What I’ll always remember about seeing Hamilton on November 2, 2016, is that shortly after my boyfriend and I took our seats, an older couple came and sat in front of us, and the man was wearing a Cubs hat. Any other night, we would not think twice about this. But obviously, for Cubs fans, Wednesday was not any other night.
I can imagine the look on the man’s face when he realized Game 7 of the World Series would land on the exact same night that his wife had decided, before the baseball season even started, they should see Hamilton. Actually, I have no idea if this was the scenario – maybe he was the one who really wanted to see the show. He seemed cheerful enough for me to believe he had not been dragged to the show totally against his will. But what a dilemma! I’d already thought with slight disappointment about how there’d be no way I could follow the whole game, but I’m not a Cubs fan and the choice for me was obvious.
He checked his phone at intermission, and the show ended with enough time to catch the last couple innings, but I loved watching everyone around us commiserate with him. (I commiserated, but not so much that I didn’t go on a little diatribe about how I would not be happy about phone-checking during the show. I thought no one could hear me, but two girls sitting near me spoke out in agreement.)
And that’s the thing. Wednesday night, the Richard Rodgers Theatre was maybe the least acceptable place in New York to be checking your phone for the Game 7 score (no one did, by the way – and I truly hope no one did at any other theater, either). With Hamilton, your decision is made. You are at Hamilton. Nothing could top it.
Obsession-wise, nothing has topped Hamilton for me at all in 2016. I first saw the show in March (and I know I’m lucky to have seen it at all, let alone twice, in this calendar year), having longed to see it for months but not knowing much of the music or much about the musical’s development. After I won the lottery by some miracle, I was vaulted into the deepest, most consuming cultural obsession I’ve had in awhile. I will try not to overstate what the show has meant to me, but I can honestly say it’s brought me closer to some friends who also found themselves obsessed – it became our common ground – and it has broadened my interest in theater as a whole. This is all on top of the first and strongest reason I love this show: It’s history and theater presented in a totally new form. We’re drawn to it because nothing else has been or is now like it.
From March on, I’ve listened to every song, memorized nearly every lyric (I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never fully grasp “Guns and Ships”) and thrilled in the discovery of hidden meanings and wordplay. At a certain point, my familiarity with the soundtrack overtook my memory of specific moments from the show. The fact that I’d seen the show was mostly useful for being able to tell people I’d seen the show. I didn’t imagine the stage production when I listened to the songs, and honestly, I was fine with that.
Cut to early July, when I’m opening my boyfriend’s birthday gift to me (his true gift has been tolerating my constant Hamilton sing-a-longs for most of this year). It was a not-well-kept secret that he was getting me the Hamilton soundtrack on vinyl, but a couple times at dinner, he expressed how excited he was for me to open my present. Had he forgotten that I basically knew what it was? It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited; I just couldn’t understand why this was being so built up. I didn’t even think about the possibility that something else might be involved, so I know I wore a confused look when I opened an envelope taped to the back of the box and removed two tickets to Hamilton on November 2.
I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went from there, but he revealed that he’d purchased the tickets when a block went on sale in February – and that was even before I won the lottery. I felt a little bad that I’d unknowingly ruined his plan to take me to Hamilton for my first viewing, but because he’s a gracious human and fully attune to the inner workings of the show, he said he was just happy I got to see the original Broadway cast. My thoughts turned to how to prepare Timmy for his own first Hamilton viewing. Over the next few months we listened to most of the soundtrack together, and I think he’d say his viewing of Hamilton’s America was also helpful.
So, that’s the scene-setting. As far as the show itself, it hasn’t missed a beat. Yes, there were slight variations in the way certain parts sounded or were acted, but isn’t that the whole point of seeing it live? The (mostly) new cast carries on the spirit of the old with energy and precision. It was a joy to watch.
Part of my joy came from experiencing it in fantastic seats (left side of the orchestra). Far be it from me to complain about winning the lottery, but the downside is that front-row seats make it impossible to appreciate the full spectacle. So. much. happens. visually in this show that it’s a completely different experience with a little distance. “Satisfied” especially – I was eager to see the “rewind” section play out in person, and I was blown away. I feel like I’ve now seen the musical in its true, full context.
Most of the lead roles have been replaced from the original cast; Christopher Jackson remains as Washington, but he was out with an injury on Wednesday night. His understudy, Nik Walker, did a great job and played some of Washington’s spoken lines a lot differently (in a good way!) from how Chris Jackson does them on the soundtrack.
My favorite performances of the night came from Mandy Gonzalez, who replaced the goddess Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, and Michael Luwoye, who performed as Burr (he is both the Hamilton alternate on Sunday and Brandon Victor Dixon’s understudy for Burr). Mandy Gonzalez hit all the right notes as Angelica, and it was fun watching her in “Satisfied” especially – I liked the ways she played Angelica’s initial conversation with Hamilton. Her line “where’s your family from” sounded less like interrogation and more like someone smitten and searching for any way to keep the conversation going.
And Michael Luwoye was phenomenal, too. I heard that Leslie Odom, Jr., the original Burr, said he would play Burr differently depending on the night; some nights Burr was a sympathetic character, other times, he was a true villain. I wouldn’t say he was played as a villain on Wednesday, but he certainly had a mean streak. You believed he and Hamilton could have 30 years of disagreements, and you believed that he pushed everyone away while figuring out his own plans (Burr singing “I’llllllllll keep all my plans close to my chest” in “Non-Stop” is one of my favorite parts of the entire show). Part of me thinks the success of the entire show rides on the success of Burr’s performance, and this was a success for sure.
This is a special show, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. To see it with a rapt audience and see it thrive after so many major casting changes gave me hope that it’ll endure all its coming iterations, from the London production to the tour. That my mom will love it just as much as I do when she sees it come to Portland in 2018. That I’ll love it just as much as I do now when I maybe win the lottery again five years from now (who am I kidding, I’m never winning anything again). If/whenever I see it again, I’ll experience the joy anew.
Odds & Ends (spoiler alerts, I guess, if you haven’t seen Hamilton, but these are mostly just elements that come across in the stage production but can’t be caught on the soundtrack):
*Hercules Mulligan is the flower girl at Hamilton and Eliza’s wedding. I completely missed that the first time around, and it brought me insane joy.
*One of my favorite parts of the soundtrack is Burr introducing Jefferson at the beginning of the second act in “What’d I Miss?” “You simply must meet Thomas, Thomas!” he sings. I always heard it as him repeating the name, but when Jevon McFerrin (Seth Stewart’s understudy, performing for the night) sang it, the first Thomas was introductory, and then the second one was said to Jefferson, like “come on out!” Even now, listening to the soundtrack, I hear that intonation from Leslie Odom., Jr., but I didn’t pick up on it before, and I love it.
*I count myself especially lucky to have seen Jonathan Groff as King George III, since he was the first original cast member to depart, but let me tell you – Rory O’Malley is just as perfect as his replacement. Timmy, my boyfriend, leaned over me during his first song and asked “is he an original?” meaning….if he’s this good, he must be.