Theatre

The Ten Dollar Founding Father: A Review of Hamilton

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Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton debate the Constitution in the most historically accurate way…with a rap battle. | Photo from The Public Theater.

(Spoiler alerts for American History to follow.)

On January 21, my former theatre professor, Michelle, and I went to see the second preview of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new show Hamilton at The Public Theater. Miranda’s Tony- and Grammy-award winning musical In the Heights is one of my favorites so I was ecstatic when I heard that he was working on another one. However, when I heard that it would be a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, I was a little hesitant. That’s right, a hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers. How on earth would that work? But I went because I love Miranda’s previous work and I wanted to spend an evening seeing a new show with Michelle. Once Hamilton started, it took about 2 and a half minutes for me to fall absolutely in love with it.

Hamilton tells a story that is often left out of history books. Most people learn that the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was shot by Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel, but few people understand what led to the death of Hamilton. In Miranda’s new musical, Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) serves as the narrator of Hamilton’s (played by Miranda) story. Throughout the musical, Burr claims “I’m the damn fool who shot him” in a heartbreaking yet charismatic way. In a way, Hamilton becomes Aaron Burr’s story as well. Though we certainly know less about Burr’s personal life by the end of the musical than we do Hamilton’s, audiences are still given a glimpse into the mind of Burr. Through Miranda’s brilliant words, we are shown Burr’s hopes and dreams, and later, his regret and sorrow for killing Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words are simply magical. Hamilton PublicThe flow of his lyrics seem effortless. It’s even easy to believe that Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton settled their debates over the Constitution using rap battles. In the world that Miranda has created for the Founding Fathers, hip-hop makes perfect sense. But Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t just excel at hip-hop, rap, and traditional pop music. From his work on both In the Heights and Hamilton, it’s clear that Miranda has a background in musical theatre. The Broadway ballads and rap songs blend together to provide music that can speak to both old and young audiences, to people who grew up with Broadway music and those who have no knowledge of it.

Perhaps Miranda’s biggest triumph in Hamilton, though, is the use of race to tell the story of the early days of the United States. It’s no secret that Hollywood has a problem with white-washing. If you saw Exodus, you watched a white man portray a man who was certainly not white, and you’ve seen the same done in almost any historical and/or Biblical movie. Miranda and his brilliant director Thomas Kail took the opposite approach, in an effort to show that the story of the Founding Fathers belongs to all 1.172693Americans. George Washington, Aaron Burr, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are all played by people of color. In doing so, the musical brilliantly brings to light issues of slavery and racism in the early days. Combined with the hip-hop style of music, it also makes the audience question race relations today, connecting brilliantly with the current events of Ferguson and police brutality in a time that has been deemed by many to be a “post-racial America.” Lin-Manuel Miranda, a man of Puerto Rican descent who previously wrote a musical about Hispanic immigrant families in New York City, plays Alexander Hamilton who was known as the “immigrant Founding Father.” When Miranda as Hamilton declares “Immigrants, we get the job done!” in one part of the musical, he isn’t just speaking of Hamilton’s assistance in the development of the United States. He’s speaking about the immigrants of today, who risk their lives to work hard in this country every single day and are shown little respect from our politicians and citizens.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has made it clear on social media that he has made some cuts to the show since I saw it, which is perfect since the length was really the only complaint that Michelle and I had. It is obvious that Miranda has put more than six years of hard work into this nearly-flawless show. It’s brilliant, and I can’t wait to see the life it has beyond the Public Theater. The Broadway world will never be the same.

Hamilton is running at The Public Theater through May 3. Broadway previews begin July 13 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, with the official opening on August 6.


 For a little preview, here is Lin-Manuel Miranda performing one of Aaron Burr’s songs for the President and First Lady at An Evening of Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word back in 2009.

Theatre

More Broadway fun!

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Well, I officially saw 13 shows while in NYC for the summer. I was hoping to make it to Nobody Loves You and The Nance, but those didn’t work out for me. However, since my last theatre post, I did see 9 more wonderful shows before leaving NYC. Here are my thoughts!

  1. Murder Ballad (July 3): I probably wouldn’t have seen this show if it wasn’t for my deep love of Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, and Rebecca Naomi Jones. I decided to go at the last minute when a $30 ticket at a table became available to me. What I didn’t know was that this table seat put me right in the middle of the action on the stage. Will, Caissie, and Rebecca were jumping on my table and singing right to me. I absolutely loved it (I’m enjoying the immersive theatre trend as a whole, especially since learning more about it as an intern at Sleep No More last summer). It was a short rock opera, but it felt like you were truly in a dirty bar in the East Village. The music was insane, and with the fantastic chemistry of Swenson, Levy, Jones, and John Ellison Conlee, this show was something really special.
  2. Kinky Boots (July 6): Let me start by saying that I absolutely loved Kinky Boots. It was so fun and energetic with just the right amount of heavy emotion. Billy Porter, Stark Sands, and Annaleigh Ashford were absolutely wonderful. Porter, in particular, brought the house down. One song in Act II reminded me so much of watching Jennifer Holliday sing “And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going)” on the Tonys in 1982 (though I obviously never saw it live), and I’m still so glad he won the Tony for Best Actor this year. That said, I wish Matilda the Musical had won Best Musical. Because I saw Matilda first, I went in with extremely high expectations for the show that beat it. While that may not be completely fair to Kinky Boots, that’s just how it was for me. And while I did love it, the show was not without its faults. I completely understand why the message of this show (“You change the world when you change your mind”) resonated with the theatre community so it doesn’t surprise me that Kinky Boots won. However, to me, the direction often felt boring, and the ending felt extremely rushed. As a piece of pure art and in terms of overall production value, Matilda was the real winner in my opinion.
  3. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (July 14): In my Tony Awards reactions post, I said that I was upset that Lucky Guy didn’t win Best Play. However, I am no longer upset. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike was absolutely phenomenal. It was funny, emotional, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at the same time. Sigourney Weaver and Shalita Grant were great, but it was David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen, and Billy Magnussen that really stood out. Magnussen was ridiculously hilarious, and Pierce delivered the best monologue I’ve ever seen live. Nielsen was heartbreaking and wonderful as Sonia. While her chances of beating Cicely Tyson were slim (see below for my thoughts on  Tyson’s performance), part of me wishes she had won. Her acting was subtle but spectacular. I definitely would see a production of this show again if given the chance.
  4. Broadway Stands Up for Freedom (July 22): This wasn’t really a show. It was a concert for the New York Civil Liberties Union, and it included some of my favorite people. The host this year was Susan Blackwell who I absolutely adore. The concert, like last year, had some amazing performances and was two hours of fun. Afterwards, the performers and the guests mingle in the lobby so I was able to talk to Susan for about five minutes. She’s just as fantastic in person as she is in her videos. I also had the pleasure of meeting Erich Bergen. He’s extremely talented and can be seen in Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film adaptation of Jersey Boys! I’m very excited!
  5. Love’s Labour’s Lost (July 31): I certainly would never say this new musical take on Shakespeare’s play was my favorite. However, it was ridiculously fun. It ingeniously combined  Shakespeare’s original text with modern music. The cast, like with every show I’ve seen this summer, was perfect, and I loved the set and the way it blended in perfectly with Central Park. The Public Theater puts on amazing shows, and if you ever get the chance to go to one of their shows at the Delacorte in Central Park, take advantage! They’re always fun, and most importantly, FREE!
  6. The Explorer’s Club (August 1): My friend and I adored this play! It was farce at its finest, with a hilarious cast and a superb and quick script. The writing in the second act was especially speedy, making it seem like 20 minutes instead of an hour and a 15. There was one running gag that included an actor throwing alcoholic beverages into the air while his fellow actors ran around the stage catching them in elaborate and acrobatic ways. It had the small audience laughing hysterically.
  7. Pippin (August 3): I have never, ever been to a show where we gave someone a standing ovation in the middle of his or her song. I haven’t even been to a show where the audience gave a standing ovation at the end of Act I. But during Andrea Martin’s rendition of “No Time At All,” when the 65-year-old Tony winner started doing trapeze, the whole audience jumped to their feet. However, it wasn’t just Martin that amazed me. Patina Miller (who won the Tony Award this year for her turn as the Leading Player), Matthew James Thomas, Terrence Mann, and Charlotte D’Amboise all gave stellar performances. And the ensemble is certainly the most courageous, in shape, and talented ensemble currently on Broadway. I fully believe Thomas was robbed of a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. His portrayal of the titular character really stood out to me, and maybe in a less competitive year, he would have been nominated. And Diane Paulus. Where do I even start with her? I’ve now seen all three of her shows on Broadway, and each one gets a little bit riskier and more creative. She completely deserved that Best Directing Tony Award, and I look forward to watching her win many more in the future.
  8. The Trip to Bountiful (August 4): This type of show is never my favorite—old-fashioned and a little outdated. But of course, I couldn’t help but enjoy Cicely Tyson in her amazing, award-winning performance. There was something so uplifting about her performance, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. She brought a palpable energy and joy to the stage, and in a weird way, it made me homesick. I found myself unexpectedly crying in the second act. It was strangely moving, even if I didn’t actually love the storyline that much.
  9. First Date (August 4): This one-act musical comedy was far from a perfect show. In fact, it was full of cliches and stereotypes and had a lackluster plot with a predictable ending. But if the producers wanted to entertain us for 90 minutes, they succeeded. The audience was laughing the entire time, and the pop music of the show was enjoyable. They shouldn’t expect any Tony nominations next year, though Zachary Levi was charming and often hilarious which may be enough to get him a nod, but it certainly was entertaining.
Theatre

A Broadway Summer!

I love theatre so I try to take advantage of it as much as possible when I’m in NYC. So far, I’ve been here almost four weeks and seen four shows (plus 2 improv shows). I think I’m doing a good job! Here are my thoughts on the shows I saw in June!

  1. Lucky Guy (June 8): I saw Tom Hanks on Broadway. I repeat, I sat in a room with Tom Hanks and watched him act in front of me. He’s a legend, and I got to see his work in person. I loved this play. Nora Ephron’s final work about journalist Mike McAlary is creative and different from anything I’ve ever seen. The director and entire crew worked together to bring some of the best lighting and effects to Broadway, and while I normally don’t love a lot of use of screens and film in plays, it worked really well for this story. I’m so glad I got to see this, and I’m so sad it’s closing in just a few days.
  2. Reasons to Be Happy (June 13): This off-Broadway play was not my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, it was good. But it’s not at the top of my list. The acting was amazing, but the writing often seemed to fall flat. It was sometimes difficult to like the characters, and if you can make me not like Jenna Fischer that much, that’s saying something. (I do have to say, Fischer was the nicest and cutest person at the stage door after the show. Her character was just not someone I want to be friends with.)
  3. Matilda the Musical (June 23): Amazing. Perfect. Magical. The set of this musical was beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and the children have more talent in their pinkies than I have in my whole body. I know these kids will go on to be big stars because they all have something special. Gabriel Ebert also showed me why he deserved that Tony, and Lauren Ward and Bertie Carvel have rare and underrated talents. I want to see this 100 times more. I really loved it so much.
  4. Jersey Boys (June 30): I can’t believe it took me so long to see this one, but I’m so glad I finally saw it! I was able to sit in the front row with my friends Brenna and Chelsea, and it was perfect. Frankie Valli sang part of a song to me, and I made eye contact multiple times with my new favorite person, Drew Gehling. He’s so good. And so cute. I need to see him in everything. This musical is just so much fun, and the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is way more interesting and intense than you might think. It’s touring a lot now so see it if you can! It won’t disappoint.

I’ve also made two visits to one of my favorite places in NYC: the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. I love going on Sunday nights for their most popular improv show, ASSSSCAT 3000, and both times have been an absolute blast as always. I sat on stage with Brenna and Chelsea the second time, and we were 3 feet from Amy Poehler. It was perfect. I saw her last summer too, and she is just the very best. She makes the world a better place. I’m convinced of that.

Total NYC Theatre Count: 24 (plus 5 improv shows at UCBT)

Theatre

Thoughts on the Tony Awards!

  1. Neil Patrick Harris is actually perfect. Seriously, what are his flaws? I love watching him host the Tony Awards each year because he somehow manages to keep everything fresh. He improves each year. It’s crazy. That opening number will be hard to top next year, but I have complete faith that he can top it because he’s NPH. I’m excited to see what he does at the Emmys this year.
  2. Courtney B. Vance absolutely deserved that Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play. I am so happy for him!
  3. I am seeing Matilda the Musical on June 23rd, and after that performance, I am even more excited! The set, the kids, everything. It looks wonderful.
  4. Laura Osnes is an actual princess, right? Because wow. She is so talented and beautiful.
  5. I haven’t seen Pippin yet, but I am so glad Diane Paulus won for Best Direction of a Musical! I have seen her revivals of Hair and Porgy & Bess on Broadway and can say without a doubt that Pippin will be great. Her direction is so creative and innovative. She’s fearless. I know this won’t be her last award, but I’m glad she finally has her first! Future theatre kids will study her work in school.
  6. I need Jesse Tyler Ferguson to always scream “Girl, you gonna have fun tonight!” That was fabulous. And so is Cyndi Lauper.
  7. I haven’t seen Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike yet, but once again, I was disappointed with Best Play. Last year, it should have gone to Peter and the Starcatcher and this year, Lucky Guy knocked it out of the park. I’m actually surprised it didn’t win with Nora Ephron’s script, but I have officially added Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike to my list for the summer.
  8. The performance of Pippin later in the evening only further reiterated what I said in number 5. If that wasn’t amazing to you, you weren’t watching the Tony Awards.
  9. Billy Porter! Billy Porter! Billy Porter! Everyone at the Tony Awards was so happy for him, and I am too. I can’t wait to see him in Kinky Boots. Their performance was amazing and insane!
  10. I’m really surprised Tom Hanks didn’t win. But this was his Broadway debut (shocking, right?!) and I hope he returns to the stage soon. He was absolutely amazing. That isn’t really a big surprise, though.
  11. Patina Miller is a princess too. She and Laura can be princesses together.
  12. Before this night began, I really thought Matilda was going to take it home but Kinky Boots seems like a really inventive and fun show. I’m now not at all surprised it won. I just need to fight some people for some tickets.
  13. I love the Broadway community, and I feel very lucky that I get to be involved as a fan. These shows are so close to me this summer, and I plan on taking full advantage.