HAMILTON – An American Musical: August 17, 2015 – Richard Rodgers Theater, Reviewed
“Hamilton is the story of America THEN played by America NOW – this is what America looks like.” Lin-Manuel Miranda, Manhattan born composer, writer and lyricist decided to read Alexander Hamilton, an eight-hundred plus paged Biography, written by historian Ron Chernow, during holiday in Mexico. By the time he finished chapter two he knew he had a Rap musical in the making. The first song he wrote, Alexander Hamilton (sung by character Vice President Aaron Burr), was performed at the White House Poetry & Music Jam in 2009.
“How does the bastard son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? The ten-dollar Founding Father without a father, got a lot farther, by working a lot harder, by bein’ a lot smarter, by bein’ a self starter … What’s your name man? Alexander Hamilton. His name is Alexander Hamilton. And there’s a million things he hasn’t done but just you wait. Just you wait … Yeah, I’m the damn genius that shot him.”
Miranda’s next song, ‘I Am Not Throwin’ Away My Shot’ took him a year to write. When asked why, he said Hamilton was so much smarter than he that every word had to be amazing.
I’m not throwin’ away my … shot, I’m not throwin’ away my shot
Hey, yo, I’m just like my country. I’m young scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwin’ away my shot. I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory … It’s like a beat without a melody. See, I never thought I’d live past twenty… We have to make this moment last … Scratch that: This is not a moment, it’s a movement where all the hungriest brothers with something to prove went … And, if we win our independence is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants? I know the reaction in the street is exciting but Jesus, between all the bleedin’ and fightin’ I’ve been readin’ and writin’. We need to handle our financial situation. Are we a nation of states? What’s the state of our nation? … Every action’s an act of creation … And I’m not throwin’ away my … shot, I’m not throwin’ away my shot.”
Without having read the eight-hundred paged Biography (purchased it), I thoroughly grasped Hamilton’s determination and grit through Miranda’s portrayal – “our country’s original immigrant – a revolutionary, visionary and youngest of the Founding Fathers.” Lin-Manuel feels a strong kinship to Hamilton’s story. His father, after completing college at the age of eighteen, immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico after receiving a full ride to New York University’s Post Doctorate Psychology program. He didn’t speak much English but learned. “It made no sense, but it was what I needed to do,” said his father. In the writing of this musical, Miranda begins to understand his father.
Fast forward five years and Hamilton opens at the Public Theater on Lafayette in Manhattan with one hundred seventeen sold-out performances and now, of course, opened on Broadway August 6th at the Richard Rodgers Theater on 46th street – still the hottest ticket in town.
The moment Hamilton opens it is energetic, exciting, modern, historical, different, beautiful, smart, entertaining, humorous and tear-jerking. The dancing is effortless and fluid – tight and purposeful. The set is as simple and neutral, scaffolding on a brick wall – often at its center, Hamilton’s soapbox. The turntable gives a slow motion effect as though hitting fast forward and rewind – accentuating movement and time.
The costumes are timeless yet modern, neutral. Male and female dancers wearing nude colored costumes of riding pants and boustier-like vests (women) and sleeveless riding vested jackets (men) finished off with black riding boots. When they switch into more formal costume it remains neutral and beautiful, current yet historical. The Founding Fathers have more formal morning jackets still neutral in navy and brown, all, except for Hamilton. Miranda, playing the character of Alexander Hamilton, is dressed in louder, more flamboyant colors representative of his vociferous persona.
At the center of the Hamilton’s story is the relationship between Hamilton and Burr. Burr’s motto was “smile more talk less … don’t let them know what you stand for” whereas Hamilton was an outspoken proponent for a strong central government and a modern economic vision and often in opposition with Jefferson and Madison. Hamilton became George Washington’s most trusted adviser and confidant while Burr’s political aspirations were repeatedly thwarted. Burr is often seen looking on contemptuously instead of being invited into “In the Room Where it Happened.”
“We take it as a given that hip-hop is the music of the Revolution. You can write your way out of your circumstances.” Hamilton’s history consists of twenty-three songs in the first half of the show and about the same in the second half. While the show is quite long at two hours and fifty-five minutes, I am completely entertained and thoroughly enjoy the rap musical historical account – highlighting the noteworthy moments in not only his professional life but his personal life – meeting and marrying Eliza Schuyler, birth of his son (eight children total) the death of his son, the duel and finally his death leaving the most emotional song for the end where Eliza promises to tell his story.
Never before have I been more open to becoming a student of history (if re-mastered in a rap version). The soundtrack will not be available until mid-September but I have pre-purchased my copy. Get your tickets now!
P.S. In an effort to give back, the production is offering a lottery program called Ham for Ham. Each day about five hundred people show up for their chance at scoring one of twenty-one front row seats for $10.00. On several occasions members of the cast have done short impromptu performances.