Since I’ve still got Hamilton ringing in my ears, I thought I’d go on a bit on my thoughts about it. Unfortunately, I’m not particularly knowledgeable about theatre (ditto music), so my thoughts are likely cringingly naive — I’m ok with that. Read on at your discretion.
The show is amazing, and I loved it. The music is enjoyably complex – you can understand it at a first pass, but with each subsequent pass you learn more and hear more and it continues to add depth and provides chiaroscuro for the characters. “Alexander Hamilton” starts out with a few bars that could be military march, or a reinterpretation of the Imperial March, and then slides in with what — to me — sounds like the opening to a tango. Then within a few notes, it becomes rap. It neatly sums up what you might be able to expect; war, refinement, grit and determination.
The opening number also (obviously) introduces Alexander Hamilton. It tells his story, or rather Aaron Burr tells it, with help from the rest of the cast, which sets up Burr’s role as occasional narrator to the audience. I’m not well versed enough in theatre to point out antecedents in this role, so the only one that comes to mind is Puck from a Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, Burr’s narration is more inner-monologue than direct address. The opening also summarizes who Alexander Hamilton is before he arrives in New York, and then gives a broad overview of the rest of the play and each character’s involvement with Hamilton. Importantly, everything swirls around Hamilton, as it does again later during Hurricane; call it foreshadowing and some neat parallelism — that is, Hamilton on his way up vs Hamilton on his way down.
Speaking of parallelism, the closing song parallels the opening (Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story), and Eliza describes how she worked to establish Hamilton’s legacy. The songs bookend the entire show and carefully spell out every highlight.
Something else I liked quite a lot was how the cast was deployed. It’s a concise group with eleven in the ensemble (of the show we saw at least), which also covered the characters Philip Schuyler (also James Reynolds and the Doctor), Samuel Seabury, Charles Lee, and George Eacker. What I liked the most was the re-use of principal characters. This might be common throughout theatre, but all I know is what I’ve seen and some Shakespeare, so to me it’s not common in modern shows. I really appreciated how in the beginning of What’d I Miss, Burr introduces Jefferson (previously Lafayette), by saying “You haven’t met him yet, you haven’t had the chance, cause he’s been kicking ass as the ambassador to France.” It’s very “ok, he looks familiar, but (wink) he’s someone you don’t know at all (wink), and here’s his name from here on out.” Loved it. Lafayette becomes Jefferson, Mulligan becomes Madison, Laurens becomes Philip Hamilton. There are additional re-uses, but these are big characters. There’s a little bit of changing one hat for another to achieve the effect, but they are such different characters style-wise (that is, singing/rapping/interacting with each other) as to truly be who they then are. John Laurens and Philip Hamilton are actually not that dissimilar, and both participate in a duel; there’s indeed something fitting about having Hamilton’s best friend later portray his beloved son. Similarly, there’s something devilishly delightful about Jefferson twisting the knife about Hamilton leaving Lafayette out in the wind, when Jefferson was previously Lafayette.
There was a lot of camaraderie fostered by the cast with the audience. King George encouraged a sing-along and was pompously ridiculous so everyone felt clearly indulgent with the indulgent king. George Washington emceed the cabinet debates — I mean battles — to the audience. When the Reynolds Pamphlet surfaced, the politicians crowded the edge of the stage to query the audience and the orchestra.
Two things I loved in the show that you don’t get just listening to the soundtrack was the hurricane in Hurricane, and the rewind scene in Satisfied. Particularly, Satisfied takes us back to the previous song and retells it from Angelica’s point of view (rather than Eliza’s), all in the middle of her maid of honor toast. It’s the best example of showing what a character is thinking during a particular moment that I’ve ever seen (although, again, limited experience). Similarly, in Hurricane, Hamilton compares his current predicament with the hurricane that hit his island when he was a boy, so we see the hurricane whirling around him in slow motion.
The ensemble is really extraordinary for how they effectively create appropriate connotation for each scene. Terrified soliders, check. Aggressive soldiers, check. Students, sailors, a hurricane, even the very bullet that kills Hamilton himself; check, check, check. Their costumes are just enough of what you need to get the idea. They’re the watercolor sketch in the margin that leaves the impression you need to contextualize the moment.
And really, all that doesn’t even scratch the surface. What I really loved is that the show is much, much smarter than I am. I don’t feel like I have it’s number — it’s still entertaining me, it’s still making me think. Perhaps the intention is to cause people to remember the difficult and complicated Alexander Hamilton, but I personally have been fully enchanted by the work itself, and once more Alexander Hamilton comes second.