On the heels of “Hamilton” taking home 11 Tony Awards (including “Best Musical”) and a Grammy for “Best Musical Theater Album,” it wasn’t exactly a shock to see the Broadway In Chicago company of “Hamilton” selling out performances well into next year with even the most casual theatergoer clamoring for tickets. But as the groundbreaking new show known for its inventive interplay of American history and hip-hop officially opened at The PrivateBank Theatre (with book, music and lyric writer/lead role originator Lin-Manuel Miranda in attendance), chances are the demand will surge well into the stratosphere.
Yet regardless of a specific song or spellbinding scene in the show, the real takeaway from “Hamilton” is its ability to instill the idea of leaving behind a legacy on an intensely attentive and dedicated audience (rarely seen since “Rent” just as blatantly shattered stereotypes in the 1990s).
Much of the credit can be given to an extraordinarily talented and racially diverse cast, which includes Miguel Cervantes (Alexander Hamilton), Ari Afsar (Eliza Hamilton), Alexander Gemignani (King George III), Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr), Jonathan Kirkland (George Washington), Chris De’ Sean Lee (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson) and Karen Olivo (Angelica Schuyler). Not only do they offer a comparable quality to the Big Apple edition, but they’ve taken total ownership in what’s shaping up to be this decade’s paramount cross-cultural phenomenon.
“Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional,” Miranda told the New York Times of his decision to have black and Hispanic actors play traditionally white characters. “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.”
Those lucky enough to be able to enter The PrivateBank Theatre’s doors will have some much needed light shed on Alexander Hamilton, who may grace the $10 bill, but has otherwise gotten a lot less air time than fellow founders George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Besides simply telling the first Secretary of the Treasury’s tale of starting America’s financial system, championing the U.S. Constitution and the family he often left behind to do just that, “Hamilton” engages in themes of politics, friendship, social justice, racial equality, immigration, women’s rights and basic humanity (warts and all).
Naturally, it doesn’t hurt that so many of those very subjects just so happen to correspond with one of the most divisive elections in the country’s history, though no matter one’s party line, it’s practically impossible not to root for this “bastard, orphan, son of a whore” immigrant from the West Indies determined to leave a lasting legacy (in spite of his shortcomings). Sure, there’s his youthful impatience with authority, overly outspoken personality, and later, a marital indiscretion that will cost him dearly, but “Hamilton” also paints a portrait of a genuinely sincere patriot with progressive ideas that quite literally helped lay the groundwork for an entire nation.
And considering his compadres (or opponents, depending on the scenario) include the equally opinionated likes of Burr (“Sir”), Washington and Jefferson, there are some serious political firecrackers that go off, along with a fair share of actual gunfire thanks to a pair of exhilarating duels. Granted, it’s not readily apparent how much is actual fact versus an expanded artistic liberty a professor or scholar could surely sniff out, though none of the scenarios presented risk disrupting the flawless flow for any average attendee.
While it all takes place in the 1700s with highly detailed period costumes to match, the soundtrack is such a relevant split between hip-hop, rap, R&B, jazz, blues and Broadway that it’s managed to hook millennials who probably wouldn’t ever voluntarily to crack open a text book (which is perhaps the final component in the perfect storm that’s cemented this musical’s wild success). Standout tracks “Alexander Hamilton,” “My Shot,” “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens” are essentially just as popular as recent offerings by Kanye West, Drake or Beyoncé, as further evidenced by the soundtrack’s ability to debut at #12 on the Billboard 200 (the highest start for a cast recording since 1963), before ascending to #3 on that very same chart and claiming rap’s top spot.
Yet regardless of a specific song or spellbinding scene in the show, the real takeaway from “Hamilton” is its ability to instill the idea of leaving behind a legacy on an intensely attentive and dedicated audience (rarely seen since “Rent” just as blatantly shattered stereotypes in the 1990s). For the man behind the bittersweet musical, it extended well beyond landing his picture straight in the center of our current currency, but firmly investing in the restoration of his fractured family and standing up for society’s most marginalized, which in light of today’s endless onslaught of civil unrest and continued quest for legitimate equality by so many, is arguably the most important history lesson of them all.