By Callia Gilligan
Hamilton: An American Musical is well known to many people. It has music and lyrics by the genius, Lin Manuel Miranda. He’s composed a ton of musicals and movies like Moana, In the Heights, Bring It On and 21 Chump Street. All of his works are amazing but, I dare say, Hamilton stands out.
Hamilton is about the Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who immigrated to the colonies, fought in the Revolutionary War, and eventually helped establish the country we live in today. The soundtrack, surprisingly, is a rap-hip hop score, and tells the entire story. The actors sing throughout the show; there is always, music, talking, singing or rapping.
As a musical theater kid, I generally love any musical and I’ve seen a lot: about 20 shows in New York City and five in Boston. I’m very fortunate to get to see the amount of theater that I do. Hamilton tops everything I’ve ever seen. I’ve loved the show since the Original Broadway Cast Recording was released in 2015. It has such an enormous following that tickets are really hard to come by, so seeing it recently in Boston was a dream come true and unlike anything else.
Lots of people share my opinion when it comes to this show. Many celebrities love it, including the Obama family, who invited the cast to perform at the White House. If you haven’t listened to the cast recording, listen to it. It is fantastic and you will become obsessed. I’m going to touch upon the moments that I felt stood out to me the most in the show.
The show starts out with the number “Alexander Hamilton.” It is evident from the beginning of the show that a lot of the story will be conveyed through body language and dance. There are background dancers that move the set pieces and dance with such raw emotion that it helps tell the story in such an honest, pure form. The number starts out with Aaron Burr, Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan and John Laurens setting the scene for Hamilton’s life, explaining how he worked his way out of the Caribbean island where he was born. Alexander’s first appearance on stage earned actor Edred Utomi thunderous applause. The first line Hamilton sings shows the audience just how ambitious he is. Hamilton sings, “There’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait.” The opening number continues to set up Hamilton’s life, getting us up to speed for where the story picks up. We learn that Hamilton’s father left early and his mother died when he was 12. When he was 17, a hurricane destroyed his town. Eventually, after slaving away and writing about his story, he raised enough money to board a ship that would take him to New York. At the very end of the number, Aaron Burr sings, “And I’m the damn fool that shot him.” The line foreshadows Hamilton’s death at the hands of Burr.
After the opening number, the story resumes in 1776 in New York City, where Hamilton meets Burr for the first time. Hamilton talks very fast, providing his opinions on the coming revolution and sharing his story of being an orphan. Burr responds by telling Hamilton to “talk less, smile more, don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” Throughout the entire show, Burr is very passive aggressive, and rarely says or does anything that benefits people other than himself. He’s often very jealous, and can’t accept that his failures are his own fault. This is first demonstrated in “Aaron Burr, Sir” when he takes Hamilton as stupid for being excited about the war. Nicholas Christopher, the actor who played Burr, did an outstanding job with both the passive-aggressiveness as well as the moments when Burr shows raw emotion.
Another song that stood out to me was “You’ll Be Back,” sung by King George, England’s monarch at the time of the revolution. It is written like a breakup song to the colonies. The lyrics are hilarious including “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.” The delivery of the song by Peter Matthew Smith was fantastic. It was also the only song I noticed where there was really nothing going on in the background, just King George and the audience.
My favorite parts of the whole show were probably the songs “Helpless” and “Satisfied.” Both tell the same story, in different points of view, of when two wealthy sisters meet Alexander for the first time. “Helpless” starts with Eliza and Alexander meeting at a ball. It cycles through how they write letters to each other and fall in love, and ends with their wedding. “Satisfied” picks up right at the wedding, but rewinds (literally rewinds as the actors on stage do the choreography from “Helpless,” but backwards) to the night when Eliza met Alexander, but from her sister Angelica’s point of view. Angelica, played by Sabrina Sloan, displays her wit and intelligence and her care for others, most importantly her sister. At the ball, Angelica and Eliza notice Alexander and are attracted to him (talk about a womanizer). However, Angelica speaks to him first. The two share an immediate attraction, but Angelica realizes that there is no way she could marry Alexander due to her family situation and Eliza’s feelings for him, so she sacrifices her happiness for her sister. Angelica’s sadness, despair and regret are part of what made this number stand out. You felt so connected to her. This number was also great because of how involved it was. Everyone in the cast was moving and singing, not just Angelica. Really, the whole show is like that; there is always more going on in the background.
The show continues and the plot thickens. Eliza is pregnant, Alexander gets dismissed from the army only to get called back by George Washington; there is just so much to this show! To close Act I, there is a large ensemble number called “Non Stop.” It’s about forming a country and government after the colonies have declared their freedom from Great Britain. At the very end of the song, all the characters sing different versions of their themes that have been recurring throughout the show, all at the same time. The characters have come a long way since the show started. Eliza and Alexander have a baby, George Washington becomes president, Alexander is named secretary of treasury, Angelica moves to London and John Laurens passed away.
To open Act II, we meet Thomas Jefferson for the first time in a large number titled “What’d I Miss?” Jefferson is played by the same actor who performs Marquis de Lafayette, Bryson Bruce. Bruce played the character effortlessly and delivered each line with spunk and personality. The large dance ensemble highlighted the fantastic number.
The end of Act II really caught my attention. The characters’ actions shocked me, for example, when Alexander cheats on Eliza. “Stay Alive Reprise” and “It’s Quiet Uptown” brought me to tears. “Stay Alive Reprise” shows when Alexander and Eliza find out that their son, Phillip, has been shot and dies. Both his parents are right by his side. As Philip dies, the music stops and Eliza lets out this scream and starts sobbing. This moment caught me by surprise as it demonstrated the harsh reality of what happens when parents outlive their children. If I thought I couldn’t have possibly cried more, I was so wrong. After Phillip’s death, “It’s Quiet Uptown” reveals one of the only times Alexander shows true sadness. Death has always haunted Hamilton’s life. His mother died, his best friend died and his comrades die, but he never stopped moving. When Philip died, it was different. Alexander was so upset, he couldn’t work or do anything. It’s the first time we see this kind of sadness from Hamilton. It also shows Alexander and Eliza falling back in love and making up after all the heartbreak they’ve faced.
The show closes with Hamilton’s death. Hamilton dies in a duel against Aaron Burr, his first friend. As the bullet come towards Hamilton, time seems to stop. Hamilton gives a long monologue eventually coming to terms with his impending death. We don’t see Hamilton’s actual death, but we do hear from Aaron Burr about the moments that followed. The last number is a heartbreaking song called “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” This number remarks that most of our Founding Fathers have a legacy, but Hamilton never really did. It also really humbles you and makes you realize time flies by so quickly and we all aren’t guaranteed another day.
I’ve seen a lot of theater. I’m a theater kid myself and I can say with absolute confidence, this is the best thing I have ever seen. If you can score tickets, go see it. Make sure you listen to the soundtrack because it is absolutely amazing. You won’t regret it.