I was in the presence of true genius, experiencing something unlike I had ever seen on Broadway, when I recently had the chance to see Hamilton. Of course, that genius is none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator/writer/star of Hamilton and a certified MacArthur Fellowship aka "Genius Grant" winner.
When I first heard about the show, I was intrigued... A hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton? "That could be very interesting," I thought. Well, interesting doesn't even begin to describe it! Maybe more like fascinating. Unforgettable. Groundbreaking. Life changing.
I don't even know where to start because I'm still reeling from the impact this show had on me. I guess I will start with the music because it just gets right down deep into your soul from the beginning. This is not just a "hip-hop musical." If you are worried that it's two hours and 45 minutes of rapping, then you are mistaken. There are lots of musical styles represented along with some beautiful singing. Yes, there is a lot of rap, including some epic throwdowns between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson ("Cabinet Battle #1" and "Cabinet Battle #2"). Do not be afraid to see this show if you're not a fan of rap music. You will appreciate the beauty and complexity of it, — the elegance, the eloquence, the cadence — if you love a good musical.
On to the amazing cast... Miranda, of course is spellbinding as the titular character in his creation, and his supporting cast is equally as impressive. Leslie Odom, Jr., who I knew from his role as Sam Strickland on the gone-way-too-soon tv show Smash, goes toe-to-toe with Hamilton in the role of Aaron Burr. He is our logical, maniacal, Energizer bunny of an emcee, battling with Hamilton to the end. His performance glows from its first spark to his fiery breaking point in which he challenges Hamilton to a fatal duel. (It was held in New Jersey, because "everything is legal in Jersey.")
Daveed Diggs steals the show in a demanding double role as the Marquis de Lafayette, rapping with a French accent, and as Thomas Jefferson. And—oh, boy!—you have never seen Jefferson portrayed like this before. One part vaudeville, one part James Brown, two parts swagger. You'll never think of Thomas Jefferson the same way again.
I will easily confess the admiration I've had for Jonathan Groff since seeing him in Spring Awakening and then as Jesse St. James on Glee. I was avoiding reading anything about Hamilton before I saw the show, so I didn't even know what role Groff played in it. I was happily surprised to see him saunter on to the stage as King George! He brings sparkling comic relief to the show, and he portrays the King's anger and confusion about what is happening in the colonies with devilish delight.
And let's not forget the women in the show. Phillipa Soo (Eliza Schuyler) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler) play Hamilton's wife and sister-in-law (perhaps his true love), respectively. They have the most exquisite voices, and their performances are fiery, genuine, and heartbreaking.
Hamilton's beautiful, diverse ensemble is tasked with so much, and they "rise up" to the occasion. Dressed in simple costumes, the dancers move beautifully and add such feeling and atmosphere to Miranda's incredible lyrics. I thought at first they might be a distraction, but they are so integral to the performance as they seamlessly move furniture and props to create sets on the nearly-bare stage and add so much vocal power to the show's big numbers.
It really is amazing to see how Miranda took this at-times-unbelievable story and turned it into this incredible show. He was inspired by Ron Chernow's eponymous biography of Alexander Hamilton, and it is with sheer brilliance that he takes Hamilton from his orphan life in the Caribbean ("Alexander Hamilton") to war hero ("Yorktown") to Treasury Secretary ("Non-Stop") and beyond. It took me a while to realize how the ferocious song from the top of the show, "My Shot," becomes so ironic in the end. Hamilton repeatedly asserts "I am not throwing away my shot," but #spoileralert, that's exactly what he does in the very end. Whoa. If American History was taught this way more often, I might have been more interested in high school.
Let's talk about bringing the kids. Well, I saw a lot of them in the theater. Personally, I do not think the show is appropriate for younger children, because there is violence, war, death, adultery, and a good serving of foul language. However, it's a living, breathing history lesson and a phenomenal show. So, bring your children if you think they can handle it; I would suggest ages 10 and up.
Hamilton is, by far, the most extraordinary and explosive ("Boom!" as they sing in "Right Hand Man") show I have seen in over 30 years of going to Broadway. And I will not throw away my shot to see it again.
Hamilton is performed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street, NYC. http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com/
Jennifer Niederhoffer is the founder of Impress Media, an independent lifestyle & entertainment public relations and editorial services firm. You can follow her on twitter @impressmedia or @themommysreview.