How does Hamilton go on and on and grow into more of a phenomenon?

Warning: As everyone seems to have memorized the cast album, I’m going to assume that there are no spoilers, but read at your own risk.

As the Schuyler sisters sing, “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” And how lucky I am that my parents chose to live in the suburbs of New York City and to have a mother who insisted on taking me to Broadway musicals as a child. I was lucky enough to see Hamilton at the Public Theater last year, and I was finally able to see it on Broadway 362 days later (but who’s counting?). It was worth the wait.

When I first saw the show at the Public, there was nothing out about it besides glowing reviews and the opening number that Lin-Manuel Miranda performed at the White House. I had no idea what to expect and my mind was absolutely blown. It’s much different seeing a show a second time when you know what’s going to transpire on that stage and after listening to the cast album ♪NON-STOP♪ for six months. This time, I was able to take in the smaller nuances, to see how much the cast plays with each other in quieter moments, and to pay attention to how certain characters were reacting while on the second level. The interplay between the Schuyler Sisters has really grown, and it’s beautiful to see a strong group of powerful women completely owning it on stage. The love is so apparent between them in the little moments of “The Schuyler Sisters,” “Helpless,” and “Satisfied.” Seeing the whole bridal party walk down the aisle at Alexander and Eliza’s wedding is so charming, especially Okieriete Onaodowan as a flower girl. I also loved the quiet loving moments between Phillipa Soo and, as a superb 9-year-old Philip, Anthony Ramos, during “Take a Break.”

I do not think there will ever be anything as magical as seeing Hamilton for the first time. I know I have a lot of life yet to live, but I doubt anything will ever top that first time, in theater or in life. The second time was still absolutely amazing and while I tried to sear everything to memory, I find myself failing. To start with, I actually prefer the staging at the Public. That’s not to take anything away from the Broadway production because it’s still fantastic, but the stage at the Richard Rodgers Theater is so much more expansive and this is just me being super nit-picky. The brilliant choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler was one of the standouts after my Public viewing, but I felt that its impact was lessened on the larger stage. David Korins’ set is still amazing, but I felt like there was more interplay between the levels at the Public, but that could be a result of having a more limited sightline in comparison to a smaller stage. The idea of the ensemble bringing in set pieces and props as a metaphor to building a nation was much more apparent on a smaller stage. Regardless, it was still brilliant, it just seemed to get overshadowed a bit on a larger stage. It’s hard to know where to look when you have such an expansive stage filled with some of the most talented individuals around!

There were definitely some difference in the staging, and I thought they further incorporated the turntable to great effect. I loved the additional costumes they added from the Public, and really loved the new staging of “The World Was Wide Enough.” They also changed the end with a very small stage direction, but I think it drastically changes the tone of the show. And they added exit music which was FANTASTIC and I wish it was on the album. Exit music is seriously one of my favorite things in the world. Alex Lacamoire has been busy with Dear Evan Hansen so I missed seeing his curly ‘fro sticking up from the pit, but alas.

Howell Binkley’s lighting design is SO BRILLIANT. I’m actually quite obsessed with the light programming and thought it fit every number perfectly. The lighting had it’s own choreography and matched the dancing and music so well. It captured every nuance and mood perfectly and felt so organic to the rest of the piece. It hit every beat and really accented the end of every song. The lighting in this story really elevated the material, and I would be shocked if Binkley doesn’t win a Tony Award for this show. (Can you tell that I love musical theater?) The lighting and movement really come together during the duels in some of the most beautiful stagings I have ever seen. Thomas Kail is a genius. It should not take this long to mention him, but he has staged this production to (near) perfection.

Three of my favorite In the Heights-ers were out (Miranda, Chris Jackson, and Seth Stewart) but I got a heads up about them, so I had time to prepare. I was actually excited to see what Jon Rua would do as Hamilton, and he was absolutely fantastic! It helps knowing that I’ve already seen Miranda as Hamilton, so I was excited to see what another actor (and one who decidedly hasn’t lived in the Hamilton research world as much as Miranda has) would bring to the role. I’ve listened to the cast album so many times that it lives in my head, so hearing new voices definitely broke up the album in my head and forced me to really listen. I thought Rua brought a great dryness and cheekiness to his Hamilton, who was less combative and more emotional. He was endlessly endearing, and I particularly loved his versions of “Hurricane,””It’s Quiet Uptown,” and “The World Was Wide Enough” (*silently weeps just thinking about it*). He has a really silky and soulful singing voice on top of great rap skills, and I just really loved his performance as Hamilton. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he has an amazing non-Hamilton haircut which just somehow makes everything even more wonderful! He was very emotional at the end, even after Jonathan Groff’s plea to donate to BCEFA, and it’s just really beautiful to see someone who’s so overcome by the magnitude of the opportunity and just being grateful. I feel honored that I got to see Rua perform as Hamilton, and I hope that he’ll have a shot to perform as him 8 times a week if he decides to stay with the show. I’m trying to remember everything he’s done and as much as I want to listen to the cast album, I’m trying to sear his performance to memory. I don’t want to lose his voice in my head! As much as I would love to have a recording to Rua’s performance, part of the beauty of live theater is you have to experience it as it happens. Let’s hope my memory can hold up!

Now that they’re on a bigger stage knowing they have a massive hit on their hands, the role of Thomas Jefferson and King George III have both become much more interactive and playful with the audience. Daveed Diggs is amazing as a brash and cocky Jefferson, hamming it up to the full extent, playing to the audience with every line and some great prancing. Jonathan Groff does the most in just three scenes, bringing down the house with some much needed comedy. I expect Tony nominations for both of them, as well as for Ramos, who manages to break my heart as two separate characters. He is so much more expressive live than in the cast album, and he’s truly in the moment every second he’s on stage. He’s great at riling up Hamilton as John Laurens, and is especially great playing a shy and petulant 9 year old. And in his smaller, quieter moments, he brings such weight to emotionally devastate me. I also love his little movement to transition from Laurens to Philip during “The World Was Wide Enough.” It’s the little things that really make this musical soar. Leslie Odom, Jr’s performance as Aaron Burr was the one that stuck out the most to me after seeing it at the Public. He still manages to break my heart during “The Election of 1800” with his face full of hopeful anticipation. It’s a shame that Odom, Jr and Miranda will split votes in the inevitable Best Actor race, but what a star turn for Odom, Jr! I’m still obsessed with Onaodowan’s performance as Hercules Mulligan, and had forgotten how frail he makes his James Madison. His two roles could not be more different. Austin Smith has a deep, booming voice which is great for portraying the powerful General and ultimate President, George Washington. His riffs at the end of “One Last Time” really brought down the house. Sing!

As for the fabulous women, Phillipa Soo is as fantastic as ever and continued to break my heart. Renee Elise Goldsberry (my pick for Best Featured Actress) sounds like a dream and is able to bring the sass and the heart. Jasmine Cephas Jones is great as the spoil-sport Peggy and so sultry as Maria Reynolds. Can everyone be Tony nominated? ♪Please?♪ (Madison voice) It is no small feat to make a show about the Founding Fathers into a feminist show, but somehow it works. All three ladies truly shine and are worthy of Tony nominations. Work!

The ensemble members are all phenomenal, it was great seeing Gregory Haney on stage again (bring back all the Bring It On cast members! p.s. I miss Ariana Debose as the bullet). And a quick shout-out to Paul Tazewell for fantastic costumes and for showing off everyone’s guns! Also, the idea to make Jefferson wear purple as a nod to Prince is ingenious!

There is nothing like a great night at the theater. From the moment the lights went down, you could feel the audience lean forward in their seats in eager anticipation. It is rare for show to be universally praised by everyone and still somehow exceed expectations. I’m already waiting for my April 2017 tickets in my now yearly birthday/treat yo’self tradition. I’ll leave with this: I absolutely love Hamilton. I want to live in the Richard Rodgers Theater and watch the show every day. Please do not bootleg the show. Please do not beg for a movie version. No amount of film will ever truly capture the full magic of the show. See it live. Go to the theater. I know it’s expensive and it’s going to be a wait, but ♪wait for it wait for it wait♪. Believe me, it is well worth the wait!

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You Want A Revolution? I Want A Revelation!

Like many people, I have become obsessed with the Hamilton cast album, or at least the first eleven tracks. Despite my multiple listenings streaming on NPR while (im)patiently waiting for my physical CD to arrive, I never got past the one-two punch of “Helpless” and “Satisfied” without the urge to hit repeat a million times. “Satisfied” might be the most surprisingly brilliant staging of a musical theater number I have ever seen. While sitting in The Public, I felt my hand reaching for an imaginary remote, I was so taken aback by what was happening on the stage and wanted to hit rewind (rewind, rewind, rewind). Even though I’ve listened to the song dozens of times by now, I am still blown away by its brilliance and beauty. Never since “On My Own” from Les Miserables has there been a more perfect song for unrequited love.

While lamenting the lack of women creative team members, at least there’s a man writing Shonda Rhimes-esque feminist songs out there. Thanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda! (Sidenote: Why hasn’t Renee Elise Goldsberry been tapped for a Shondaland show yet? Not that I want her to leave Hamilton any time soon, but staying in the world of politics and personal drama makes Scandal seems like a perfect fit!) After all, the show is called Hamilton and not Alexander Hamilton. Eliza is as a much of a reason to write the show as Alexander is, and Miranda somehow is able to pull off a feminist show about the Founding Fathers. Bravo! As inspiration and in lieu of an online dating profile, I think I will just stand in the middle of Central Park, start belting, “I’m looking for a mind at work,” wait to see who can respond with a “WERK! WERK!” and hope it’s a straight male. That’s essentially courtship in the 1780s, no?

Oftentimes when I listen to a cast album for the first time, there is a number or two that I can’t quite place, but that is not the case for Hamilton. It is so rare for me to have such a visceral experience while listening to a cast album. A true testament to the genius and power of Hamilton, the music immediately provokes the staging, lighting, entrances, choreography, and Ariana DeBose’s awesome ‘fro-ponytail bullet-dancing around the stage. (Ah, how refreshing it is to see a Broadway show where ‘fros fly free!) It’s no wonder I haven’t made it past track 11 on Disc 1. Listening to the cast album is as much as an experience as seeing the live show, and it’s much cheaper and easier to get your hands on than tickets these days! It’s hard to give up three hours of your time to just sit and listen to a cast album, but that’s what I need to do. Most of my listening have come in the car on my way to the bus stop, and let me tell you, it’s not the CD to jam out to while dealing with fellow commuters. I do not suggest rocking out to Hamilton while driving on a highway! It’s hard to avoid accidents when you’re fully rocking out to some of these songs…

While listening to the album, I’m able to hear snippets that harken back to In the Heights and the severely underrated Bring it On. Lin-Manuel Miranda is able to revolutionize the musical theater score and still manage to sound just like him. There are just as many musical theater references as there are to hip hop, and aside from Michael Riedel, no one is complaining. I’m sure more thoughts will flow as I finally make my way through the rest of the album. Until then, the eleven songs I’ve been listening to this past month are absolute revelations.