Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hamilton - An American Muscial


"I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot"

I first heard about Hamilton on one of my favorite pop-culture boards, in early spring 2016. I downloaded the OCR to see what all the fuss was about, played it alongside the lyrics on Rap Genius as suggested, and ugly-cried my way through the last third. I loved it. I needed tickets for it. Sometime over the next few months, a bootleg video copy surfaced on a Broadway site and managed to find its way into my possession. I was watching it when the next batch of tickets unexpectedly went on sale and thereby missed my shot for that go round (karma in action). I planned carefully for the next release date; I was online the moment they went on sale. Ticketmaster was lagging like crazy, but - I managed to get an orchestra ticket for President’s Day weekend. (The joys of being single!) Most of the original cast had already announced their departure dates and the rest soon followed suit, which dulled my excitement a little, but I was still flailing at my chance to be in “The Room Where It Happens”.


“It’s Quiet Uptown”

After checking into my hotel, I headed uptown to Harlem. One of the things I’m most ashamed of from my seven years as a New York resident is that I never went to any of the National Park sites in the city – or at least, didn’t visit them as national parks. I took the A train up to 145th street and walked downhill to St. Nicholas Park. The Grange – the only home Hamilton ever owned – has been moved twice and is now picturesquely situated at the top of a hill. Having gotten massively out of shape living in the car-required Northern Virginia suburbs for the past three years, my legs and lungs yelled at me as I hiked up the winding flight of stone steps.


The Grange is a pretty yellow house with wide porches, large by 18th century standards. On this Saturday, however, it looked closed. I checked the hours on my phone before circling around the property. Finally, I found the entrance, tucked away under a porch on the north side of the building. The NPS runs tours or lets you walk around the building on your own. They’re currently experiencing enough traffic to have to have a wait-list. I spent about fifteen minutes browsing the small exhibit on Hamilton’s life in the basement before being called upstairs.


The first floor of the building is comprised of three main rooms situated around an atrium – it reminded me slightly of Monticello, on a smaller scale. To the right of the front door is a study. Behind it is a dining room, and to the left, separated by a hallway, is the parlor. The house is furnished with a blend of furniture that belonged to the Hamiltons and other period pieces. I heard the ranger tell some visitors that the books in the library are original, though rebound. The color scheme is typically neoclassical – rich, bold colors juxtaposed with white trim – and portraits of the Alexander, Eliza, and even George Washington hang in the various rooms. Like most historical residential sites from that era, the upstairs is closed to visitors. I asked the ranger about the layout – she said it’s essentially the same as the first floor, with three rooms arranged around a hallway. Because there’s not much to see, a visit only takes about 15 minutes, even for the most devoted Hamilstan.


"Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre, Cinq!"

~*~


"In the Room Where It Happens"

I headed over to Broadway early, intending to enter the theater ASAP so that I could take advantage of the bathroom and the merchandise counter. Somehow, I’d forgotten that Hamilton is different from any other musical I’ve been to. The line just to get into the theater wrapped around the side of the theater, into the passage by the Marriott Marquis. As soon as the theater opened, it moved super quickly. The crowd rushed in, with brief pauses as people took selfies under the theater marquee. I stopped by the restroom (the largest I’ve encountered in a Broadway theater, yay) before heading up to my seat.

 

The Richard Rodgers Theater is known for having cramped seats, but luckily, the slope of the orchestra floor is steep enough the give almost everyone a great view of the stage. I was in the center, but all the way in Row V, two rows from the back. I was happy to see that I had a decent view of the entire stage, up to the walkways where I knew a bit of the action happened. (For reference, I’m 5’5”.) Then, a model-tall woman sat directly in front of me.  I was completely deflated – my most memorable and direct view of Hamilton was going to wind up being a fuzzy bootleg recording rather than the seat I’d paid $200 for.


My view of the stage. :,(

I’m not sure if she sensed my despair, or if she was just super-cognizant in general, but she spent the entire musical leaned over to her daughter on the left - god bless her - and my view of center stage was flawless. (Behind me to the left was a post, so seriously – thank you so much, wonderful lady.) I still had to endure the crinkling of candy wrappers to my right, the slush of ice being pushed around in a glass behind me to my right, and the excited titters of the fan girls behind me to my left (discuss afterwards, oh my god…), but none of them destroyed the experience.


Seeing a bootleg first did change the overall experience for me, and I’m not sure I’d recommend watching one before seeing Hamilton live. Comparison is the thief of joy – casts will always have to live up the original Broadway recording, but adding visuals adds another layer on top of that. In some ways, since I was going in completely informed, the differences are what defined my Broadway experience. I really enjoyed Brandon Victor Dixon’s Burr – a more genial, playful interpretation than Leslie Odom Jr’s stoic version, though that choice made his last few numbers lose some of their gravity. Vocally, he was amazing. I liked some parts of Jevon McFerrin’s Hamilton, who felt like a more of a streetwise geek than Miranda’s earnest portrayal, but again, still seemed to be searching for some of the character’s emotional weight. Lexi Lawson was great as Eliza – probably the most comparable to her predecessor of the bunch. Taran Killam (loved him on SNL) added a slightly deranged, Jack Nicholson-esque edge to King George III, but didn’t change much of the physical comedy.

The real show-stealer was Jordan Fisher as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, who might even have an edge on Anthony Ramos for pure charisma. (He took Laurens from a puppy dog of a character to a Marius who you’d follow into battle, without losing the character’s innate goodness.) The two that didn’t quite live up to the originals were Mandy Gonzales as Angelica (her voice loses its power when she slips into mid-range) and Seth Stewart as Lafayette/Jefferson (the part was written for Daveed Diggs and is impossible to top when played in a similar manner). 


But was I reduced to tears, as I've been at practically every Broadway musical I've seen? Of course. Aside from the last third of the musical, which is an emotional minefield, ‘One Last Time’ took on a whole new meaning. George Washington’s entire portrayal in Hamilton gives me *feels* – he’s possibly our second-least problematic founding father, coming from a time when rich, white men were essentially terrible people. In any case, I was not the only one crying at this number about the peaceful transference of power that is the very essence of our country, given our current situation.

In the bathroom at intermission, I heard an excited tween talking to her mom about the Laurens' death scene that was excluded from the soundtrack, and gives the song “Nonstop” so much more meaning. The theater was filled with so many excited teens and tweens – it gave my heart joy, as a former teen who thought she could die happy if she only got to see ‘Phantom’ live.


~*~


"We need to handle our financial situation..."

I'd bought a program and a mug during intermission - the perks of being near the back - but the sweatshirt I'd wanted wasn't stocked in the theater. The lady at the counter told me to check out the pop-up shop a few doors down, so I went the following afternoon. It was filled with college-age kids and teen girls with their parents. I was tempted by an overpriced Christmas tree ornament and a seriously cool pop-up card of the stage design, but resolutely walked toward the rack of clothing and picked out my shirt. It was ridiculously overpriced, made of thin material, and will fall apart if I wash it – but I love it anyway and hope it holds up as well as the knock-off ‘CATS’ tank I had as a teen.


 ~*~



"She is buried at Trinity Church near you..."

After an afternoon spent at Ground Zero and the new One World Trade Center, I dropped by Trinity Church.  I'd visited the churchyard a couple of times before, long before ‘Hamilton’, and had viewed his tombstone as nothing more but the largest monument on the grounds. I was the last person admitted as the three guys who arrived moments before me charmed the lady about the lock the gates into letting them in for two minutes. I was heartened to see tributes – flowers, flags, etc. – covering the graves, as well as a family with two elementary-aged girls leaving coins.


Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.

 There are some many amazing things about 'Hamilton', but the message about the way history is written shines through not only in the musical itself, but in the resurgence of interest in the life of this "forgotten" founding father. Art continues to influence history. 💓

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