This Saturday, I finally got to pay off my Christmas gift to my sister-in-law Beth by taking her to see Hamilton. I had bought these tickets way back in November, so it was nearly a year of waiting and anticipating building. This would be her first time seeing the show, but it would be the second go-round for me and my friend Amanda. Beth, however, has an almost obsessive devotion to the show and had listened to my copy of the original cast recording so much that the cd actually broke in her car. Since I am someone who generally likes to go into shows with as little information as possible, I was worried that there was no way that Hamilton was going to be able to live up to her lofty expectations. Since the cast recording was basically the show, would her familiarity breed disappointment? As for me, I had been incredibly spoiled to see the original cast actually perform the show, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about seeing other people in the roles. I was completely blown away when I saw Hamilton the first time, so it was possible that this was inevitably going to be a case of diminishing returns.
As you may have realized by now, I have a tendency to overthink things.
Turns out my obsessive worrying was all for naught – we all left the show happy and, unlike Alexander Hamilton, satisfied with what we had just experienced. Even though we were all familiar with the show in varying ways, the performance still felt fresh and exciting.
Though no one will ever replace the original cast in my heart, the new actors more than held their own in the show. What I think I enjoyed the most about this second viewing of Hamilton was that the actors were able to put their own spin on these characters and were not simply doing impressions of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the rest of the original cast. These were the same characters, obviously, but the actors interpreted them slightly differently. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was much more earnest, which isn’t all that surprising if you have any familiarity with Miranda. By contrast, Javier Muñoz made his Hamilton a little more cocky and confident. It was subtle, but it was an interesting new facet of the character. Likewise the portrayal of Aaron Burr shifted depending on the actor playing him; when Leslie Odom, Jr. originated the role, Burr was very reserved and tightly-wound. He seems to tolerate Hamilton, but always views him as a threat. Brandon Victor Dixon’s Burr, on the other hand, seems to initially find Hamilton amusing, then exasperating, and then finally as his chief rival; the audience is watching him slowly unravel. These little tweaks kept the show interesting and added a different lens to hear the songs.
While I was worried that our collective familiarity with the show would be an issue, it was actually an asset. When Amanda and I saw the show back in August of 2015, the cast album hadn’t been released yet so you really had to pay attention to the show to keep up with the story and the lyrics. A lot of the songs are fairly rapid-fire so your focus is entirely honed on whoever is speaking in an attempt, often vainly, to unpack everything that they are saying (this was especially true for Daveed Diggs, who can spit out rhymes so fast that it makes your head spin). This time around, we were all very familiar with the lyrics and therefore didn’t have to have the same laser-like concentration. This allowed us all to take in more of the show as a whole. Hamitlon is a show that is full of motion and there is a lot going on on stage that we were able to more fully experience this time around. Having primarily experienced the show through the cast recording, Beth said that she was blown away by the actual staging of the show, which added so much more to the storytelling. Amanda and I also picked up on a lot of things that we had previously missed.
I don’t know if it was our ability to be more observant of the show or the new cast – or a combination of the two – but this time around Hamilton was also a lot funnier. It seems that the longer the show runs, the more opportunities that they have found to add additional laughs to the production. When I initially saw it, I only remember King George serving as comedic relief. This time, whether it was how they delivered a line or the actor’s facial expressions, there were way more opportunities to chuckle. In fact, this entire production of Hamilton felt looser and more relaxed than when I initially saw it. After over a year of doing the show, they have found their groove.
The only role where I thought it was an obvious step down from the original cast was Angelica. Now, to be fair, “Satisfied” is one of my favorite songs in the entire show and Renee Elise Goldsberry was so amazing in that role that my standards were pretty high for her replacement. So my standards may be unfair to Mandy Gonzalez, but her performance just didn’t gel for me. She can sing, but I just didn’t feel like she had the necessary chemistry with Muñoz for her depiction of Angelica to be full realized. People who have less affinity for that role/song may not be as critical.
Some random thoughts:
- Christopher Jackson, one of the final original cast members in a major role, had just announced that he’ll be leaving the show in November. This news made his song “One Last Time” all the more poignant; that song will bring the house down in his final performance.
- No matter how many times I see Hamilton, I was always hater Phillip. My only regret is that they don’t kill that kid more than once in the show.
- I had always thought that the cast recording covered everything in the show, but apparently there is at least one scene that isn’t included as Beth was surprised by it. It’s minor, but it does resolve what happened to one character.
- They’ve gotten stricter with searching bags as you enter the performance and they wouldn’t let us bring in the cookies that we bought from Schmackary’s in with us, which is a goddamn tragedy. So if you were walking down 46th street and saw a woman trying to shove an entire red velvet cookie in her mouth outside the Richard Rodgers Theater, that was me.
- We also stopped by the Hamilton pop-up store that has opened across the street from the theater. It’s mostly the same stuff that is available inside the theater, but it is an opportunity for people who can’t get tickets to still get some merch. I didn’t buy anything, because I really don’t need a $40 t-shirt, but they have some nice stuff.
It’s probably pretty non-controversial to say that we all loved Hamilton, but I’m supremely happy to report that even if you didn’t get to see the original cast that you aren’t missing out on that much. The current cast is generally stellar and brings some fresh energy and perspective to the show. I don’t know how actively I’ll seek out the opportunity, but I would definitely go see Hamitlon a third time under the right circumstances. Now that the show is touring, I’m glad that more people potentially will have the chance to see the show.