Although Gabbing Geek tends to cover more traditional geek fare we’re also dedicated to geeky subjects of all kinds. My geekiest obsession that falls outside the expected movie, comic book, and science fiction universes is theater. I’ve been a passionate fan of musical theater and a few plays for decades and my wife and I have been known to schedule almost all of our vacations around trips to New York City or London to see shows. Whether you too are a theater fan or just curious about that universe, I’ll be bringing my theater reviews here to Gabbing Geek just as often as I can see the shows. First up is the grand-daddy of them all: Hamilton. Jump after the break to find out why this show is taking Broadway and popular culture by storm.
Let’s cut to the chase: Hamilton is one of the greatest musicals ever written. That is neither hyperbole nor an isolated opinion. Search for any reviews of the musical and you’ll see critics rapping its praises left and right. This may seem strange given the nature and subject matter of the show but there is no escaping the power of this story and the certified genius that brought it to life.
I first heard about Hamilton when my wife, who follows all the Broadway show news, insisted we had to see it during a trip to NYC in February, 2015. She has had a “mind crush” on its author, Lin-Manuel Miranda, since seeing In The Heights. We even journeyed to Houston one weekend just to see his musical adaption of Bring It On (before it transferred to Broadway it toured the country in small spurts). When she told me that we needed to see this show and that it was a hip hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, my reaction was quite measured:
“A hip hop musical about Alexander Hamilton? What, did he lose a bet?”
I scoffed at the idea but she insisted, so with tickets procured we went to the Public Theater to see the show months ahead of time. By the time we were in the city it was already the hottest ticket around–single seats were going for 4 figures if you could find someone willing to sell. We sat in our seats, the room charged with the energy that only comes from people who love theater and are about to see a show that has broken out.
The show began and it’s…compelling. In a way I didn’t realize. Before the show I knew Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury and that his presence on the $10 bill was one of only two non-Presidents on our currency. Beyond that, I knew nothing. To start to see this story of an orphaned immigrant who taught himself enough to have the community he lived in raise funds for him to travel to New York and further his education–that’s a great start, a great story.
By the third song of the show, My Shot, I was completely, unequivocally sold. My Shot is one of the greatest songs ever written for the stage and has the same energy and passion as another breakout hip hop song, Lose Yourself by Eminem. Not only did My Shot blow my mind but I also realized the story of Alexander Hamilton is both the quintessential American story about our independence and New York story of someone who came to this country to make something of himself. The idea I had once dismissed as a losing bet had turned in my head into “Why hasn’t anyone told this story on stage before?”
The rest of the show was an absolute joy. The set was amazing, the cast was stupendous, the songs were incredible. They ranged from intense, rapid-fire deliveries like Guns and Ships to gut wrenching numbers like Stay Alive and It’s Quiet Uptown to some of the funniest musical comedy numbers ever written. Those last songs are sung by King George (played by Brian d’Arcy James when we saw it in his last weekend in the show). Again, this is not just me saying all of this–the soundtrack has been breaking records every since it came out last month and has been performing at the top of various hip hop and rap sales charts ever since.
The show’s intensity is only matched by its density–fivethirtyeight recently wrote an article describing how the hip hop numbers in the show led to the score having four to nine times the word count of a traditional musical. Two of the songs have some of the fastest lyrics ever uttered on Broadway.
The speed of the lyrics, the use of hip hop, and the diverse cast representing real life figures that were all white are not a mistake–they intentionally juxtapose the energy of modern hip hop with the feelings that our young nation felt for independence, revolution, and the founding of a country. Taking something we can feel today to recreate the feelings of our forefathers from over two centuries ago before you even start getting into the show itself is beyond incredible. Getting us involved in a story where we know the ending is always a measure of a master, but doing so in a story that we don’t know but we should know makes it even better. The story takes some dramatic license with historical elements, but not in a way that makes the story false (the author of one of the major Hamilton biographies was a creative consultant on the show). The show also twists some characters to present them in a way we hadn’t viewed before–Thomas Jefferson is almost uniformly regaled in history books but we see a slightly different view of the man in this show.
There are great Broadway shows and then there are timeless Broadway shows. Hamilton is the latter. And everyone knows it. The show transferred to Broadway too late to be eligible for the 2015 Tony Awards but already everyone knew it would win the lion’s share of the 2016 statues. As a result, the rest of this season is a bit of a let down for musicals–anyone with a musical they think could win something is holding it until next year. But that’s okay because this is the year of Hamilton.
I cannot recommend this show enough. Since the soundtrack came out ticket prices have gone up (they were already sold out for many months but you could find tickets on Stubhub at a small premium…now a larger premium). I still recommend seeing the show. You will pay two to three times as much as another Broadway show but it is easily two to three times better than anything else you could see. The show is moving, inspiring, educational, and an amazing achievement to behold. If you’ve read to the end of this article then GO SEE THIS SHOW. Until then you can download the soundtrack (only a few minutes of content from the show isn’t on the soundtrack) and listen to the amazing songs. Then go see it in person. (One word of advice–balcony and mezzanine seats in the theater are a bit cramped, so I’d go with orchestra seats farther back over upper level seats.)
Score: 11 out of 10 $10 bills.