So, some of you may know already, some of you may not, but I went to see Hamilton on June 25. I spent most of the following week completely overwhelmed by the experience (not to mention trying to catch up on work and sleep), but I thought I should write up a blog post about my adventure so I don’t forget anything. Now it’s been a month, and I still haven’t posted it. This is me changing that. 😉 I’ve probably already forgotten some things, but that’s life.
I first listened to the Hamilton cast album on December 28, 2015. I don’t know how I remember that date, but it’s one of those dates you don’t forget, I guess. A couple of my writing friends had been raving about the cast album and talking in lyrics ever since it was released (in September, I think). I was interested but I knew if I listened, it would probably consume my life.
Well, it did.
I listened almost constantly from December 28 to, well, now I guess. In early February I had the insane plan to go see it. I’ve never been so attached to a Broadway musical before, though I love musicals a LOT. And this had the advantage of being a new musical, so I had the opportunity to see the original cast.
Like seeing Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in Phantom. I mean, come ON. I couldn’t pass that up!
I hope you all appreciate how many perfectly good Hamilton puns I’m passing up on typing for the sake of “professionalism”, by the way.
So in February, I bought my ticket for Saturday night, June 25. I actually did it. It was an expensive ticket, but I had plenty in savings, and the ticket was nowhere NEAR as expensive as they skyrocketed to after the Grammys, the Pulitzers, and the Tonys (hint: my ticket cost 10% of what they ended up being listed for 2 weeks before the show. OUCH).
Fast forward to 4 months later, me alone in New York City, somewhere I’d never been before. Strangely I wasn’t nervous, though. I don’t think I was there long enough to be nervous, honestly. My hotel was just around the block from the theater, and if I looked out my window, I could see it since I was on the back side of the hotel. I couldn’t have asked for a better room, but it made me even more excited every time I saw it! I couldn’t believe I was there. I still can’t.
So at 7pm on Saturday, I was dressed and ready and made the trek down to the theater. The line for ticket holders was already snaked around the theater and almost all the way down the alley next to it, so I joined the end of the queue. Being the anxious person that I am, all sorts of thoughts were running through my head: what if (for some godforsaken reason) my ticket won’t scan/is a fake? What if I came all this way just to stand outside the doors of the Richard Rodgers and be turned away? What if we’re late getting in and I miss the beginning?
Not even good what ifs, either. Really lame and impossible. But such was the nature of my anxiety at the time. Regardless, it didn’t matter. Almost as soon as I reached the end of the line, we were moving, me clinging to my printed ticket for dear life (I think I forgot to mention: I was also lucky enough to get an orchestra seat! Stage right, second row. I also had an irrational fear that someone would try to steal my ticket, even though everyone around me had their own).
Then I was inside those magical doors! Well, it didn’t feel so magical at first with my claustrophobia and a thousand people trying to cram through at the same time, but still. I was too excited to think about it. As I waited for the ticket man to scan my ticket, I glanced at the wall with the cast names on it. I briefly saw “At this performance: Aaron Burr – __________ Angelica Schuyler – __________” and my heart sank. So it wouldn’t be Leslie Odom, Jr. and Renee Elise Goldsberry? But just as quickly, I shook it off. Maybe it was wrong. Maybe it was left up there from the matinee performance. I don’t know why I thought this, but I did.
After an eternity, I made it across the lobby to where I would be sitting, and a woman handed me my first-ever playbill. Shaking, I emerged into the theater itself. The stage was RIGHT THERE. I found my seat and sat down, trying to take it all in. When I say the stage was RIGHT THERE, it really was. I think the orchestra pit is under the stage, so there’s no break between the audience and the stage. There’s about a foot and a half of leg room between row AA and the stage, then I was in A, directly behind that. So I think I was about 3 feet from the stage.
I watched the audience trickle in for a while, then I decided to look at my playbill. It took me a minute to find the card insert with who would be on that night, but I did. That’s when I noticed that the sign in the entryway was right.
I wouldn’t be seeing Leslie and Renee.
That really stabbed at my heart for a minute, but I decided to shake it off. I had come all this way, and I was determined to enjoy myself. I would always have the cast album and, someday, the DVD that they had just filmed with the entire original cast. I didn’t NEED to see them, though I wanted to. And besides, I was seeing most of the original cast, anyway.
Anthony. Jasmine. Pippa. Daveed. Oak. Chris.
Yes. Lin was on Saturday night. I tried to take a picture of the cast list but it came out blurry because I was shaking. I kind of expected that he would probably be on, but seeing his name right there in print was ridiculously exciting. I still can’t believe how incredibly lucky I was to see Lin in the role he created and originally starred in, especially since he would be leaving 2 weeks from that night. Incredibly special.
The only other original cast member I would be missing, of course, was Jonathan Groff, but I knew that, since he had left in April. And Rory was FANTASTIC (but that’s a story for later..)
So who were the understudies going on for Leslie and Renee? I know Sydney Harcourt is the understudy for Leslie, but that night it was someone I hadn’t heard of yet—Austin Smith. Alysha Deslorieux, a standby for all 3 Schuyler Sisters, was on for Angelica. I took the requisite Instagram pictures and settled back in my seat, waiting for the show to begin.
The show starts so abruptly, it’s almost funny. The lights go down, and there’s no prologue or warmup music. Just those 7 notes like a call to action. And for those of you who saw the performance on the Grammys, you know what the opening number looks like. Each cast member comes on separately when their line comes, and there’s applause and cheers for each. There wasn’t much applause for Austin as Burr since not many people know him I guess, and not much for Anthony, either, which made me sad. There was quite a bit for Daveed, especially now after his Tony win, and I cheered. I love him a lot.
And when Lin came out? Oh, when Lin came out. There was so much applause—it lasted a solid 20 seconds until he finally continued so everyone was forced to stop. He deserves every bit of it, but I can see that getting old night after night.
I grinned my way through the first 3 or 4 numbers when I finally stopped and started really paying attention. I was paying attention, but just the novelty of actually being there dimmed a bit so I could focus more.
At one point in “Aaron Burr, Sir” Lin crosses over to the right side of the stage, which is the first time he’s really close to where I was sitting. This was still in my grinning stage, and his eyes swept over the audience and locked on mine for a second before moving on and continuing the scene.
He looked right at me. I could not make this up. I can’t really remember the rest of the song because my brain shut off temporarily. That’s a memory I will treasure forever, even though I’m sure it happens every night to whoever sits there. STILL. My whole brain just went “Well. That happened” about ten thousand times.
If I were to give you a play-by-play of the entire show, this post would be thousands and thousands of words long. I could go on for quite a while, believe me, but I’m going to wrap it up now with a few thoughts and some observations I wrote down the next morning so I wouldn’t forget.
First, the cast. I can’t say enough good things about all of them. This is one of the most amazing companies (I believe) that have ever hit Broadway. They’re all perfect for their roles, but still not so essential that no one else can step into their shoes. Case in point: Austin and Alysha.
I wasn’t sure about Austin as Burr at first, but by the time we got to “Wait For It”, I was sold. Weighing him against Leslie based only on the few clips available on YouTube of Leslie is difficult, but I’ve listened to the cast album enough to supplement. Leslie is a true performer, his movements as Burr smooth. Austin was much more still and controlled, almost bored at times. But it worked for Burr as a character, who keeps so much inside. Even in “The Room Where It Happens”, every movement was precise and controlled. And his voice is incredible. Where Leslie’s is jazzy and smooth, Austin’s is deeper and almost reminded me of an opera singer at times. I posted about it on Twitter after the show, when I sent my sister a clip of him singing, and we agreed—it’s akin to blasphemy, I know, but I may actually prefer Austin’s voice. His performance? I can’t really choose since I haven’t (and never will *sniff*) seen Leslie, but I would probably give Leslie the edge there.
But Alysha? I cannot say enough about Alysha. She is my queen. I adore Renee so much, but Alysha destroyed it at such a level that I never once thought I was missing out. The one thing I will say is I think Renee is the better rapper, but Alysha is the better singer, in my opinion. At the end of “Satisfied” she adds on these ridiculous notes that aren’t in the cast album that literally made my mouth drop. Search it on Tumblr. There’s audio on there. She is incredible. Whenever Renee leaves, she really should take over full-time.
What more can I say? Daveed made me laugh so hard as Jefferson, and “Guns and Ships” was just as mind-blowingly amazing as you’d think. Pippa is a national treasure, and how she can sound exactly as she does on the cast album (especially in “Burn”) is incredible. Oak is a badass and I love him a lot. I came away a tiny bit more in love with Anthony. Jasmine is gorgeous and has an incredible voice. Chris is a fantastic Washington and “One Last Time” was one of those magical numbers that makes you laser-focus on the stage. Those last notes were amazing. And Lin.
Oh Lin. I could go on for days about that man. But the basics are this: amazing rapper, even better singer than the cast album would lead you to believe, and terrific actor. His emotional face in “That Would Be Enough”, “Stay Alive (reprise)”, and “It’s Quiet Uptown” absolutely broke me. I wish I could describe it well enough to do it justice. I guess you’ll have to wait for the DVD recording!
And now, some little things about the show you don’t get from the cast album! You may have seen some of these on Tumblr, but maybe not. My brain might have thought certain things were more important than other people’s. Enjoy 🙂
* In “Helpless” when Eliza says “laughing at my sister as she’s dazzling the room” Angelica is dancing with, of all people, George Washington
* In “The Schuyler Sisters” Peggy didn’t really want to go into the city—Angelica and Eliza practically drag her and when she sees the big city she shakes her head and tries to run away
* Street lamps are put around the edge of the second turntable to mimic outdoors in the city in “The Schuyler Sisters” and “Say No To This”
* At the end of “Hurricane” when Hamilton is making the decision to write the Reynolds Pamphlet, Maria Reynolds appears behind him and hands him the quill
* In “Right Hand Man”, large side lights flash and there is a cannon sound effect to mimic cannons going off
* In “Farmer Refuted” Hamilton is about to go up to Seabury and challenge him when Burr steps in front and literally pushes him back with his arm (“let him be”). Hamilton slinks back, defeated, until Lafayette walks up and pushes him towards Seabury again. Hamilton turns back and looks at him grinning like “really? You think I should?” It’s hilarious
* In “My Shot” Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette are unsure of Hamilton in the first verse, like who is this dude? By the second verse, they’re tentatively singing along, still sitting at the table watching (Laurens joins in first), and by the third they’re fully with him, singing along and choreographed in sync
* There’s a brief segue from “My Shot” to “The Story of Tonight” that isn’t reflected on the cast album—a few of the “whoa whoa whoaaaa”s from Laurens’ part in “My Shot”
* Jefferson loves to break the fourth wall with the audience—he calls for the applause and cheers in the beginning of “What’d I Miss”
* In “Stay Alive (reprise)”, while Eliza is trying to keep Philip’s focus with the “un, deux, trois…” the sound of a heartbeat can be heard over everything. When he dies, it stops. And, not reflected on the cast album, Eliza releases a heartbreaking scream and collapses on her son’s body
* At the end of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” the lights come up on the audience and Eliza looks out and gasps, hands covering her mouth and tears filling her eyes at the sight of all the people who came to see Alexander’s story
* Washington is onstage a lot more often than you’d think, on the second level watching what’s going on
* In “Burn” Eliza actually does burn paper on stage—you can smell the burning
* In “Nonstop” when Angelica tells Alexander “don’t forget to write” they were holding hands, then the turntable spins and pulls them apart
* Also in “Nonstop” when Hamilton is giving his spiel, several ensemble members and Burr are in chairs facing him, their backs to the audience. Burr turns in his chair to complain to the audience “he’s just nonstop”
* I’ve already mentioned Lin’s emotional face but UGH. Especially in “It’s Quiet Uptown”, the “forgiveness” part. He just looks up at the ceiling, eyes filled with tears, with an expression of “I don’t deserve this”
* The scene you may have heard about which isn’t on the cast album (because it isn’t a song—part of it is) about Laurens’ death is between Dear Theodosia and Nonstop. Eliza reads a letter to Hamilton about Laurens’ death while Laurens stands on the side of the stage bathed in blue light singing “The Story of Tonight” in between lines. It makes “Nonstop” more tragic than it has any right to be because, at the end of this mini-scene, Hamilton says, “I have so much work to do” and at the beginning of “Nonstop” he’s wiping away tears
* Lanterns come down from the ceiling to mimic the inside of a mansion—“A Winter’s Ball” all the way through “The Story of Tonight (reprise)”
* In “Take a Break” Philip sits at the piano with Eliza, and it revolves around the turntable so everyone can see, I guess
* In “The Adams Administration”, Hamilton stands on the second level with a giant stack of paper (his anti-Adams pamphlet) and drops it to the second level with a flash of red light and the sound of an explosion
* Hamilton is even more angry and sarcastic than you’d expect, constantly mocking Jefferson and Burr and making faces at them—the sass is SO REAL
* In “Stay Alive (reprise)” after Philip is shot, he freezes, and everything seems to move in slow motion. The turntable revolves him back to the back of the stage
* In “The Election of 1800” Burr and Jefferson look up at Hamilton on the second level, awaiting his decision—Burr’s face falls and he looks completely shocked when Hamilton chooses Jefferson
* In “The Reynolds Pamphlet” Madison and Jefferson take Philip aside and show him a copy of the pamphlet. He reads it and his head hangs and he walks away, Madison and Jefferson laughing
* This last one isn’t really an important staging note, but something I found funny. In “Satisfied”, during Angelica’s “3 fundamental truths” rap part, everyone has their backs to the audience but her. But because of where I was sitting, I could see the side of Lin’s face stage left. He was totally mouthing along to the lyrics. It made me very happy