Recently, while we were discussing the future and the things we hoped for, we agreed having experiences made both of us happier than collecting material things. I recognize the privilege in that stance; it’s only because our material needs are met that we even get to make that decision. But they are met, and neither of us wish to amass more stuff. I just didn’t realize Jon had taken me so to heart.
For Mother’s Day (of which I have a complicated, leaky, basket of feelings) I was given an insanely whirlwind trip to New York City, and two tickets to Hamilton. Remember what I said about not trying to get tickets? Clearly, my own house doesn’t read me.
There wasn’t time to do any planning, or even to get a hotel- it’s about four hours from DC to NYC, and we basically threw food at the kids, called our friends to check in on them, and jumped in the car. This is a perk of having responsible teenagers, and I give Jeffrey all the credit in the world for holding the home steady while we jumped and ran. (He also has the promise that the next ticket we secure is his.)
What a vibrant, beautiful and wild city! It was surreal, driving in the very first time- seeing the iconic skyline, and all the names and images that are so seared into our identity as Americans. I can’t wait to go back when we have more than seven hours. My main impression? For as big a city as it is, it’s surprisingly small! That, and people are really nice.
We walked up 7th Avenue towards Broadway, and found the theater district. I always imagined “Broadway” as a literal street where the theaters lined both sides; nope. It’s a neighborhood, with the theaters on side streets all over the place. I asked Jon, “So what’s ‘Off-Broadway’ mean when *all* these theaters are ‘off’ Broadway?!” We don’t really know. Any theater people?
We had just enough time before curtain to get a quick (and I mean quick) bite to eat. Found little place on 8th Avenue and 46th Street, and then walked back over to the theater.
People were starting to line up, and there were still hopefuls walking the line asking in vain hope for extra tickets. I remember doing that at Grateful Dead shows a long time ago- though it was far easier to get into a Dead show. We were standing by the stage doors. This is actually where all the actors and musicians and stage crew enter- no fanfare, no blockades. Just the dude in the blue jacket.
We watched the actors and chorus walk and enter the theater. There wasn’t a huge crowd gathered, just a few folks and those of us in line. There was a boy of maybe 11, who had a sketch book with drawings he’d done of the actors- he was trying to get them to sign it. Without a single exception, everyone he approached was kind and smiled, stopped, and signed his sketchbook. We saw Christopher Jackson, Okieriete Onaodowan, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Alex Lacamoire, and two members of chorus stop and talk to him. It was kind of unreal. No private cars, no velvet ropes. Just regular people going to work. And basically, no one bothered them.
These are the #Ham4Ham doors, and that’s the standby line. The woman in the green dress is standing right at the entrance. It’s surprisingly small- but I think that’s the case of almost all the theaters- and really beautiful.
When you walk in, there are concessions and swag- they run out after the show, so a lot of people were crowded around trying to get stuff before they found their seats. Jon grabbed a ball cap, but we already have the book and the soundtrack, so we headed to our seats.
Walking up to the mezzanine level. It’s a gorgeous theater; I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house. There is a second concession stand on the upper level, so you can avoid the rush down in the lobby, for next time. You can order drinks, too, if you like drinks.
The stage and set are superbly beautiful. No curtain at any time during the show- everything is done with lighting. The seats are tight- Jon’s tall, and he had to lean his knees off to the side, but are otherwise soft and comfortable. I don’t think it is unusual.
I’m not being bombastic when I say my face hurt from smiling. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe we were actually there. I couldn’t believe that morning I had been in DC and now I was sitting in the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City. In an actual seat. And it was about to start. The insert in my program told me we’d be seeing the original cast (with the exception of King George III The Fourth). I was beside myself. I called home quickly and Jeffrey was making English muffins for Bean. All was well in the world for that moment. I shut off my phone and settled in.
By intermission, I had cried off all of my makeup, and my nose and cheeks were red. It’s a good look. It’s apparently the Hamilton look, because I wasn’t the only one. It was even worse by the end. I sat, dumbstruck, by what I had just experienced. But we didn’t have any time to dilly-dally, as much as I would have liked to hang around. We had to get back to DC and 3/5 of our kids waiting at home. We walked the fifteen blocks to catch our ride out of the city, and were through the Lincoln Tunnel and headed south by midnight.
Here’s what I wrote the next day when some friends asked for a rundown:
Seeing it live is imperative to the whole. The cast album is utterly amazing- and we’ve all be singing along for months and know every note, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s clearly meant, as an artform, to be taken as a whole. See it. Get to NYC, see it in Chicago or San Francisco or LA. Enter the lottery, get on the email list for whatever opening city is close to you. But if you love the music, or you love theater, see it.
I have a different impression now of certain characters in key moments. There is an intimacy you don’t get with just the music. The characters are richer, and there is so much nuance and depth- which really shouldn’t be a surprise, given it was created as a whole. The love between the four friends is much more prominent, the intimacy between Laurens and Hamilton, the comedy of the Farmer Interrupted, the petulancy and visible descent into madness of the King, the strength and comedy of Angelica is much more forthright, there is background chorus and support that make you go…”Ohhhhh…
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. I mean it. I know he jokes that he’s just writing about a genius, but whatever that thing is that has no name, he’s got it. He just shines- and he’s in nearly every scene- it’s way more than his singing part. I have no doubt that not only will he repeat, but that he’ll do it again and again. His character is going to win him everything.
I have had a massive crush on Daveed Digss- and he deserves every last bit of the adoration and praise. He is dynamic and funny, brimming with life. Christopher Jackson, however, commands the stage like no one else. He walks out there and you physically feel it. It was brilliant casting. I wasn’t quite expecting just how powerful a presence he is. And his voice… he takes the room. Every time. For this reason, the Tony will deservedly go to him.
Renée Elise Goldsberry is superb. I kind of don’t know what to say beyond that. The Schuyler sisters harmonize as you’d expect and hope- but there’s no doubt who is running the show. There’s also an intimacy in her portrayal, and a sensitivity to the tension she’s under, which again, isn’t completely captured by simply listening. Of course not- it wasn’t created that way.
The chorus, often dressed in white- you’ve seen the shots- (I think there are only 24 members of the cast, including the primary players) are an unbelievably integral part of the play. They add context, and at some key moments, a level of understanding and beauty which completely surprised me- and made me cry. The chorography is spare and there are no useless movements- every inflection contributes to the story. The lighting and staging are all austere, and it makes it particularly effective against the simplicity of the stage and the modern nature of the story telling.
Basically, it’s a rare offering in the popular art world- it’s even better than all the hype and press. It deserves every last bit of praise, and it stands up to the critiques and cultural criticism without shame. It is a work of beauty. LMM and the artists with whom he surrounds himself have brought together something which defies description and moves you to awe, the way only sublime art can.