alexander Hamilton. Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel in New Jersey, ironically in the same place that Hamilton’s son, Philip’s duel took place.
In the early morning, Hamilton and Burr arrive in Weehawken, New Jersey to prepare for the duel. As the men and their allies arrive, Burr’s anger towards Hamilton grows and at the count of ten, he fires. As the bullet (Ariana DeBose, So You Think You Can Dance, Bring It On, Motown) approaches, Hamilton fires towards the sky and is hit by Burr’s bullet in the chest. Hamilton is taken back to New York City, where Eliza and Angelica await and are by his side as he passes. Then Burr realizes the consequences of being Hamilton’s killer and how “the world was wide enough” for them both, Burr wanted to be remembered for his achievements, but will only now be known for killing Hamilton.
Jefferson and others realize what an asset Hamilton was for America in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Eliza goes on a mission to learn more about her late husband, who he fought with, what he wrote and how they can bring everything he accomplished to the world. She then goes on to raises money for the Washington Monument, challenges slavery and helps to build the first private orphanage in New York City. Over the next decades, she will raise many children and see how Hamilton influenced her life’s passion and story. Even before the curtain call began, the audience was on their feet applauding the performance and this amazing, life-changing work of art.
By the end of the show, I realized how little about American history that I actually knew. Where was all this information in my late 90’s high school history class? If only Mr. Brestel had taught us through rap & hip-hop, maybe I would have scored higher on my AP History Exam. In fact, I’m a bit ashamed that I only knew who Aaron Burr was because of the “Got Milk?” ad about the history buff who can’t answer a trivia question, because of all the cookies in his mouth; if only he’d had a glass of milk! (You should Google Leslie Odom Jr.’s brilliant parody of this video, if you haven’t seen it already.)
As NPR released the “First Listen” of the soundtrack earlier this week, I’ve been listening to the whole show on repeat all week. I can’t wait to go back again and might need to save up some money to try and get a ticket for February 2016.
1. Alexander Hamilton
2. Aaron Burr, Sir
3. My Shot
4. The Story of Tonight
5. The Schuyler Sisters
6. Farmer Refuted
7. You’ll Be Back
8. Right Hand Man
9. A Winter’s Ball
12. The Story of Tonight (Reprise)
13. Wait for It
14. Stay Alive
15. Ten Duel Commandments
16. Meet Me Inside
17. That Would Be Enough
18. Guns and Ships
19. History Has Its Eyes on You
20. Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)
21. What Comes Next?
22. Dear Theodosia
1. What’d I Miss
2. Cabinet Battle #1
3. Take a Break
4. Say No to This
5. The Room Where It Happens
6. Schuler Defeated
7. Cabinet Battle #2
8. Washington on Your Side
9. One Last Time
10. I Know Him
11. The Adams Administration
12. We Know
14. The Reynolds Pamphlet
16. Blow Us All Away
17. Stay Alive (Reprise)
18. It’s Quiet Uptown
19. The Election of 1800
20. Your Obedient Servant
21. Best of Wives and Best of Women
22. The World Was Wide Enough
23. Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story