If you’ve spent the past three years hearing phrases like, “I’m not throwing away my shot!” or “The room where it happens!” and you are ready to be in the know, it’s time to treat yourself to tickets to “Hamilton: An American Musical.” Unlikely as it sounds, Broadway’s hottest show in decades is a diverse hip-hop musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. “Hamilton” is now open around the country and across the pond, with a touring company coming to a city near you.
But is it really worth the hype?
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s epic brainchild has already delighted audiences across age, gender, color, and socioeconomic lines. Miranda, an Energizer bunny of a wordsmith, grew up with a love of hip hop as well as Broadway musicals. He combined both genres into one mind-blowing instant classic based on the best-selling 2004 biography, “Alexander Hamilton” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow. (Chernow acts as the show’s historical consultant.) With references to “Camelot,” “South Pacific,” and other Broadway standards, it appeals to fans of classic musical theater. Rap and hip-hop fans will note clear throwbacks to the works of Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, and many other giants of the genre. It has more than enough wordplay and double-meanings for fans of Shakespeare. There’s a waltz number with a tribute to the NBC show “Parks & Recreation.” There’s Jamaican-inspired dancehall. King George III prances across the stage to an early Beatles-era Britpop breakup song.
What makes “Hamilton” unique among other musicals is that it doesn’t look or sound like any other Broadway show you might be familiar with. “Hamilton” looks and sounds like the United States of the 21st century, even while it tells a centuries-old story of an immigrant who became one of America’s Founding Fathers.
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Write Like You’re Running Out of Time
The typical Broadway musical averages 15-20 songs; “Hamilton” contains 46. Each character has a unique melody that follows them throughout the show, providing subtle cues for the audience and deeper meaning for music nerds. There is little in the live production that is not part of the Original Broadway Cast Recording, allowing fans to enjoy a fairly thorough “Hamilton” experience even before they see it in person. It’s not unusual to attend a live show and sing along with other audience members to every number.
Like its musical theater biography forebears “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Evita,” “Hamilton” is told from the point of view of the title character’s nemesis. In the show’s opening number, Aaron Burr introduces himself as (spoiler alert) “the damn fool who shot him.” Yet this is a story that is as critical of Alexander Hamilton as it is a celebration of his achievements. By the show’s inevitable conclusion, we have seen all sides of this complicated man, from his greatest strengths (of the 85 essays that make up the Federalist Papers, Hamilton wrote a staggering 51) to how those strengths became weaknesses — and how those weaknesses destroyed him. This flawed hero’s journey is very real, and very much a uniquely American story.
Rather than a dry historical biography, “Hamilton” is a party and awake all at once. It’s the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, President’s Day, a supermarket tabloid, and an abolitionist rally all rolled into one swirling, winding, racing roller coaster of an experience.
In New York You Can Be a New Man
“Hamilton: The Musical” first came to history-making life on February 17, 2015, at New York’s famous off-Broadway Public Theater, the birthplace of “Hair” and “A Chorus Line.” It quickly became too popular for the Public’s 184-seat capacity, and six months later the show opened again, this time in the historic Richard Rogers Theater with over 1,300 seats. Even then, it continued to sell out show after show as word of mouth spread about this unique, intelligent, and fun hip-hop musical about, of all things, the guy on the ten-dollar bill. Since then the show has been performed over 1,365 times (as of November 11, 2018) with an average audience capacity of over 100%, including standing-room-only. As of November 2018, the show has grossed nearly half a billion dollars. In 2016 it became the most-nominated musical production for the Tony Awards, winning 11 awards total including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical.
Tickets to “Hamilton” became so sought-after that a lottery system was put into place. Each morning, hopeful fans would stand in line at Richard Rogers Theater to enter to win the opportunity to buy one (or two) of 46 front- and second-row seats that night. Each ticket costs $10 for the winners, creating a fair and affordable system for anyone lucky enough to win. The lines of “Hamilton” devotees inspired Miranda to create #Ham4Ham, in which members of the cast would go outside to those waiting online to engage and entertain them. Ham4Ham quickly went viral, with fans creating their own videos for YouTube.
The lottery system went from in-person to digital via a fan-created HamilApp, which was then adopted by the official “Hamilton” website. Lottery hopefuls can enter by downloading the app and entering how many tickets (1 or 2) they want to win. Remember: lottery tickets are for that night’s (or that afternoon’s) performance and cannot be transferred.
The World Was Wide Enough
The Original Broadway Cast Recording for “Hamilton” was released on September 25, 2015, and debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200 chart: the highest debut for a cast album since 1963. It also reached the number 3 spot for rap albums and became the highest-charting cast album since 2011. As of October 2018, it has sold over one million copies.
In addition to the original cast recording, Miranda put out “The Hamilton Mixtape” in 2016, a creative and diverse assortment of songs inspired by the show featuring The Roots, Nas, Usher, Sia, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, John Legend, and other popular performers.
In 2016 Miranda released a behind-the-scenes book about his show, titled, “Hamilton: The Revolution,” which quickly sold out on Amazon.com and remains the user site’s number one best-seller in American Drama & Plays. With full-page photos of the original cast, an engaging timeline of the show’s history, and Miranda’s own witty notes, the book remains a must-have for “Hamilton” fans.
While in Manhattan, fans can enjoy two noted historical places directly related to Alexander Hamilton: Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Harlem, the actual residence of Hamilton and his family made famous in the show’s tissues-at-the-ready number, “It’s Quiet Uptown;” and Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum, where visitors pay their respects to the founder of our nation’s treasury by leaving pennies on his grave. In addition to the two Manhattan sites, fans can take a quick trip across the Hudson River to Weehawken, NJ, the site of the most famous duel in American history.
In other words, even before you attend the show you can become fully immersive in the “Hamilton” experience.
For the best viewing experience at Richard Rogers Theatre, buy tickets as close to the front as possible on the orchestra level.
A Winter’s Ball
In September of 2016 “Hamilton” opened at the CIBC Theater in Chicago and is set to run through January 2019. In honor of the show in Chicago, Miranda helped create “Hamilton: The Exhibition” in an enclosed all-weather structure on Northerly Island. The exhibition is interactive, immersive, and designed to give fans a way to learn more about Alexander Hamilton.
The CIBC Theater (previously PrivateBank Theater) contains 1,800 seats. The best views are in the Orchestra section (be careful not to choose seats located behind a column) or from the front row of the Dress Circle.
TV and Broadway star Wayne Brady has performed as Aaron Burr in the Chicago production, as well as Tony Award-winning actress Karen Olivo as Hamilton’s intellectual equal and sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler.
Like New York, Chicago has an online $10 ticket lottery.
What Comes Next – 2020 and Beyond?
It might seem counterintuitive to stage “Hamilton” – in which Redcoats and King George III are the first-act villains – in London. After all, Queen Elizabeth herself is the third great-granddaughter of the real-life King George. But on December 6, 2017, “Hamilton” became the debut show at the newly re-opened Victoria Palace Theatre. Critics and audiences alike showered the show with praise, calling it “a thrilling salute to America’s immigrants,” and claiming the show is somehow even “better than the hype suggests.”
For his friends across the pond, Miranda made small tweaks to three song lyrics he knew British audiences might not understand: for the song “Take a Break,” “John Adams doesn’t have a real job anyway,” became “Vice president isn’t a real job anyway;” “Weehawken” became “Jersey” in the song “Your Obedient Servant;” and in “The Room Where It Happens,” “Well, I propose the Potomac” became “We’ll have him over, propose it.”
With its 1,400-seat capacity, the best views are in the front of the Dress Circle or rows G-K of the Stalls. As with New York and Chicago, fans can download the Ham4Ham app to enter a £10 ticket lottery.
Hurricane Brings a New Light
Lin-Manuel Miranda is proud of his Puerto Rican roots, and it shows in his commitment to post-Hurricane Maria’s efforts to help the island. He has set up just 24 performances in January in which he will reprise his own starring role. More than a quarter of all tickets for the shows will be sold at $10 a piece to island residents. Premium VIP tickets can also be purchased, with proceeds benefiting Miranda’s 3-to-5-year limited-time Flamboyan Arts Fund. The Fund supports “institutions, art groups, and independent artists” in Puerto Rico “to ensure that the arts and culture continue to flourish.”
As part of the efforts to rebuild and draw tourism, Discover Puerto Rico and travel partners are offering Hamilton tour packages, which include premium seating tickets to the show as well as resort lodging, meals, and guided tours.
Wait For It – The Hamilton Tour May be Coming
If you can’t make it to New York, Chicago, London, or Puerto Rico, there’s still a chance to catch “Hamilton” at a theater near you. Upcoming stops for the U.S. Tour include:
Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story
“Hamilton: An American Musical” is more than the sum of its parts. It is both of its time and also transcends time. It is of the people, for the people, and by the people. It’s hard to remember another Broadway musical that has taken the world by storm in such an all-encompassing way. Parents throw Hamilton-themed birthday parties for their kids; Facebook has over a dozen fan groups dedicated to the show; YouTube has countless fan-made videos. PBS specials, t-shirts, fan art, fan-fic, memes, puns, and spoofs dominate the cultural landscape.
“Hamilton” runs a beefy 2 hours and 45 minutes long with one intermission. The average “Hamilton” song squeezes in 144 words per minute: at a more typical Broadway pace, “Hamilton” would be 12 hours long, meaning that’s nearly three hours of your undivided attention.
While “Hamilton” is fun and energetic (and educational!) enough for young children, some of the songs contain explicit lyrics and certain subject matters may be inappropriate for little ears. Even without those caveats, the sheer length of the show might not be advisable for wigglers, fidgeters, and nappers. That said, many of the songs move so quickly that even grown-ups have trouble picking up every single double-entendre or swear word. The Richard Rogers Theater does not have age restrictions, but the CIBC does not allow anyone under the age of five. The Victoria Palace recommends the show for ages 10 and up and will not admit anyone under the age of four. Before buying tickets for your HamilKids, be sure to check with your local theater’s age policies – and maybe give the soundtrack a thorough listen.
Don’t be helpless and wait for it. Don’t say no to this. Grab your tickets for the story of tonight in the room where it happens. You’ll be satisfied. You’ll be blown away. And then you’ll be back.***More information on Hamilton tickets can be researched on ticketsto.org. We hope you enjoyed this in-depth review and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
-Richard Rogers Theatre: http://www.therichardrodgerstheatre.com/
-Hamilton the Musical Official Site: https://hamiltonmusical.com/new-york/
-TimeOut New York: https://www.timeout.com/newyork/theater/hamilton-lottery
-Lin-Manuel Mirands: http://www.linmanuel.com/ham4ham
-Hamilton Chicago: http://www.hamilton-chicago.com/
-Hamilton Grange National Memorial: https://www.nps.gov/hagr/index.htm
-The Guardian of London: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/dec/21/hamilton-review-musical-london-victoria-palace-lin-manuel-miranda
-TimeOut London: https://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/hamilton-review