Even if you’ve never had an interest or taste for musical theater and have found long-running, popular musicals such as Les Miserables or the Phantom of the Opera to be dreadful, there is still a high chance you might enjoy Hamilton. The musical, which is quickly making its composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a household name, has now garnered 11 Tony Awards as well as a slew of diehard fans. The show’s box office has been completely drained of any available tickets until at least mid-2017 and purchased tickets are being resold online for upwards of a thousand dollars. Hamilton’s soundtrack has gone platinum, and the cast was even invited to perform at the Grammy’s earlier this year. The success of Hamilton is unprecedented for a Broadway show, but it shouldn’t be surprising.
Despite being a sold-out production and live theater being largely inaccessible to the masses, Miranda has managed to make his work somewhat accessible for fans. This has involved publishing a book about the show, offering a $10 ticket lottery, and performing a free #Ham4Ham show on Wednesday afternoons during Hamilton’s run. There also may be plans to release a filming of the show with the original cast for the public to enjoy. Miranda’s respect for the show’s fans, even those who can’t score a ticket, is one reason the show is as popular as it is.
More than that, Hamilton has proven to appeal to a wider audience than the average piece of musical theater does. Miranda has managed to make America history interesting by focusing his retelling of that history on themes and conflicts relevant to modern viewers. The show is not overtly patriotic. It’s not truly about the actual events of the American Revolution, but rather about those involved and what we, as a modern audience, can learn from their flaws and strengths. Furthermore, Hamilton is important because it allows the underrepresented to see themselves in American history, as well as on the Broadway stage. The entire main cast of the show, with the exception of King George III, are actors of color.
On June 25th, I was privileged to attend a matinee performance of the show. I’d purchased my tickets months in advance. Luckily, I had been able to find a partial view seat in the far left of the audience being resold for a reasonable price. Today, tickets for the show are selling for far, far higher than what the average person (me, included) can afford.
While waiting for the show to begin, I quickly fell into conversation with a few show-goers around me. Two women behind me had seen the show already the night before. A few others near me voiced their disappointment when they discovered a few key cast members, most notably Miranda himself and Leslie Odom, jr. would not be performing that day. But, the entire cast not being there wasn’t surprising to me considering it was a Saturday matinee performance, far into the show’s run. It was enough just to be in the theater.
Next to me, a man was seated with his daughter. Like those behind us, he was similarly disappointed that Miranda wouldn’t be performing, but I took the time to explain who of the original cast would be there. By intermission, he was no longer concerned with who was or wasn’t performing. Instead, he was enamored with the show, and the talented cast, including the understudies. This is important. Despite my endless appreciation and respect for the show’s original cast members, the show will survive once Miranda and so many others leave the cast. Seeing it with the roles of Hamilton, Burr, Eliza, and Washington all performed by understudies confirmed this fact for me. At the end of the show, this same man seated beside me was speechless, with tears in his eyes.
My reaction wasn’t as strong, mostly because I knew the show well, to begin with, and knew, of course, how it ended. But, it was undeniably incredible to experience the reactions of the audience. Being there proved to me the show does not only appeal to teenagers or musical theater fans. There were children in the audience who enjoyed the performance. Upon leaving the theater, I heard a little girl, no older than 7 or 8, gush to her mother about how “awesome” the show had been. There were plenty of older people in attendance as well. I even came across a 91-year-old who was seeing the show for her birthday. In my own life, I know many Hamilton fans who had no interest in musical theater before discovering the show’s soundtrack. The show is universal.
With Hamilton, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Anyone can be moved by the score as Hamilton makes it possible to relate to the historical figures that populate the show’s cast of characters. Personally, I have surprised myself by my ability to relate to figures like Aaron Burr and the titular man himself, Alexander Hamilton. And after seeing the show live, I can confirm that it is energetic and fun while still being poignant and moving. No show will ever be objectively “perfect” but the hype for Hamilton is definitely real. If you can’t get your hands on a ticket, simply listening to the show’s soundtrack will be a choice you won’t regret.