On Tuesday of last week, the twenty-eight of August, I got a notification on my phone I had always dreamed of getting but never expected to actually get. I had won the Hamilton lottery and could purchase one or two tickets to see the show in Chicago on the following day. Needless to say, after spending two minutes freaking out, I bought two tickets and then started going down my list of people to invite. Unfortunately, my first pick was busy since it was his first day back at work (as opposed to cleaning up while on the clock) following the flooding and he couldn’t get the day off to drive to Chicago for a matinée showing. Thankfully, one of my roommates was my second choice and he was able to get the day off. So I went. Even with eight hours of driving due to traffic and construction, it was worth it.
Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s big-hit musical, was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I cried throughout it, not just at the emotional moments, of which there were many, but whenever the writing, acting, vocal work, staging, and lighting came together to create these wonderful little moments of perfection. As a whole, the musical showcases some of the most clever writing I’ve ever seen and sets aside the tried-and-true method of weaving songs together for one that relies more heavily on certain phrases that are the best foreshadowing I’ve ever witnessed. Between the moments where the songs themselves pull you out of the show, to impart some useful historical information or to help move things along, I was caught up in a world of song and voice. I can’t remember what the people who sat in front of me looked like, despite the fact that I spent three hours staring over their shoulders. I lost sight of everything while the show was in full swing. I was more caught up in this show than in anything else I’ve ever seen, read, or done. The full three hours of the show passed in a blink, interrupted only by an intermission that felt longer than either half of the musical.
While I can’t speak about the show in a general sense, since my only experience with it was the specific show being performed in Chicago, I honestly can’t imagine how it could ever be done poorly. The set was fairly standard, a level stage with an upper deck the actors could reach using a couple of on-stage staircases or some off-stage ones, and mostly functioned as a place for more of the chorus to dance and sing from, though it was used to add emphasis for some characters during important moments. The set was used entirely for staging, for dictating where people moved and how actors showed up on stage. All of the scene-setting, all of the environmental stuff that told you where the bit the actor were currently performing, was done entirely through lighting and the clever use of props. Using stuff like tables, desks, stools, and various similar things, they were able to create everything from a tent in the Revolutionary War to bedrooms or open fields. The best part of the staging was their use of a two-part turntable so one group of actors or props would spin one way and another group would spin the other way. They used this to amazing effect in one of the songs during the second half of the show, “Hurricane.” It blew me away and created the images that have stuck with me the most.
Honestly, the entire show was memorable. Each moment felt perfect, each little bit of acting and each scene being set felt like it was perfectly natural and complete, like it was unfolding on stage the way it certainly must have unfolded in the eighteenth century (with perhaps some liberty taken for language). I’ve been listening to the soundtrack since I got back into my car after the show and I feel like I can sit back, listen to the amazing music, and rewatch the entire show in my head. Each of the actors stood out from the crowd in their own ways and there was no wasted movement as they made their way around the stage. It was super clear they had the practiced precision that comes with repeating something dozens of times, but the emotion and energy they put into the show felt like this was their first night in front of an audience.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the content of the show because I avoided everything from the music to plot summaries for almost three years before I finally got to see Hamilton and I’m so glad I did. The sheer wonder and powerful emotion in some of the songs would have created scenes in my head and I would never have gotten the chance to see the show for the first time without any expectations or preconceptions. It was worth the years of denial for that moment when the lights dimmed and the first actor walked out on stage. I know it’s probably too late to recommend that you do the same thing, but hold on to that abstinence if you’ve managed to stay away so far. The music is magical and there are scripts out there you can read, but the show itself is better by far and worth waiting for.
What I will say is that it’s a relatively modern take on Hamilton, specifically it reflects modern scholarly opinions of Alexander Hamilton and some of the other Founding Fathers. The music is pretty Hip-Hop centric, which is another way it’s modern, but it seems like a pretty accurate portrayal of history, with the only liberties taken being in the way the characters spoke to each other rather than how situations resolved. I did some research to confirm this and it’s as accurate as a couple hours of reading can show. I’m sure a dedicated historian could shed more light on the subject, but I don’t have the time for getting another bachelor’s degree before writing this review.
I suggest downloading the Hamilton app so you can participate in the lottery or, if you’ve got a bit more money to spend, buying tickets the normal way. No matter where you see it, no matter who you see it with, it’ll be one of the most memorable days of your life. I suggest you go invest in enriching your soul.