By Jennifer Mustoe and Caden Mustoe
I was late to the Hamilton-is-so-amazing-you’ll-never-believe-it craze, but became a complete convert at Broadway at the Eccles’ offering of Hamilton. I admit now, I didn’t want to know how great it was. I’d never see it. (I was jealous–I admit it.) Except our wonderful Eccles Theater brought Hamilton right to Salt Lake. I even saw this funny video about the show and thought, yeah, what is all the hype? As the woman in the yellow striped shirt says, “You’ll never know until you get Hamilton tickets.” She is so right.
Because Hamilton is a well-known production with a well-known plot about a now completely popular character in America’s history, I’m not really going to talk about it, except this: It’s about Alexander Hamilton (sing it now: “My name is Alexander Hamilton”); it’s Hip Hop/rap; its tickets are highly sought after. This is really all you need to know.
Instead, I want to talk about my experience seeing Hamilton. My son Caden attended with me. Once I knew I was going to actually see the show, I became far more immersed in finding out about it. Caden has been on board with Hamilton mania from the beginning. He’s a Millennial who loves all things music and drama, so no surprise there. I watched an excellent piece about the show and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and began to understand why everyone’s been freaking out. I encourage all who are interested in Hamilton at all and especially if you’ve seen it or are going to view one of the many interviews of Miranda and other stars of the show. There are gobs of them on the web and you will appreciate the show even more. Knowing more about the process helped me understand Miranda‘s care and yes, genius, in creating Hamilton. I imagine that we will read the book the musical is based on, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
So, for my Hamilton experience, I started a countdown on Facebook. This got me to the night before, when I couldn’t sleep well for the excitement. I am a woman in my 50s and had a difficult time falling asleep and then had several Hamilton dreams. Maybe this is what it was like in the 50s for young women when they knew they’d see Elvis or the 60s with The Beatles. So yes, I was giddy. The Eccles is a fancy place and while many people don’t dress up, it is definitely a place you can dress up–so do it! I decided to try to Revolutionary myself up a bit for the event. I have never seen the Eccles so full–there wasn’t an empty seat. The vibe at the Eccles is great–it’s lovely, clean, and the people who work there and the patrons all seem to show up with the expectation of something great. Everyone is kind and helpful.
We arrived at the Eccles after being windblown by freezing winds. I am not kidding–I mean, it’s April! We found our seats and began to watch the show. Though we’d listened to the songs many times, from the opening scene, I was stunned and captivated because seeing the actors become the characters–their nuanced movements, their interactions with others, suddenly those songs from YouTube came alive. Caden said as a listener, it’s hard to always distinguish who’s singing, as there are often many narrators in one song. Seeing it helps to understand the story and the actors are stellar in this production. Of course they are. What struck me was–well, everything. I asked the man next to me what he thought of the show. His response is perfect for anyone who is skeptical about why Hamilton is great. He said he’d heard about the show (who hasn’t?) and knew he had to come. But he thought, rap? However, he said once the show started, he realized very quickly why Hip Hop/rap is an excellent medium for this show. He said he understood it perfectly, it’s a great way to tell the story, the beats and cadences are fantastic, the story unfolds quickly, and is filled with life, vigor, passion, and often great emotion. Miranda said in an interview I watched that he chose Hip Hop because #1 It’s American and this is an American musical, and #2 Hip Hop gives him the opportunity to say more words–tell the story more efficiently.
In Hamilton, there are several themes or motifs that wind into the songs that provide the story. Not Throwing Away “My Shot,” sung by Joseph Morales as Hamilton is repeated throughout. “Helpless” sung by Shoba Narayan playing Eliza Schuyler Hamilton shows vulnerability. “Wait for It” is a theme that Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) brings to the show–Burr never can make up his mind–until he does. Angelica Schuyler (Eliza’s sister) played by Ta’Rea Campbell, brings “Satisfied“–a wonderful theme highlighting the time they lived in. George Washington, played by Marcus Choi, brings “Right Hand Man” and explains the relationship that Hamilton had with the general and then president. “Rise Up” is a theme that runs through the show, too. Finally, John Patrick Walker shows up as a reminder of the role King George made during the Revolution. All his songs, including “You’ll Be Back” are English pop songs in the middle of the Hip Hop raps and ballads. They use the same melody, but as America moves farther away from Britain, the lyrics get progressively depressing and hilarious.
What Caden and I noticed was how much movement happens constantly. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler creates interesting movement that say as much about the story as lyrics and melodies or raps. We were struck with how passionate and even violent some of the songs are, and how tender some are. Miranda nails it with “It’s Quiet Uptown” when we see how the Hamiltons handle the death of their first child, Phillip, in a duel. Having lost a grown son, that song just about cracked me in half and I heard lots of sniffling around me. The final song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” is beyond poignant and gives a final nod in an amazing way. I have thought a lot about the stories I tell and who will tell my own story.Who should tell our stories? And do we live every day as if This is the Day My Story Takes Shape? Should we live that way, or simply live and not give away our shot?
Director Thomas Kail creates an amazing display and it’s the tightest production I’ve ever seen. Scenic Designer David Korins gives us a set that is multi-leveled and feels organic with its browns and ropes and ladders. Costumes by Paul Tazewell are amazing–Revolutionary Hip Hop chic. Conductor Roberto Sinha leads the amazing music–it is perfect.
I was completely immersed in this musical and I still am not over it. I did FOUR Facebook live feeds. I couldn’t shut up about Hamilton. I’ve listened to the songs all day and keep feeling, feeling, feeling–the emotions, the passion, the story itself. I’ve thought about being an American. About the blessings I have. And you know what? It’s as if Alexander Hamilton is grateful that his story is being told by Lin-Manuel Miranda and millions of us are able to experience it. A true American Musical, here at the Eccles in Salt Lake City.
Broadway at the Eccles presents Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Delta Hall at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main Street, SLC, UT 84111
April 11- May 6, 2018 Check site for dates and times.
Tickets: to $425 (Go to the Eccles site to participate in their lottery for tickets.)
Contact: 385-468-1030, firstname.lastname@example.org
Broadway at the Eccles Facebook Page