broadway review

You guys, I saw Hamilton on Broadway. For free. And it was fantastic.

Did that really just happen?

Did that really just happen?

Yesterday was my best friend’s birthday, and we had a lovely evening planned: reading in Central Park, catching a movie, possibly getting a drink at the bar around the corner. But all of that went quickly out the window when I WON THE BROADWAY BOX TICKET LOTTERY and got FREE ORCHESTRA SEATS TO HAMILTON ON BROADWAY which ONLY JUST OPENED ON THURSDAY.

I’m still a little in shock. Can you tell?

After seeing the show last night, I can now confirm that all of the press and accolades this show is receiving are 100% earned. A hip-hop historical musical told almost entirely via rap lyrics is something that likely wouldn’t have made it to Broadway at any other time in history. Now, it’s the hottest ticket in New York. Hamilton probably has the Best Musical Tony on lockdown, which controversial Fun Home took home this year. I just love watching the huge, exciting risks Broadway is taking right now. (Speaking of Deaf West’s Spring Awakening… but I digress.)

I saw a commenter on the Broadway World boards asking whether it was possible to enjoy the show if you don’t like rap music. The answer to that question is solidly yes. I’d argue that people who love musical theatre but aren’t into rap are exactly the people who should see this show. You might find a whole new appreciation for the art form and its storytelling capabilities, especially when in the hands of a lyricist as visionary as Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The first thing I want to comment on is the pacing. This show moves. Basically, try not to blink for the entire three hours. (OK, you can blink during intermission. Unless you’re scouring the audience for celebs, whom you’re more than likely to find. We sure did.) The lyrics go by fast and the plot points go by faster. That’s not a complaint; it’s furious pacing in the very best way, and I had no trouble keeping up. I only wish I had more time to appreciate each and every rhyme. I’m definitely looking forward to buying the soundtrack when it comes out, and listening while reading the lyrics.

The rotating stage, which I noticed when I first sat down, plays a small but inspired part in that pacing. At first I didn’t think would be necessary; the set is minimal, the story grounded and historical rather than fantastical. But what the rotation does is visually add to how frenetically the show moves along. Actors are able to go from one side of the stage to the other more quickly, as they’re spouting lyrics quickly, and it makes the entire show feel like its constantly and inevitably in motion. I don’t know if a rotating stage was part of the set at the Public, but I would be surprised if it weren’t, because the choreography looks to have been designed perfectly around it. And that’s a good segue into my favorite part of the show:

The ensemble. The choreography. I mean, I’m speechless. The dancers are so talented, there were times I found myself watching them when I was supposed to be focusing my attention on a lead. The movement is strong, and the choreography is unlike anything else I’ve seen on Broadway. Each dancer’s style and interpretation is oh-so-slightly different, yet they come together in a way that tells a united story. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has done a masterful job.

All of the actors are fantastic, but there were definite standouts. In my opinion, Renée Elise Goldsberry kind of steals the show. I was surprised to find myself tearing up during her number in the first act, in which a wedding scene is recreated from her (devastating) point of view. I hadn’t been invested in her character whatsoever prior to that moment, so her making me care and bringing me to tears during the course of just one song is pretty incredible. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr was also great. My friend and I feel pretty confident he’s secured a Tony nom for his performance, which was understated and powerful. And then there’s Jonathan Groff as King George, who also brought me to tears — laughing. Groff’s deadpanned comic relief is ridiculous and perfect (as I imagine Brian d’Arcy James’s was Off-Broadway, as well). Look closely and you can see a few of the other actors trying, and failing, not to crack up when Groff is on stage.

Hamilton is going to be on Broadway for a very long time. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. But, when its run does end, what really excites me is the addition of an outstanding, nuanced rap musical to the musical theater genre. I can see the regional productions, the college and high school productions, giving those who might not have had a chance to get up and show their talent. It’s bringing diversity, much needed diversity, to Broadway in more ways than one.

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Guest Review: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” on Broadway with Neil Patrick Harris

Seeing Hedwig and the Angry Inch yesterday was an amazing, jaw-dropping experience, one that I plan to repeat sometime before the show ends its run in August. Neil Patrick Harris’s energy was kinetic, Lena Hall was outstanding, and really, heaps of credit should be given to the crew. But for a true in-depth review of this musical, I have to pass the metaphorical mike to someone who didn’t meet Hedwig for the first time on last night’s stage. That’s why I invited my theatre cohort and longtime Hedwig fan, Andrew Scott Taylor, to share his thoughts in this guest review.

All good thoughts and broken legs to cast and crew on their opening night! And with that, over to AST:

Hedwig on Broadway / Neil Patrick Harris

Last night, I had the sublime experience of attending the last night of previews for Hedwig and the Angry Inch with my partner in (musical) crime, Allie. For her, the experience was entirely new; she had purposefully avoided reviews and synopses. For me, it was a homecoming.

I was first introduced to Hedwig my freshman year of college and subsequently developed an obsession that consisted of memorizing the soundtrack, attending a college drag ball in my best Hed-wig and even timed a visit to Baltimore around a local production of the musical. Obviously, the story of how “some slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin became the internationally ignored song stylist [Hedwig]” struck a chord with me.

When I heard that none other than Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) would be staring in a production on Broadway, the show naturally leapt to the top of my musical wish list queue. I was not disappointed.

Hedwig, from start to finish, is exhilarating, captivating and just downright fabulous. NPH truly embodies the role and his humor, charisma and talent shine through 30 pounds of pancake makeup and fake hair. (Oh my god, can we talk about the wigs?) The nuances of Hedwig’s character emerge in a beautiful and at times heartbreaking way before the audience. This is a credit not only to NPH’s performance but also to the book by John Cameron Mitchell (who also originated the role). Rarely does a character with such flare and style also get to express such vulnerability and dejection too.

Expertly teasing out Hedwig’s character (as well as literally teasing her hair) is Lena Hall, in the role of Yitzhak, Hedwig’s put-upon husband. Hall is a revelation — a show-stopping songstress with a difficult balancing act to play. Her quiet and soulful demeanor when she’s forced into the background is the perfect foil for Hedwig. And yet, the character also serves as a gendered mirror to Hedwig — talented, melancholy but presenting as male.

The production as a whole was performance personified. Yes, the wigs and costumes were flawless. But for the first time, I found myself checking the Playbill to find out who the Lighting Designer was (Kevin Adams) because in the more violent numbers (“Angry Inch,” “Exquisite Corpse”) the songs became visceral, sensory experiences embodying Hedwig’s anger and frustration. The softer songs from the soundtrack (“Origin of Love,” “Wicked Little Town”) just drove home how beautiful the music and lyrics by Stephen Trask are. The innovative incorporation of animation for the “Origin of Love” number left me with chills. By the end, as Hedwig/NPH encouraged the crowd to “lift up your hands” to “Midnight Radio,” something tangible had taken over the crowd, leading to a preemptive standing ovation that left me choked up.

The overwhelming sense of joy and uplift in the theatre was the most powerful takeaway of the evening. This is a show that, at its heart, explores the complex spectrums of gender and sexual identity. Seeing a crowd of theatregoers lovingly embrace a protagonist who was once considered controversial for straddling those spectrums was a deeply moving experience.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch opens with a limited engagement on April 22 (tonight!) at The Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street) under the direction of Michael Mayer.