5 Reasons the Play Hamilton is a Big Deal.

by | Jul 2, 2020

A Broadway Phenom

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play, Hamilton, a musical based on founding father Alexander Hamilton, is a bonafide Broadway sensation. Sold out for the remainder of 2016, and the foreseeable future. Single seats are selling for 3 to 10 times ticket value (if you can even find them).

Hamilton racked up more Tony nominations than any play in the history of Broadway. Hamilton was the biggest winner at the 2016 show. The buzz generated from word of mouth about this play seems limitless. Nearly all who see the almost three-hour play leave the theater converted into Hamilton zealots.

Some Questions To Ponder

  • So what’s the big deal with this play, anyway?
  • Why is Hamilton a must-see?

Three Reasons:

  • The Story. Based on Pulitzer-prize winning author Ron Chernow’s 700 + page biographyHamilton is not a story about kids skipping class to play rock and roll in support of a fraudulent teacher. That would be the “School of Rock” playing down the street. “Rock” is the latest re-swizzled movie-to-a-play from Andrew Lloyd Webber. Hamilton is entirely original. Miranda’s play is about a “founding father without a father” who not only enjoyed the company of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison but also played a significant role in the formation of the American government and the economic system still in place today. It’s an unfamiliar yet essential story that is genuinely worthy of telling to an audience.
  • Smartness. At over 20K words, there is a lot to digest in Hamilton. Through the songs, you’ll hear ideas, personalities, family drama, historical references, peppered with relevance, and humor.  Listen carefully, and you will have the opportunity to listen to hip hop references to the Notorious B.I.G., DMX., and Big Pun. There are also storytelling homages to Harry Potter and wordplay that invokes Shakespeare. All this comes with the caveat if you’re smart enough to grasp them. I missed so much. Later, reading up on the material the complexity became more apparent. Nearly every line of Hamilton is thoughtful and intelligent.  Every. Line. Then, with historical icons playing off against one another for just over 30 years, there is a lot of ground to cover. But, get this, the time flies. You will be sad with how little time is left to this captivating piece of theater.
  • Unconventional Telling.
    • Hip Hop. By winning the Tony in 2008 for best musical, Miranda’s last play, “In the Heights,”  somewhat legitimized the hip hop musical form. But, with Hamilton, the hip hop takes a giant leap to another level being both more refined and more accessible. The use of hip-hop is hardly a gimmick here. The street rhymes and rhythms are central to the updating of Hamilton’s story. With hip hop, it turns a dusty book off the shelf to become contemporary and hip.
    • Casting. The casting of non-whites into key roles is nothing new (see Voodoo McBeth by Orson Welles in 1936). Yet the cast of a racially diverse group of actors into the parts of Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton seems both fresh and brilliant.  It works. Hamilton ascends as a story while transcending time as the political themes of two hundred years ago reverberate with today.

Two More Reasons:

  • Classic Broadway. Miranda and his team are squarely rooted in the Broadway musical form as Hamilton references Sweeney Todd, South Pacific, Les Miserable, and many other Broadway plays. The Sondheim influence is there for those who see that type of thing. And there are simply great moments of theater throughout the play.
    • Hamilton’s entrance.
    • The “My Shot” ensemble show stopper.
    • King George’s recurring bits.
    • The “Immigrants, we get the job done!” A line that receives rousing ovations nightly.
    • Rap battles between Jefferson and Hamilton.
    • Great melodies that rival any on Broadway in the last ten years.
    • There is also a sizeable rotating stage that enables complex choreography.
    • First and foremost, Hamilton is a great night out at the theater. It’s worth going to the city to see. I is that special play. It never loses sight of that target.
  • America’s Zeitgeist Moment. Look, I’m a zealot and entirely in the bag for this play. I also like musicals. Hamilton, however, is more than just another musical.  It’s bigger than that. It’s become, with it’s premiering the first song of a rough play at the White House for President Obama, a thing. Hamilton strikes a high wire balance between audacity and a self-conscious cleverness without ever being patronizing. Hamilton is a zeitgeist moment for the theater and a moment for America.

Conclusions

I am not sure that Hamilton will convert anyone to the Broadway musical form who doesn’t like Broadway. Singing and dancing are not for everyone – even when done this well.  I would also caution that the ferocity of the lyrical delivery may be too much “work” for some – especially those unfamiliar with rap. I strongly urge getting comfortable with the soundtrack before seeing the show – this way, you’ll catch more.

So pick up the Questlove-produced, Grammy-winning, original cast soundtrack in advance of putting out big money for your tickets. Listen to the words. You can thank me later.

One Last Thing

What struck me most about Hamilton?

Hamilton, in the most straightforward undeniable way,  is an easy and thrilling work of genius. And, it is undeniable.

Big word, genius.

And, yes, I know there is a whole team of people who make it so. But Miranda is something special. He is something new, and singular.  And yeah, small footnote, Manuel did win the MacArthur “genius” award.  There is that. So, by definition, Hamilton is a work of genius!

Don’t miss this original moment of pure inspiration.

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