So I saw Hamilton. And like any decent obsession, this adventure is going to warrant at least three posts. This is a post on my overall thoughts on the experience itself. There will be separate posts to discuss Act One and another for Act Two, looking at both the Hamiltome and my recent time at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
I arrived in New York City Saturday, April 30th, from Frankfurt. The first thing I did was go to the Drama Bookshop and pick up all things Hamilton: a CD for myself, a CD for my sister's birthday (at her request, I understand not everyone shares my adoration), and the Hamiltome. I was in New York City for five days (post on that too, eventually) but it still managed to be a very Hamilton-centric visit. Here we go!
Before I get to the actual show, I want to take a minute to talk about the overall Hamilton experience. My entire time in NYC was like being at a midnight showing of a Harry Potter movie. Everyone was in on my love of the show. I mentioned to my Central Park tour guide that I had tickets for the following night and his response was immediate: how the hell did you get tickets? I shared a taxi to the airport with a random stranger and she was similarly excited about the musical. Mention I'm seeing the show in Indianapolis or Germany? Crickets. The best, though, was the camaraderie in the lines. Wednesday, for the Ham4Ham show, I got in line around 10. Yes, I waited in line for 2.5 hours. Worth it to be that close to the Ham4Ham and honestly a nice break from running around the city, sight-seeing. But the 2.5 hours went easy because of the other people in the line. My section of the lined ended up grouping together. There were six of us, including a woman who had just auditioned at the open call the day before, for Eliza. We made pacts to sign up for two tickets and share if we won (one woman's friend did win the lottery and there was a moment of excitement - someone in our group won! There were about six hundred people fighting for 20 tickets so this is not unimpressive). Similarly, that night, I got in line for the show about half an hour before the lobby opened. I chatted with the two people in front of me. One was a woman who was also there alone. Let's call her Green Dress for shorthand - I should have gotten her name, bad line friend. We ended up sitting near each other and glommed together, taking pictures of each other and squeeing with delight over the 'in this performance' card when we finally got it. After the show, it was a similar situation at the stage door, just chatting about the show and how excited we were to have seen it. It was just a great atmosphere and vibe, being with people who love what you love, this easy short hand and instant friendship.
The Ham4Ham experience was bananas. While we were in line, the entire cast, including Groff!, was doing interviews at the Paramount hotel across the street about the Tony nominations, which had been announced the day before. Meaning they walked close by us multiple times. LMM was feet away from our group when he promised us the Ham4Ham show would be excellent (it was). Leslie Odom Jr. waved at us. It was all very exciting. Then we started to put our names in and then stood in front of the door for the show. Kaitlin yelled at the crowd multiple times - following instructions is hard. The line of people putting their name in for the lotto was unending. Finally, it started. LMM came out, thanked us for coming, assured us we were loved. And then the special guest came out, JJ Abrams. Everyone freaked out, myself included. I have never been a bigger Star Wars fan than I was at that moment. They performed one of the Star Wars songs that Lin had written for the latest movie. Afterwards, the lotto winners were called. I did not win, obviously, but it was still nice to see one of my line friends win. A bit of excitement!
The rest of the day was Hamilton-centric. I went to the American Finance Museum and the Federal Hall. I went by Trinity Church and got, to my surprise, choked up at the graves of Eliza and Alexander and also the mementos that had been placed there by other visitors. I had a small dinner at 6, afraid to eat or drink too much. I stared at my phone until it seemed like an acceptable time to get in line to enter the theater. While in line, Green Dress and I talked about having May fourth reunions and tried to eyeball the 'in this performance' sign, hanging in the theater, just out of our sight, inside. And then the doors opened and we entered the theater. I took pictures of everything and went to the bathroom twice, just to be sure, before the show started. When Green Dress and I took our seats, we met up and quickly went over the 'in this performance' placard, completely losing our shit over the list. I took her picture with the playbill in front of the stage and she took mine. Then we took our seats. King George came on the speaker, welcoming us to his show. And then the lights went down, Leslie Odom Jr. came out. And I realized I was really seeing this. I was really in the room, with the people, watching the show. It was something I had resigned myself to not happening, because of the scarcity of tickets and my current living situation (Europe for all of 2016). But there I was. It was an experience I will never forget. It was over too quickly. It was one of those shows that could have gone on another five hours and I would have been fine with it (Angels of America, anyone?). My expectations were sky high and they were exceeded in every way. It was a perfect 2.75 hours.
That being said, I'm honestly sad that the experience is over. I am incredibly grateful that I got to see it this way though, with the original cast. Everyone but Groff and Jasmine, which means I got to see Lin, Daveed, Chris, Renee, Phillipa, Anthony, and Leslie. And I got to see it in "the greatest city in the world," in the original Broadway theater. I will absolutely see this show again, whether it's in Chicago or DC or the tour or some future high school production or Broadway again with a different cast. But I am so lucky to have seen it in this fashion first. It was absolutely worth the trip to see Lin's Hamilton, Daveed's Jefferson and Lafayette, and Renee's Angelica. I just wish it wasn't over. As soon as Phillipa gasped at the very end of "Who Lives, Who Dies" and the lights went up, I was ready to see it again.
A few more overall thoughts: The turn table was exquisitely used and so needed for this story. I thought it seemed kind of gimmicky, just based on pictures and online videos. I was an idiot. Also, the transitions from song to song were impeccable; through prop changes and musical notes, the show does a great job of smoothly moving from one piece to the next. There are lots of little touches, like Hamilton being at his desk from one song to the next or the characters exiting as the next song starts, that really make it work. Finally, the costumes are really important. Like, Breaking Bad level important. Hamilton's jacket changes take place primarily on stage, usually Burr or Eliza changing his outfit, advancing him from one level to the next. Again, simple but effective.
Surprisingly, I'm really glad that I basically memorized the album before seeing the show. Jezebel, when the album first came out, recommended waiting to see it live if you can and I felt a little guilty for listening to the thing on repeat stead. I'm going to disagree, though - the lyrics are dense and it would be difficult to keep up with all the nuances without already knowing what the dudes are saying. Sorry, Jezebel, but I say listen to it. Know it. Then see it. That being said, I would love to experience the album (or the show itself) for the first time again.
Additionally, the show is super physical. There's dancing and singing. Going upstairs and downstairs and moving set pieces. The ensemble is just incredibly impressive. They are moving literally the entire time. Speaking of which, there are constantly people watching from the balcony or lounging on the stairs. It's never just the people on stage, singing, that create the scene. It's a constant reminder that everyone is watching, everyone has a version of the story, and there is no control over their interpretation of the events.
One final note, on a comparison of the album to the show: the music is a much larger presence on the stage. Maybe it's just the acoustics of the theater versus whatever my phone is set to? I definitely paid more attention to the musical themes. It played a larger role in the movement of the plot.
But seriously, excellent, amazing piece of theater. I had a great five days in New York, really falling in love with the city, and this was the absolute best part of my trip. Worth every penny I paid, word written on it, and moment of expectation.