Thursday, September 6, 2018

9 Reasons Why I Still Care About Hamilton

Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now... 

Photo by Joan Marcus

I'm sure that, unless you live under the world's heaviest, largest rock, you've heard of the theatrical juggernaut that is Hamilton by now. I'm also sure that you've heard Hamilton has finally landed at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, a long awaited event that crashed the Hennepin Theatre Trust's season subscription website multiple times.

Photo by Joan Marcus

As of last week the production is running; aside from the fact I attended Friday's performance, I know this because downtown Minneapolis (where I live) has been routinely flooded with newcomers around curtain call time. It's thrilling to see people this genuinely excited to attend a theater, and anyone must admit that the general feeling surrounding Hamilton is truly next level compared to the usual audience experience.

Photo by Joan Marcus

I could do a traditional review of the show and it would say the same things as everyone else's reviews - the cast is stunning, the choreography striking, the show hums along with boundless energy - in short, it's a pretty flawless experience that is certain to please first timers and regular attendees alike. But it's boring to be repetitive, so I'm not going to do that.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Instead, I'd like to share some general thoughts for the skeptics still out there who think Hamilton is over-hyped and unworthy of the attention it's received. I do understand that this entire exercise is gratuitous - the last thing Hamilton really needs is more press - but I do think it's worth stopping (as the show itself says) to look around and really appreciate the cultural moment we're enjoying. Here's what I've got:

  1. The collective visual and emotional impact of this brilliant, unironically, intentionally diverse cast is impossible to overstate. I've seen so many shows that throw a bone to the idea of diversity by checking boxes or casting a few token actors, or worse yet, so many more that don't even bother to try. I've heard more arguments than I can count about "maintaining historical accuracy" used as a tool to prevent women and people of color from participating in performances and erase them from stories that they belong in. With the advent of Hamilton, that pernicious set of lies has finally kicked the bucket. As a history major, one of the things I most appreciate about this musical is that it puts context back into history - all the people our popular narrative forgot to remember are here en masse, kicking ass and taking names. Theatrical history is now divided into Before Hamilton and After Hamilton, and any producer who tries to ignore the public's expectation of talented, diverse casting does so at their peril. 
  2. The cast is truly the best of the best. So often people hear diversity and think "check the box." These actors were not cast to check a box. The extra of the extra on this stage is talented enough to lead any other show, and the musical ensemble is genuinely stunning. It's pretty easy to see why each soloist was cast in their roles, bringing unique flavor, swag, and undeniable musical chops to their performances. You will get your money's worth on this cast folks, believe me. 
  3. Although often overlooked, the choreography really is innovative. It's totally understandable why so many people focus solely on Hamilton's music and lyrics, but the choreography is also interesting and vibrant. I found the battle and duel scenes to be especially fascinating, and I have heard from some who have seen the show multiple times that the choreography is the main thing they keep finding new detail in every time they attend. If you can, try to stop and just appreciate the movement on stage before it blurs by - there are some really cool techniques that make this choreography really pop.
  4. This tour overall is top notch. I think tours are often viewed as the B-level of experiencing a particular show. While of course it's disappointing to miss original cast members in famous roles, that hardly means you'll get short shrift by attending a tour, and sometimes tours can even feature better performers. I have it on good authority from fellow bloggers who have seen this show multiple times - including with the entire original cast, from Lin Manuel Miranda to Leslie Odom Jr. - that this is their close second favorite to the initial cast. Believe them. 
  5. Lin Manuel Miranda really, really deserves his due. Although this story (or at least its high points) is familiar to anyone who took American History 101, the scope and vitality of Hamilton throughout is truly unique. It takes vision to write any narrative, but especially one that is typically as dry and boring as this one, into a living, breathing entity. Life pulses through every inch of Hamilton, from the spectacularly detailed lyrics to the syncopated rhymes to the orchestration that somehow manages to weave Jay-Z, beatbox, Destiny's Child, rock and roll and traditional Broadway ensemble chorus together into one seamless package. I still think that In The Heights (my review here) is Miranda's orchestral masterpiece, his true Bernstein moment - but Hamilton is no slouch, and it takes a whole new direction that deserves all the credit it's gotten and then some. 
  6. Hamilton makes people care about history. So many people think of history as a dry, dead thing that happened centuries ago and doesn't have anything to say about the time we live in now. Oh how wrong they are! Every situation we encounter today, from wars to immigration policies to presidential elections, is built on a foundation of something that happened in the past, and it behooves us to understand that context so we can move our futures forward. Alexander Hamilton's true story has so much to tell us about navigating our current political mess, and if you pay attention you just might get some good ideas for future policies by listening to how he and his crew maneuvered through the American Revolution. 
  7. Hamilton makes people care about theater again. The Twin Cities is blessed to have such a vibrant community of theater makers and patrons, so I think we can sometimes overlook how unusual our community is. There are plenty of areas throughout the U.S. that do not support the arts so enthusiastically, and there are plenty of people who think of theater as a stale thing that rich old white people do and has nothing of value to offer them. Hamilton provides an alternative, showing that someone can make a show - even a true story! - that includes everyone and makes it fun to go to the theater again. There are certainly some growing pains with this - I definitely saw a few people at the Orpheum who clearly had never listened to hip hop struggle to follow the songs here - but it's a necessary process if theater is going to survive into a new century with new patrons who value new approaches. It's high time we place more value on creating and performing original works that tell new stories, and Hamilton makes the number one case for why we should. 
  8. The audience experience is truly next level. It's easier and easier these days to park yourself quietly in your home, Netflix-and-chill-ing, and never seeing another person. I get it - I do that too - but there is still something to be said about having a collective experience with a group of people. The energy of the audience at Hamilton is unlike anything I've experienced at another live performance (excepting perhaps a Beyonce concert), and it makes the whole event so much more fun. 
  9. There are affordable ways to go. A common complaint I hear is that theater is too expensive, and that belief is not unfounded when it comes to big spectacle shows. The Hamilton tour has done much more than usual to try to make the ticket buying process as fair as possible. From an innovative registration program that blocked scalpers from purchasing ticket blocks to an ongoing - yes, you can still win! - lottery to sell $10 tickets to EVERY SINGLE PERFORMANCE (click here for details, it's real and you should apply), the Hamilton team and Hennepin Theatre trust are truly doing everything they can to make this an accessible experience. I'd love to see more of these strategies repeated at other tours and even local theaters whose tickets can get pricey. 

Photo by Joan Marcus

To sum it up: this is one everyone should see. If you are a regular patron, go to expand your mind about what theater can and should look like (and if you can swing it, buy a ticket to share with someone who normally couldn't afford to see this show but deserves to be represented in the audience). If you don't normally go, see if you can find a way to and find yourself inspired about supporting the arts and see them as a fulfilling endeavor. And either way: hats off to Lin Manuel Miranda and the extraordinary talents of this cast, each of whom has blessed us with a magical theatrical experience that is second to none.

Hamilton runs at the Orpheum Theater through October 7. For more information about the show, the ongoing ticket lottery, or to buy tickets (if you still can scrounge some up), click on this link.

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