By now you’re probably sick to death of hearing about Hamilton: An American Musical. And that’s understandable. The 11-time Tony winning musical starring and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, God’s Gift to American Theater, has been the center of attention for a long time now. If you don’t know the musical for the groundbreaking all-POC cast or the inspired hip hop/rap musical numbers, chances are you know it through its reputation of being Broadway’s most coveted and unattainable ticket.
That being said, Jax and I saw the play.
There’s no way to say that where it doesn’t sound smug, but Hell, we’re smug. Having loved this musical for a little over six months, it was an impossible dream come true. I never imagined I’d actually be there, that I’d shake like a nervous puppy and mouth along with tears in my eyes as I watched Alexander Hamilton rise and fall like the brilliant star the musical makes him out to be.
It was, in a word, transcendent.
But how in God’s name did we get there?
It started with me, Z, giving in to curiosity about this musical I’d seen my friends blogging about around mid November of last year. Thankfully, it was on Spotify, so I was able to give it a listen through pretty easily. Prior to this, my only real knowledge of Alexander Hamilton’s life was that he was on the $10 bill and he was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. Hell, my high school history teacher wrote a song about it! You can find that here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-riVJrhNF-A) (and I highly recommend you do). So I went in about as oblivious as anyone else, though for some reason I didn’t deem it necessary to find a block of 2 hours to sit down and take it all in. As a result, I finished the musical at 7:30am before walking into work, tears in my eyes and questioning what my legacy will be. It’s a depressing thought for someone in retail.
As is my way, I wanted to pull in as many people into this Hell as possible. I like to share, basically. And I share everything with my partner, Jax. However, years of this compulsion has taught me not to force people to join me, but coax gently and insistently until I wear them down, like bedrock under a waterfall. Jax caved, and listened to the full 2 hours at 3am. He does as he pleases.
So, we were hooked.
For the next few months, you’d be hard pressed to find us not listening to and singing along with the musical. Every car trip began with those first six hard beats and violins, often with us goofing off, making our dachshund dance along, singing in weird voices or ad-libbing stupid lines. We came up with head canons and jokes and ideas of how the production might look, never really thinking we’d see it, but hoping Lin-Manuel, in his benevolence, might grant us a DVD recording. Maybe. Hopefully.
The obsession grew and grew and by February, I was already designing and sewing our own replications of Hamilton and Jefferson’s frocks from the second act, to be worn at 221b Con that year. That ordeal probably took a year off my life expectancy, but with the amazing response and time we had with our friends who secretly also created their own Hamilton costumes, we’ll be doing it again for next year.
Also around this time was my birthday. I’ve learned to be very direct and specific when asking for birthday and Christmas presents because my parents, God bless them, still have no idea what’s age appropriate or relevant to my interests (though I’m not exactly subtle about what my current obsessions are; go figure). My mom surprised me however, and offered to buy tickets for the Book of Mormon, which was in town. I’d gotten into that musical a few years ago and she loved it whenever I had it on in the car, somehow finding the South Park style blasphemy hilarious (for reference, my mom has a Masters in theology and is an ordained minister). However, the show left Atlanta before we had a chance to buy the tickets. I wasn’t too upset, seeing as it wasn’t any of the original cast, and I’d gotten really attached to Andrew Rannell and Josh Gad as the leads.
You can probably guess where this is going.
It’s true what they say; the tickets are insanely expensive and almost impossible to get. But Jax and I had already agreed that we’d go to New York this summer as our first real vacation as a couple, so we were fine with waiting for a couple months. This worked to our benefit, as there was more availability in June than in the coming months. Plus, we’re broke, so we needed that time to save up for plane tickets and AirBnB bookings. And after a lot of research into what seats had what view, which times and days had the best prices and best chances for the whole cast to be there, the tickets were purchased and I cried.
For months, those tickets were the only part of the trip we had confirmed. Flights? Meh. Hotel? Who cares? We were going to see Hamilton.
A lot changed in those months. Cast members rotated, Jonathan Groff left for good, Lin-Manuel, Leslie Odom Jr., and Phillipa Soo announced their impending departure, the musical cleaned up at the Tony’s, etc. But we were going. Nothing was stopping us.
Being that we were in New York, we planned a lot of Hamilton-themed stops while walking the city. We visited Trinity Church, where he, Eliza (wife), and supposedly Angelica (sister-in-law) are buried, but we couldn’t find Angelica’s grave. Very upsetting. The church itself was beautiful though.
We also visited the Hamilton statue in Central Park, which was adorable and endearing. There was also a gentleman with his bike who seemed completely fine with sitting right Goddamn there while we took pictures thank you dude you added a lot to the experience.
There was also a Hamilton exhibit going on at the Public Library, which of course we hit up and learned… some stuff. Like the fact his mother had a slave called Ajax, which made Jax kind of reevaluate his life. I also continued my tradition of inappropriate behavior.
Unable to stay away until the day of the show, we made our way to the Richard Rodgers theater off Times Square. It was about midday so there wasn’t a ton of people around, other than the ones waiting for cancellation tickets. Now, I’m a man of obsession and passion, but I don’t think I have it in me to spend an entire day sitting outside a theater for the off chance I might get in. I don’t even think Aaron Abrams could get me to do that.
I’m lying, he totally could.
Anyway, we were wandering, taking pictures, drinking it all in, when the stage door suddenly opened and out popped this little man in a red hoodie and sunglasses, jogging across the street.
It was Lin-Manuel!
Jax and I were completely stunned. Though he was “incognito” everyone knew it was him. You could even see the bulge of his bunned-up hair underneath his hood. For me, it was the nose that gave it away. His beautiful nose. But apparently he was making a run to the pizzeria across the street for his lunch, so of course I didn’t want to bother him by screaming his name or asking for a picture. There’s a time and place for such things and I intended to let the man live his life for a second, but of course, I’m me, so I was staring with what was probably a creepily awestruck look. Lin caught this and, to my continuing shock, smiled and waved at me.
He waved at me!
I stammered something nonsensical, waving back and grinning way too hard. I wanted to say something—anything—even just a haphazard “Yay Hamlet!” but I couldn’t think. And then he was gone inside.
So. The show.
That whole day was basically anxiety and impatience. I don’t know why I was so nervous while we were in line. I had our tickets, I had my playbook to be signed (I even made labels so I could quickly flip to an actor’s page). But there I was, hyperventilating and shaking. Jax was another story. That boy was damn excited to the point of mania. He was going on Periscope and Facebook Live to show everyone the crowd, the theater, everything, while I tried not to explode. We all handle things differently, I suppose.
They let the ticket holders in eventually and the tiny lobby space quickly became a level of Dante’s Inferno with how crowded it became. And, fine, I get that, but a lot of people were offended when people were trying to move past them, as if there was any other choice. But that didn’t matter too much because we got to our seats, Hamilton-themed alcohol in hand, and everything fell into place. I finally stopped panicking but I chalk that up to my Dueling Sangria more than anything.
I didn’t know what to expect as far as the beginning of the show, but I’ll tell you that it was not King George III’s voice placidly telling us to enjoy his show, topped off with a devilish little giggle, but that’s what we got. I was beyond delighted, obviously, and knew that my expectations were about to be out shined 110%. But funnily enough, a lot of what I pictured in terms of choreography and transitions were true to reality; except any notion of spoken lines. Most musicals have them between songs but I guess Lin-Manuel really didn’t feel like anything needed to be said that wouldn’t be sung. I was a little disappointed, just for the fact that I was looking forward to some more characterization and development that the soundtrack hadn’t provided. Not to say the musical was disappointing, obviously, but I was looking for any excuse to ship Hamilton and Burr more.
I ended up also shipping Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan, weirdly enough. I blame Daveed Diggs and Okieriete Onaodowan’s chemistry for that.
Out of respect to Lin-Manuel and with the knowledge the recorded performance will be available for the public in the near future, I won’t give too many details. I do remember being absolutely stunned by the light design the entire time, but then again they did win a Tony for that. I think my favorite use of it was when Hamilton called John Adams a “fat mother—” and the spotlight on him turned into a black and red strobe as a visual censor. I couldn’t stop laughing.
As far as performances, Thomas Jefferson absolutely stole the show, most notably in his introductory song, What’d I Miss? Diggs’ energy was hypnotic. He’s said in interviews that his transition from the cool and amicable Lafayette to the egotistical antagonist that is Thomas Jefferson is as easy as slipping into that pink coat and, as someone who’s done the same, it rings pretty true. For whatever reason the spirit of Jefferson lives in the magenta coat and everything he did on stage was hilarious and vaguely evil.
I’m sure it goes without saying that every song was breathtaking, but if I had to choose a favorite it would either be My Shot or Hurricane, both having truly amazing choreography. My Shot had this really powerful and dynamic energy and dancing while Hurricane simulated the torrid maelstrom of Hamilton’s life, making good use of the circular stage rotation and the incredible light design, as well as props and people to convey the swirling memories of Hamilton’s life.
But all good things must end and with Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story came many tears and much applause. My anxiety to get to the stage door flared up yet again and alas, I was without my sangria to comfort me this time. But Jax insisted that we get a selfie up by the stage and in doing so, we were about arm’s reach from Rory O’Malley—who struck me speechless because of my aforementioned love of Book of Mormon and this musical—and Alex Lacamoire—who Jax loves with an equal intensity. And then, Jason Bateman was on stage. Which was weird.
To save a lot of grief in you, reader, know that the stage door was a total, hour and a half bust. Word does not travel well between the cast and security outside, I guess, because it took us all that time to learn the cast would not be coming outside. They said it was a night-to-night thing, person-to-person, and I guess Saturdays are kind of crazy anyway so they didn’t feel like coming out. And I understand that, but it’s a little disappointing, even now. I would’ve liked at least one autograph, but such is life.
Sunday was our last real day in the city, as our flight out was the next afternoon. We spent it wandering around midtown and swung back by the Richard Rodgers to see if anything was going down. Sundays are matinee shows, though, so no one was around. Not to be discouraged, we used the opportunity to take about a thousand pictures in front of the theater, doing silly poses and solidifying the memory of the place as our own.
It was around then we realized the huge trucks parked outside were in fact tv crew trucks and that, likely at that moment, they were filming the original cast performance that will reportedly be aired or released on DVD in the upcoming fall. Awesome! Still no cast members appearing outside, however, save for Alex Lacamoire, but we let the man live his life in peace, as much as we wanted to talk to him.
So concludes our time in New York and our time with Hamilton. True to expectation, I’m living a post-Hamilton life. Everything seems calmer and brighter.
How lucky we are to be alive right now.