(Notice how Hamilton‘s playbill is the only cover in color. Printing in color is more expensive, but Hamilton can afford it. A. Ham. would be proud.)
The entire reason we went to New York was to see Hamilton. I first listened to the entire cast album October 2015, shortly after it released and have listened to it ever since. I converted John the following January, and he surprised me with tickets for Valentine’s Day last year.
“We don’t do this,” I told him when I opened the gift. Meaning we don’t take big trips, don’t make extravagant purchases. We’re sensible. We give practical gifts, take family-oriented vacations. We don’t go to New York City for an entire week and make all our dreams come true.
Until we did.
During the year between buying the tickets and seeing the show, we listened to it often, especially on drives. One summer evening we took a drive down all our bike routes and sang along, for the entire two hours and 45 minutes. John would text me a lyric, and I’d text him back the next one.
Sure, I would have preferred to see the original cast—particularly Chris Jackson—but I think what would have been more incredible would have been to be someone like Jimmy Fallon, who first saw it at The Public Theater, before it went to Broadway. To ask fellow patrons, Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?
John sat next to a couple who I’d guess were around 60. Like us, they bought their tickets a year ago. The wife trained at Julliard and teaches voice. She admitted she was skeptical of the hip hop, going in, but by the end of act 1, she was lovin’ it.
I did not expect the staging to bring so much to the story, especially through the choreography. The chorus was on stage for the entire show, and they served almost as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action through song and movement. Every gesture communicated. The men and women wore parchment-colored tights and sleeveless shirts with dark boots. That made it easy to put on a red coat or a blue one, to add a hat or a shawl for when a chorus member briefly became a character.
And while the choreography was complex, the stage itself was relatively simple. Nothing wheels on or off. It’s the same set throughout with a couple of concentric turntables surrounded by a balcony. No special effects. Nothing dropped from the ceiling. No pyrotechnics, unless you count Eliza setting fire to a letter. And they do more with pieces of paper than anyone since, well, the Founding Fathers.
Hamilton makes you believe in America. You see the flawed founders, and you love them. You get how radical this American experiment was then and still is. You consider the women, erased from the narrative because their words were not preserved. You understand how divisive slavery was from the beginning. You feel that this country should not have worked, but then again, how could it not? Who doesn’t want to turn the world upside down?
It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a show. It’s exciting and sad and heartbreaking and funny and rollicking and inspirational. There was so much the cast album alone didn’t give me, moments that needed to be seen as well as heard. At the end I was exhausted. I wanted to sit and sob, but we attended a matinee, and there was another show that night, so we made our way to a deli we liked, and just talked through it all. This whole thing went from something we don’t do to something we did … together. Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris; John and Megan will always have New York.
We’ve listened to and watched and read who knows how many interviews with creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. We saw Moana twice and downloaded the music, and we can’t wait for Mary Poppins Returns, which he’s filming in London now. But I think my favorite moment ever with him was the Broadway edition of Carpool Karaoke before the Tonys. This, for us, is what musical theater is all about—folks in a car, belting out show tunes. Because we can always do that.
(Here’s the best 11 minutes you will spend outside of listening to Hamilton, I guarantee.)