Hamilton - My Broadway Experience
If you have no interest in the Broadway sensation Hamilton this detailed post may not be for you, but honestly go listen to it.
I still can't believe I saw Hamilton. I'd say there are three types of Hamiltonians. People who are borderline maniacally obsessed, people who have never heard of it (like the woman at Barnes and Noble who asked me why everyone was asking for the biography by Ron Chernow), and people who are tired of hearing their friends talk about it.
I fall in the first category, and after months of non-stop listening, and I do mean non-stop, I still turn it on as soon as I get in the car, jam out to it while doing chores, and walk my dog to it. Needless to say she’s getting a little sick of my slam dance/walking during Guns and Ships. I can’t help my obsession, it's just flat out genius.
Public schools have failed us in many ways including teaching us fallacies like Christopher Columbus discovering America, and George Washington cutting down a cherry trees. Not one of my history teachers ever explained the significance that Hamilton's contributions had on the world that we are living in at this very moment. He's on my money and I didn't know he built our financial institutions, doesn't that seem like an educational travesty?
Lin Manuel Miranda himself could not dispute how interesting his story was, and that it was worth being told.
Back in November I got to see Hamilton. The trip to NYC had already been planned and paid for, but my new found love for Hamilton had been growing in the months prior so I said YOLO to myself (silently of course) and checked out the damage.
While tickets are sold out for the rest of its run at the Richard Rogers Theater, I bought my tickets through resale on Ticketmaster. Somehow scalping through Ticketmaster is legal (thanks for nothing Pearl Jam), and as much as I hate obliging greed, desperate times called for wallets to be pried open. It took me weeks to finally muster up the courage to click purchase on a pair of tickets after days of round the clock ticket stalking. I read everything I could about the theater to determine the best places to sit. I watched the patterns of Lin’s twitter feed to see what days he tended not to perform. If I was gonna do this, it needed to be the perfect storm of Broadway perfection. I closed my eyes as I hit the purchase button and then Donna Meagle's face of approval appeared.
Was it worth it? The answer is YASSSSSSSSSS!
It was a rainy night in NYC, the only day it rained on our entire trip. Soggy theater patrons waited outside in a single file line as other hungry tourists blocked the street asking questions and taking pictures where the Ham4Ham lottery performances happened during the week. I didn’t care that I had curled my hair and it was falling into flat mess. Everyone’s face of anticipation made my body shake with excitement.
I’ve seen a few Broadway plays in my time, but never in NYC and never with an original Broadway cast. When the usher handed me the Playbill it was if someone had placed the Holy Grail in my hand that would grant me an everlasting presence in my Orchestra right seat, and I would never have to leave.
The people watching before it began was delicious. Most satisfyingly rich to follow was the older well-dressed woman who smelled of Park Avenue sitting next to me. I'm a talker so I wanted to engage her with a little "hey home-girl, we are about to get our HAM on", but instead I gave her my best waspy smile and nod to which she obliged. I secretly loved her because during "Guns and Ships" a woman in front of us GOT UP and came back with some sort of packaged nuts and went to town on them, crinkling paper and all. Well this Park Avenue dahling was having none of this and neither was I. We shared knowing looks and eye rolls as if to say “Charlatan” to one another.
During the intermission I heard her ask her companion about the Federalist Papers, by saying “So those papers…..what was that all about?” Clearly public schooling had failed her as well. It appeared that she had no knowledge of the story or the songs; everything about Hamilton was brand new to her. This wasn't an avid fan, but a lady with curiosity and money to blow.
I unknowingly dodged a huge theatrical bullet. The week prior to my Hamilton experience, Christopher Jackson was on vacation. I came just days from missing seeing his portrayal of George Washington. At that time, in my heart, he certainly was not as big a deal as Lin himself although I really wanted to see the full cast with no substitutes (which did happen minus Andrew Rannells filling in for Jonathan Groff). I loved his voice from the recordings, but I wasn't prepared to have all the feelings.
When he comes out during "Right Hand Man" the mood changes. For lack of a better description, it got real hood real quick. The kind of hood that gives you stank face accompanied with head nodding through the whole song. The Led Zeppelin vibe (see Kashmir) certainly added a rock/P-Diddy hype factor.
His presence is undeniable and I wasn’t at all ready for the tears streaming down my face as he sang “One last time” (I lost it at the fig tree verse).
I'm so glad I didn't miss his performance because for me, it was a standout.
Not as surprising was my continued love for Daveed Diggs who plays Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. It gave me so much joy when the crowd let loose in cheers once Diggs would finish a complex line of rhymes with lightning speed. Not to mention seeing these refined theater-goers getting hyped from Hercules Mulligan during "The Battle of Yorktown". I have perfected chair slam dancing if you were wondering.
While the show is heavy on male performances, the ladies killed it every time they had the chance. Particularly Renee Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones.
Renee plays Angelica and watching her during "Satisfied" gave me goose bumps. She can go from slaying vocals with Whitney Houston-esque ease to spitting complex lyrics with perfect enunciation at a Nikki Minaj pace. What killed me beyond that were her facial expressions. When she introduced Eliza to Alexander and they hit it off her face gives a whole different experience than what you hear in the recording. You see the pain and annoyance. Later when she comes out to sing "Quiet Uptown" she enters from the side of the stage with tears rolling down her face. She feels every word she sings and in turn you feel it.
You may overlook Jasmine who plays Peggy at the beginning of the play, but when she comes out as Alexander's mistress later in "Say No To This" long gone is the adolescent tone and all of the sudden she is growling and bellowing; shaking the walls with her powerful vibrato. Phillipa as Eliza is flawless (and her beat boxing in Take a Break is adorable) but something about the other Schuyler sisters performances had me ready to start my own powerful lady trio when I got home.
There were many reasons to love our seats, because they were mind-blowingly close (their spit was tangible - it was like Gallagher without the ponchos and I was like RAIN ON MEEEEEEE) but another perk was quick access back into the lobby. I cannot stress enough how small this theater is compared to others I've been in. The Richard Rogers theater only seats 1,319 people. To put that in perspective, the Bob Carr in Orlando holds 2,518.
The lobby where concessions and merchandise are sold wouldn't fit a small middle school band. Intermission let out it was every Broadway baby for themselves.
Bathroom break or merchandise hoarding? Ian chose relieving himself and I chose spoiling myself. I ran to the counter to grab a drink - the Aaron Burr Cider. I'm embarrassed to say it was $16 for a bottle of Angry Orchard Cider poured into a novelty sippy cup, but I still use it and it brings back happy memories.
By time I got my overpriced cider the lobby had exploded with people and I could barely slither through the crowd to cross a 5-step gap to the merchandise counter.
Why not wait until after the play to get my goodies you might ask? Rookie move! That's when everyone buys their merch! I waited behind no one and could take my time choosing items; plus I had more important things to do after the play.
The relentless rain from the early evening carried on through the night and was waiting for us as we exited the theater. That did not stop me from heading to the Stage Door and taking a spot at the barricade.
As annoying as the rain was, it actually proved to be helpful as the crowd for the Stage Door was minimal and we were near the door itself which meant we didn't have to wait long for contact with each cast member.
We did however only have one umbrella that we shared, so as time went on we went from feeling damp to body parts that were poking out past our designated area of the umbrella being fully soaked. One by one the cast came out and took pictures and signed playbills. Angelica, Peggy, Lafayette, Washington, Lawrence, and then Hamilton himself. Each one of them was so gracious with the fans and they thanked us for waiting patiently in the rain. Also, Lin grabbed my phone and took a about 20 photos before handing it back to me. When that iPhone upgrade comes I'll pass since my phone has been held by a genius playwright.
I suppose there is nothing to stop someone from waiting at the Stage Door for an interaction regardless if they've seen the play or not, but I would suggest trying it out to anyone who sees the play for the ultimate Hamilton experience.
If I had one grievance at all about the entire experience I'd have to first want to complain about a surreal night which I couldn't do, but for anyone that might go see the play at this theater, please know the seats are atrocious for tall people. Leg room does not exist. The silver lining is that you are so mesmerized by what is happening in front of you, your body goes numb. My brain tried to tell the rest of my body it was in pain, but my body didn't oblige this negativity. It was almost like the music was morphine and I felt nothing but happiness.
If you decide to see Hamilton, know it's worth every penny and you won't regret it. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the theater, wear something comfortable while still Broadway appropriate and steer clear of weekend matinee shows if seeing Lin as Hamilton is important to you.