With 11 Tony awards and the title of most expensive show in Broadway history, it comes as no surprise that “Hamilton: An American Musical” has a sold out run in San Francisco. It is still possible to get one ticket for nearly $1,000 or by raffle for $10, but chances are wildly slim. Clearly, the “Hamilton” hype is a force to be reckoned with.
If somebody gets lucky enough to attend one of the shows, the minimal set of the stage is surprising. With the hype and absurd amount of attention the show has gotten, a higher production value seems more appropriate. The same, simple set is sustained for the whole show with only simpler props and unique lighting to show the changes in setting throughout the musical such as the Revolutionary War, Hamilton’s home, Washington’s office and many others. However, these basic props and ever-changing lights do effectively provide the audience with clear setting and emotional changes. The use of the props can be read as resourceful or as comical. For example, during the song “Hurricane,” Alexander Hamilton is seen in the middle of a “hurricane” portrayed by the ensemble dancers holding up various pieces of furniture, such as chairs and desks. Another rather humorous part of the choreography is the dancer who plays a bullet moving in slow motion for multiple scenes.
Like the set, the costumes and makeup are minimal as well. The aspect of the show that is most recognized is the hip hop music. The writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda who previously wrote and starred in “In the Heights,” felt it was effective to tell the story of America’s founding fathers through hip hop. This concept caught the attention of many people who wouldn’t consider themselves “musical people” or normal theater geeks. With a total of 47 songs, including some which don’t appear in the show’s soundtrack, Miranda manages to add a wide variety of music with minimal dialogue. From the rap battles between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to Eliza’s heart wrenching response to Hamilton’s betrayal to King George III’s comedic yet traditional declarations of confusion, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The show is packed with background subtleties that only people who know where to look would notice. A minor surprise for someone who has the whole soundtrack memorized would be John Laurens’ death scene. There is no hint of the painful scene in the soundtrack, but the impact is powerful. Hamilton goes about his normal routine when Eliza, his wife, brings him a letter from Laurens’ father. As Eliza reads the devastating letter, Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan receive the same letter on the upper level of the set.
This concept caught the attention of many people who wouldn’t consider themselves “musical people” or normal theater geeks.
Another unknown aspect is the number of songs and the correlation to Hamilton and Philip Hamilton’s age. Philip Hamilton died when he was 19 years old and in the musical, he is alive for 19 songs. Additionally, Alexander Hamilton was 47 when he died and the musical has 47 songs if the John Laurens death scene song is counted.
There is no way to properly compare the San Francisco cast to the original, even though a few actors were in both casts. The two are so different and strong in their own ways. Every San Francisco actor approached their characters in a completely different manner than the original cast. For example, Michael Luwoye, who plays Alexander Hamilton, gave the character a more aggressive and rough feel whereas Lin-Manuel Miranda approached the character with more humor. They gave the characters a different tone and almost gave them a different personalities.
The audience in the show livens up the environment. The famous line “Immigrants: We get the job done” earned a roaring round of applause and whistles from the crowd. As King George III was exiting the stage, a member of the audience decided to scream “F*ck you King George!” This earned a fake pouty face from Rory O’Malley who played the King that night and lots of a laughter from the audience. At the end of the show, there was an immediate standing ovation and the crowd was ecstatic.
“Hamilton” has changed the way the world views not only history, but current events such as immigration and gun violence as well. As Hamilton is an immigrant, the message that immigrants are capable of spectacular things was evident in the musical. Many characters, including Hamilton himself, get injured or killed by a gun throughout the show and gun violence continues to be a pressing issue today. The simple nature of the show only adds to the power of the message it conveys. Although tickets are as rare as a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, it is definitely worth a try.
Featured image courtesy of Hamilton Broadway