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.