If someone told me less than a month ago that I was going to see “Hamilton,” I would have laughed in their face. I’ve been keeping track of the ticket prices for months, and let’s just say that one ticket could buy me well over a year’s worth of textbooks — so that just wasn’t happening. Then, just as I resolved to see Hamilton in about five years, an announcement was released for the Actors Fund production of “Hamilton.”
At Actors Fund performances, no one gets paid. All the actors, techs, stage crews and even the ushers donate their time so that all proceeds can go toward helping those members of the acting community in need of care. These shows are announced over email to past Actors Fund donors long after tickets for other showings have gone on sale, then it’s a dog-eat-dog race to see who gets the new tickets. In the mad rush after this email was sent out, the ticket given to yours truly was purchased.
When playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda was writing “Hamilton,” he created a work of pure genius in that, throughout the entirety of the play, not one word was wasted. Each line and lyric throughout the performance develops at least one character and furthers the numerous intertwining plots that lead to the play’s dramatic conclusion. One of the most well-known demonstrations of this is in the song “My Shot,” performed by Hamilton (Javier Munoz) during the play’s first act, with the lyrics: “I’m not throwing away my shot/ I’m not throwing away my shot/ just like my country I’m young scrappy and hungry/ I’m not throwing away my shot.” Not only do these lines convey Hamilton’s never ending ambition, a characteristic that will cause Hamilton to “Rise Up” before suffering a dramatic fall during the second act, but they also convey how the British colonies in America viewed themselves to audience members who may not know much about the American Revolutionary time period.
Miranda also ensured that each and every character was fully developed. The majority of the first act compels audience members and characters alike toward Hamilton and away from the opposing character Aaron Burr (Daniel Breaker) who, during the opening song, announces that he is the one who will kill Hamilton. However, Miranda does not allow these compulsions to remain. Toward the conclusion of act one, Miranda grants Burr one of “Hamilton’s” most captivating and complex songs, “Wait for It,” with the relatable and highly foreshadowing lyrics, “Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints/ it takes and it takes and it takes/ we rise/ we fall/ and if there’s a reason I’m still alive/ when so many have died/ then I’m willing to/ then I’m willing to/ Wait for it.” Then, almost as soon as the second act begins, all of Hamilton’s most compelling and powerful traits result in a dramatic, highly preventable, fall from grace. Suddenly, lines are blurred and Hamilton is no longer an almost god-like character who can do no wrong and Burr not only comes across as highly relatable, but also as the more intelligent and likeable of the two.
With Burr crossed off the list of possible cruel antagonists, someone needs to replace him. The clear choice would seem to be the King of England. After all, this is a play about the American Revolution — how could King George (Euan Morton) be viewed as anything other than unlikeable? Alas, King George earned one of the largest rounds of applause during his performance of “You’ll Be Back,” which plays on the conventions of a modern love song while being anything but. With the lyrics, “You’ll be back/ soon you’ll see/ you’ll remember you belong to me/ you’ll be back/ time will tell/ you’ll remember that I served you well/ oceans rise/ empires fall/ we have seen each other through it all,” “You’ll be Back” is fun, bouncy and excellently staged with the king appearing on stage in full royal regalia, which stands starkly against the rest of “Hamilton’s” very, very, very basic costuming. Then, to add some humor which made each of the king’s future entrances into the narrative highly anticipated, the king concludes the verse with: “and when push comes to shove/ I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love” before concluding the verse with what can only be described as a verbal can-can.
In comparison to the intricacy of “Hamilton’s” narrative, the set was fairly simple. The designers used a base set which, along with a rotating circular floor panel, remained unchanged throughout the play, yet was still used to represent everything from the interior of a building to a city street and ship. To mark differences in location, the cast would carry basic props, like a table and chairs, with them onto the set or they would use their acting to give the illusion of a changed location. One of my favorite cases of this was when Hamilton was emigrating from the Caribbean across the sea to the colonies. The ensemble appeared and began to mime raising a sail, “swabbing the deck,” all while rocking back and forth as if they were really on the sea. Yet, the set did have a series of hidden features. During a few scenes, a section of the base set could be raised or dropped to mime a ship plank being lowered or to allude that the character had moved to a new location. During other scenes, lights may be lowered from the ceiling to transform the set from a bar or battlefield into a grand ballroom, or the lights over the set could be shut off completely and replaced with more colorful lights reflected on the walls and floors to convey where the next scene was occurring.
“Hamilton” was everything I expected and more. The music was fantastic, the story line captivating, the acting phenomenal, and the staging of the performance was an experience unto itself that I couldn’t write an article about because it would have taken up the entire Vine section of the paper. I was prepared to wait years before seeing “Hamilton,” but I am so glad I had this opportunity because this was a performance that I will not soon forget or stop reeling from.