If you have an Instagram account, you have probably seen countless photos and boomerangs of the Hamilton playbill with the backdrop of the Adrienne Arsht Center stage in the past month. And for good reason. Hamilton debuted on Broadway in 2015 and continues to be one of the most-attended plays on Broadway, with tickets averaging $375.
I bought a last-minute ticket after finding out my summer study-abroad trip was cancelled and I would not be seeing it in London like I planned. It was a $113 whim, but it was absolutely worthwhile.
The Hamilton soundtrack has been playing on my Spotify since at least 2016, and the thought of seeing the songs I know so well performed live had been on my mind since then, and I was not disappointed.
The play starts with the iconic opening number “Alexander Hamilton,” and the strong voices of an almost-entirely non-white cast belting about the founding father’s outstanding life. Listening to the soundtrack is one thing, but watching the dancers in the ensemble embody the sentiment of each song; the characters interact and react to the witty dialogue; the lighting reflect the music in unexpected ways; all of that was priceless.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius. He should be praised in the same way Einstein and Edison are, but as usual the arts are not given the same level of importance as sciences. Either way, he is a lyrical and musical genius, and that became even more clear to me watching this play.
In a quick Google search of “clever moments from Hamilton,” I found hidden meanings and Easter eggs far beyond what I had noticed myself through various repetitions of the album. One of my favorites is in a narrated letter from Hamilton to his sister-in-law, Angelica, for whom he always had a deeper love than was appropriate. In “Take a Break,” Angelica sings: “In a letter I received from you two weeks ago/I noticed a comma in the middle of a phrase/It changed the meaning, did you intend this?/One stroke and you’ve consumed my waking days, it says/My dearest Angelica/With a comma after dearest, you’ve written/My dearest, Angelica”
It took me years to understand that Hamilton did not call her his “dearest Angelica”, but his “dearest”, shifting the dynamic from a sibling love to a romantic sentiment. The fact that Miranda wrote such a technical observation into a succinct and catchy rap lyric is mind-blowing.
Aside from the cleverness, the fact that Miranda took a generally white and traditional history of the founding of the United States and turned it into a hip-hop Broadway show is remarkable. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in the audience, especially the groups of middle- and high-school-aged people of color that seemed thrilled to be at the performance. I have not seen many Broadway shows, but I am willing to guess that this is not the norm at most.
I did notice that it is difficult to understand the nuances of the play if the only time you have listened to the music is while watching. It is a lot to take in, and the woman next to me, who struck up a conversation during the intermission, spent Act 2 whispering questions about the characters and the plot in my ear. Of course, the downside to listening to the songs repeatedly before seeing the show is knowing every beat, pause and breath by heart and being surprised when the actors change a note or a run, but part of the experience are the distinct takes on each song and character by the different actors.
I would do anything to watch the show in the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, but an unexpected moment made me grateful to see it in Miami for the first time. During “Yorktown: The World Turned Upside Down,” Hamilton and his friend, the Marquis of Lafayette, sing, “immigrants, we get the job done.” The entire theatre clapped and cheered, and I felt the values of Hamilton more deeply than I ever had listening to the song in my car.