Dallas — At this point, if you have any interest in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Hamilton, you 1) have seen it at least once in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or one of the tour stops, or 2) have not seen it but know the original cast recording (and possibly the subsequent Hamilton Mixtape as well) inside and out, or 3) haven’t seen it or familiarized yourself with the music, but are curious about the show.
We hope that you at least fall into that third category. Hamilton is every bit the groundbreaking work that award granters, fans, and cultural critics have collectively deemed it. Try your best to see the current Dallas Summer Musicals-presented tour stop at the Music Hall at Fair Park. If price is, understandably, the reason why you can’t, make sure you play the daily Hamilton lottery by downloading the Hamilton app (which gives you daily reminders to play). It’s worth the wait.
In lieu of a traditional review of the Dallas stop, TheaterJones enlisted several critics to see it here and have a conversation about the Dallas production, the musical itself, and its significance for persons of color. For this task, we assembled a crew of writers who fall into each of those categories in the first paragraph.
Janice L. Franklin is a former music director and is currently a professor of humanities and music at Mountain View College. She first saw the show shortly after it opened in Chicago in 2016, and interviewed North Texan Miguel Cervantes, who played Alexander Hamilton in that show, for TheaterJones. (Incidentally, another North Texan, Akron Watson, currently plays Aaron Burr in that production.)
Cheryl Callon is TheaterJones’ chief dance critic and often reviews Dallas Summer Musicals’ tours. She teaches dance at Collin College and Richland College. She has not seen the show but could sing the entire OCR to you if you ask nicely—or just follow her on Instagram. She has watched clips from various productions obsessively on YouTube and only needed to see the full show to complete her love affair with it.
As for that third category above, we have Teresa Marrero, who frequently writes about Latinx theater for TheaterJones. She is professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas, is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and is on the Advisory board of the Latinx Theater Commons. She is co-editor with Chantal Rodriguez (Yale) and Trevor Boffone (University of Houston) of the anthology ENCUENTRO: Latinx Performance for the New American Theater (May 2019, Northwestern University Press). She has reviewed a production of Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ In the Heights, but had no prior familiarity with Hamilton, aside from the hype. She’s an avid tango dancer who attends every milonga she can. Also—and this is important—Marrero confesses that she is not a fan of musicals.
TheaterJones co-founder and editor Mark Lowry, also a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, has loved the cast recording since it was released. He adores the Mixtape (except for that Jimmy Fallon track), especially the entries from Wiz Khalifa and the brilliant "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)" response. He finally saw the show on Broadway in 2018. In 2012, he snagged a cellphone video interview with Miranda, who was in Dallas to talk about In the Heights at the Nasher Sculpture Center (the tour had just been announced for the Winspear Opera House). Although the questions are about Heights, Miranda also mentioned that his next project was about Alexander Hamilton—this was before he started workshopping his “Hamilton Mixtapes” at the Public Theater. You can see that video below.
One quote in this video, as he's talking about the music of In the Heights, can also apply to Hamilton (although Hamilton is definitely not as "old-fashioned" as Heights):
"[In the Heights is] really an old-fashioned musical with a new musical language. Once upon a time, popular music and musical theater were friends. You would go to the theater to see the song you heard on the radio sung live. They were one and the same."
Our team saw the Dallas tour on press night, Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
Ever since it announced that the Dallas tour stop would happen at the Music Hall, which is a mammoth hall (3,300+ seats) that is more than a half-century old, there has been not-so-soft voicings of concern across the theater community on social media. Even after multiple upgrades to the sound system, the acoustics simply can’t match the Winspear Opera House or Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall (where the tour of Hamilton will arrive in the summer of 2020). But the Music Hall has 1,000+ more seats than those venues, and it’s why the huge touring hits that always sell out, such as The Lion King and Wicked, are only booked there.
Let’s get that news out of the way first: There were no serious sound issues on April 3. At least, not to three of these critics (Franklin had some quibbles that go deeper than mere miking or feedback issues).
The cast on the night viewed was: Joseph Morales as Alexander Hamilton, Emily Jenda as Eliza Hamilton, Nik Walker as Aaron Burr, Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler, Conroe Brookes as George Washington, Kyle Scatliffe as Thomas Jefferson/Marquis de Lafayette, Fergie L. Philippe as Hercules Mulligan, Desmond Sean Ellington as James Madison, Elijah Malcomb as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Nyla Sostre as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds, Jon Patrick Walker as King George, Cameron Burke as Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds and Ensemble, Aaron J. Albano as Samuel Seabury/Ensemble, Daniel Gaymon as Charles Lee/Ensemble, and Keenan D. Washington as George Eacker/Ensemble. The other Ensemble members: Nicole DeRoux, Kristen Hoagland, Tyler McKenzie, Samantha Pollino, Julian Ramos, and Nikisha Williams.
The original Hamilton production was directed by Thomas Kail with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, music direction by Roberto Sinha, and music supervision/orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Scenic design is by David Korins, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Nevin Steinberg, and hair/wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. The touring orchestra is conducted by Roberto Sinha. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music, lyrics and book, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton.
The resident touring director is another person with North Texas ties, Tiffany Nichole Greene, who has directed locally at WaterTower Theatre and Second Thought Theatre.
A bonus to seeing the show: In the lobby of the Music Hall, there’s a special display of historic documents, including:
- An original copy of the Declaration of Independence
- One of Hamilton’s most revealing love letters to Elizabeth Schuyler, calling her “a little sorceress” who bewitched and rendered him “restless and unsatisfied with all about me.”
- A first edition of the “Reynolds Pamphlet” (in which Hamilton admits to infidelity but vigorously denies financial crimes) that survived Eliza’s attempt to have them all burned.
- Hamilton’s important financial papers, and his draft letter rallying to defeat Jefferson at all costs after Washington declined to run for a third term.
- Original letters and documents of Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Burr, and more.
- Alexander Hamilton Jr’s annotated copy of the Federalist Papers.
With that, let’s get to the conversation—which was conducted over email—about the Second National Tour of Hamilton, currently running in Dallas through May 5. Mark Lowry’s prompt questions are in bold.
Cheryl, I suspect your experience was much like mine when I finally saw it in 2018. I had been so enamored of the score and lyrics that I feared seeing it live could not possibly live up to expectations. I was wrong. It surpassed them—and seeing some of the details you can’t get from listening to the OCR made it even deeper. Since this was your first time seeing it, did it meet your expectations?
Cheryl Callon: I feel like I went into my first Hamilton more familiar with the production than I have been for any other first-time viewing of a musical. Due to its popularity, there is so much material online, such as news segments, TV specials, awards shows, interviews, etc., most of which I’ve shown to my students for the last couple of years. As a critic, I naturally go into a performance with some healthy skepticism, but throughout the whole evening, I had this surreal sense of “I’m actually here at Hamilton,” a feeling that I’ve never had with any other performing arts production. So, it was weird being that starstruck, and since it was my first time seeing it after having the original cast recording imprinted into my brain, there was this interesting mix of comforting familiarity with the glee and awe of a new experience.
So, overall, yes, it lived up to and exceeded expectations. Perhaps the most stunning thing about the production is the exceptional manner in which its elements seamlessly integrate and always bring the focus back to the story and the audience’s interaction with the events on stage. With so many musicals, one or two facets either rise above or drastically fall below the others. The story might not logically flow, but costume and sets dazzle enough to overcome it, or songs might be dull, but the performances make up for the disparity. Not so with Hamilton. Everything came together exquisitely to draw the audience into the narrative.
Visually, it’s somewhat minimal. Almost no projections are used to create the setting, with the exception of one or two instances of a water texture. The monochromatic set (although detailed) changes little, and the period-style costumes (well-done, for sure) don’t dramatically stand out. I think this is actually a credit to the designers, that they’re using the visuals to always point back to the strength of the story and its characters. For example, the set contains a second level on the periphery, on which the ensemble and characters stand on for singing, dancing, or simple observation. The way their placement shapes the perception of the space highlights the musical’s look back at history and number-one question—“Who tells your story?”
Janice, you've seen it in Chicago. What are your overall thoughts about how this tour compares to that production?
Janice L. Franklin: This is the second national touring company. It is a good cast, neither stronger nor weaker than the Chicago cast. As different actors, they bring different interpretations and approaches to the roles. [More on the cast below.]
That brings us to Teresa. As a Hamilton newbie, did it live up to hype?
Teresa Marrero: Yes and no. The “hype” for me has always come from my Latinx theater tribe, all academic or professional theater people. I read FB posts over the years of these profs (many of whom are Northeasterners teaching in Ivy League universities) wear the badge of privilege by stating that they had seen the show in NYC. I know someone who paid $800 to see it in NYC with the original cast. So, to me, the hype was about the big bang this piece made in the Broadway theatrical world. And “no” because since, I kept a skeptical distance from the whole madness (except to ask Mark to get me into the Dallas show), I had no expectations one way or the other. I am not a fan of musicals nor am I a fan of hardcore rap. Did I come out of the show starry-eyed panting to see it again? Not really. However, I would like to see it in a bigger house. The Music Hall felt sort of small for this production.
Mark Lowry: That’s an interesting comment, as the Music Hall is one of the bigger touring venues in the country. I loved it more in a smaller Broadway house, and can’t wait to see it at Bass Hall—which to me is still the best multi-purpose large performance hall in DFW, from a viewing and auditory experience. That said— and this is probably because I’ve seen the show before—the nuances of expression and ensemble movement still come through in the cavernous Music Hall.
Cheryl, what are your impressions of the choreography and movement?
Cheryl Callon: An equally stunning achievement is Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography and how tightly woven it is with the music and story. Since hip-hop is the primary vehicle for communication and dance is intimately connected to hip-hop culture, it’s obvious that the choreography and staging would be as important as the lyrics and lines. That expectation, though, still didn’t prepare me for how well-done it was. The universal nature of movement creates opportunities for a choreographer to evoke a visceral reaction from the audience, and Blankenbuehler brilliantly achieves this in the most subtle movements and the most explosive.
One of the first instances is towards the end of the title song, when Burr sings “see him now as he stands on the bow of a ship,” referring to Hamilton’s entrance to New York. The cast mimes pulling a ship to shore and anchoring it, but with the intent and quality found in hip hop. This concept continues throughout. With the exception of a few songs, the ensemble is always doing some kind of dancing. It almost feels like one big music video.
For the more complex choreography, the dancers frequently utilize low levels for slides, arm balances and other stunts found in breakdancing, contributing to the earthy, “young, scrappy, and hungry” vibe from Hamilton during the ups and downs of his life. It also indirectly contrasts with the upright, pristine movements found with the upper-class dance of the European monarchy—ballet. Stepping choreography showed up for George Washington’s entrance, which was a nice move.
Just as Miranda shaped a diverse score, so did Blankenbuehler with the myriad of dance styles, outside of hip-hop and pedestrian vocabulary. A jazz style befitting Motown backup singers accompanied the Schuyler sisters’ introductory song, whereas a swingy 1920s-style Charleston brightened Jefferson’s “What Did I Miss.” Flashy, showbiz gestures and kicks spiced up “The Room Where It Happens.” The most surprising numbers made good use of the rotating turntable stage. “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” an already fast-paced song, took on new life with the whirlwind choreography, and Miranda’s a cappella performance in “The World Was Wide Enough” included more modern contemporary vocabulary for emotional quality.
The entire show takes on new meaning with the actor’s bodies in play, not just their voices over a speaker. Small pantomimes in the background, gestures, and characters that can dance bring important context and emotional depth, and the impact of the physical performance seems more vital for this show than most others.
Teresa Marrero: As someone with a dance background, I was struck by the almost mathematical precision of the choreography. It was clockwork. One associates rap with reggaetón and hip-hop’s wildly athletic moves. This show’s choreography was very contained, as one would have in a Broadway musical, just with a beat normally unassociated with the stage.
Mark Lowry: One aspect of the choreography that I love is how the moments of asymmetry juxtapose with that marvelous, symmetrical, simple brick-and-wood, multi-level set.
Let’s talk about the cast in this tour. What are your impressions of the major players? Any standouts?
Janice L. Franklin: I saw Joshua Henry as Burr in Chicago, who was a more intense Burr than Nik Walker here. In "The Room Where It Happens," he was almost menacing. Walker was not miked in balance with the rest of the cast. I've heard him sing and he has a big, beautiful, resonant voice, as does Joshua Henry. They have different vocal timbres and approaches to Burr with Walker's more devious, but less visually emotional. For me, Joshua Henry was a more passionate and invigorating Burr, an interpretation which matches my impression of the actual person from historical profiles.
I immediately noted that more of the principals on this tour appear to be black. (Even using photos, one cannot be sure of this.) In Chicago, of the women, Randolph's wife was black while the Schuyler sisters were not. I recall reacting to that because it was an old refrain of casting the black girl as the whore.
Having heard Kyle Scatliffe in an interview and also performing, his delivery is not muffled or unclear. However, in Dallas part of his sound was not clear during the French accents required as Lafayette. There was a big difference when he became Jefferson. I think some of that was his articulation of the accent while singing this style, and some of it was the sound.
I was a little apprehensive about the Schuyler sisters because the Chicago cast was really strong, especially with Karen Olivo as Angelica. However, this group is wonderful. I actually prefer the tour trio because their timbres are more harmonious and individually, they are equal in lyricism and strength.
I think this King George (John Patrick Walker) is much funnier than Alex Gemignani, who I saw in the Chicago cast. I liked Morales’ interpretation of Hamilton.
Cheryl Callon: The heavily polished album makes for good car karaoke, but the actors’ individual performances make it soar to a new level. Comparing one cast to the original is inevitable, but luckily these performers find enough of their own selves in the delivery that it almost feels like I’m hearing the songs for the first time. There have only been a few times at the Music Hall where I’ve seen the entire cast rise to this level of excellence, so picking a few standouts by no means diminishes the contributions of the others.
That said, Nik Walker as Aaron Burr was probably my favorite. I love Leslie Odom, Jr.’s voice and was slightly worried about being disappointed by whomever played Burr here, but Walker knocked it out of the park. His inflections and mannerisms displayed a different slightly different temperament than what Odom did, and I probably like this better.
Fergie I. Philippe as Hercules Mulligan impressed me, and although I was a little bummed that he didn’t come back as James Madison (as is the traditional casting), Desmond Sean Ellington nicely stepped into that role for the second act. For the Wednesday performance, Emily Jenda fantastically played Eliza in a stunning, impassioned performance. Of course, Jon Patrick Walker as King George was superb. He had everyone in stitches.
As awe-inspiring as this show is, it’s not all perfect. Joseph Morales steps into some large shoes as Alexander Hamilton, and it took some time to acclimate to his line delivery and enunciation, as compared to Miranda’s. At the beginning, he seemed a little flat, personality-wise, but came into his own later. Technical issues popped up, and sound quality took some getting used to. Due to the gargantuan space of the Music Hall, amplification levels weren’t quite right and sounded a bit harsh. Burr’s first solo “Wait for It” had some off timing.
Mark Lowry: I agree with that last statement: “Wait for It” is my favorite song, and on press night the tempo and sound were a bit off. That was my only disappointment with the show. I loved this cast as much as the cast I saw on Broadway last year.
Teresa Marrero: I was struck by Emily Jenda in handling Eliza Hamilton’s pathos. John Patrick Walker as King George brought memorable moments of humor. The entire cast was so evenly excellent! I was struck by Joseph Morales’ resemblance to Lin-Manuel Miranda—I kept forgetting this was not really Miranda performing!
Teresa, you leaned over to me during the show—I think it was after the song "That Would Be Enough"—and said, "I'm impressed by the emotional depth." Were you not expecting that? How did that affect the show for you?
Teresa Marrero: I am not a lyrics person. I prefer music without words. Taking this as a point of departure, some lyrics are just too poignant to ignore. This was one of them. I do not expect emotional depth from musicals. This show has it. The women characters (Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler and Maria Reynolds) were all written with heartfelt empathy. Alexander Hamilton’s “moment of weakness” also stands out as dramatically deep, as is Burr’s final “win” and Washington’s farewell.
Mark Lowry: As a person who loves musicals, and prefer ones with emotional depth over the razzle-dazzle and fluff—I'll take Spring Awakening or Caroline, or Change over The Book of Mormon any day—to me Hamilton’s depth, lyricism, concept, and entertainment value make it the greatest musical of the 21st century, by far—and it’s high on the list of the best musical theater achievements, ever.
Cheryl Callon: Another thing that surprised me was how emotional I got, and for that matter, the entire audience. After one of the more tragic moments (before Hamilton’s duel), all you could hear in the audience for several minutes were sniffles and coughs, even though a good portion of the patrons likely know the ins and outs of the narrative. I told my friends who are coming to later performances to bring their tissues.
Let’s talk about the music. I often think that when people hear that it is a “hip-hop musical,” and if they don’t like hip-hop, they assume it’s not for them. But this score is incredibly complex, using myriad styles through the idioms of hip-hop and Broadway. And as with a lot of great hip-hop, the rhymes are exquisite—right up there with some of Broadway’s best lyricists.
Cheryl Callon: It’s musically genius, and Lin-Manuel Miranda frequently brings up his process and rationale in interviews and the PBS special Hamilton’s America. In using different musical genres, rhythms, and melodies to bring out character traits and dictate the mood, he’s created a diverse, complex musical catalog that still finds an incredible cohesiveness. There are lightning-fast hip hop rhythms that make up the title song and “My Shot,” we find a cheery melody and even tempo in King George’s songs, there’s the toe-tapping flamboyancy of “What Did I Miss” and “The Room Where it Happens,” and then of course, we hear the R&B style in “Schuyler Sisters” and “Burn,” to only use a few examples.
Teresa Marrero: There are hip-hop beats throughout, but the music is pretty complex, I think. A huge plus for me was that, while the hip-hop beat prevails, the tempo of the piece varies. I also heard intertextuality with other musical traditions. The musical score felt very much like a Broadway musical, and not, say, a hip-hop concert.
I also leaned over to Mark and commented on the audience’s reactions. This Dallas audience was into it, for sure. I would venture to say that they either knew the musical score very well or this was not their first time seeing the show. I mentioned to Mark that this energy like a cross between The Rocky Horror Show (for the enthusiastic audience response) and a high-energy rock/hip-hop concert.
Mark Lowry: I love that Miranda references hip-hop and musical theater throughout the show. The most obvious examples of the latter are the lyric from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (“You Have to Be Carefully Taught,” one of the greatest musical theater songs about racism), and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. I admit I didn’t catch the reference to Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years until I read that there was one (it's in "Say No To This"). As for hip-hop, Miranda musically and lyrically references tunes made popular by Notorious B.I.G., L.L. Cool J, DMX, Grandmaster Flash, and others. Miranda asked permission for these and that is acknowledged in the Playbill. (Side note: in the Hamilton Mixtape song "Wrote My Way Out," Miranda references In the Heights.)
And of course, there’s the Macbeth parallel, which Hamilton explains in the song “Take a Break.”
Janice L. Franklin: This is a complex score. The rhythms are the glue holding the songs together. The hip-hop style of delivery pushes what we describe as patter in traditional musical theatre to bolder levels. So many words in this score, moving quickly which means the articulation has to be consistently precise.
For me, the pit was disappointing for the Dallas production. The driving lean in the score was missing. If I had been the MD, I would have explained that this is the story of a guy who wasn't supposed to succeed...who society rendered indivisible. When one is invisible, one has to be noisy just to be seen and heard. The music has to reflect that and as composed, it does. “Loud” cannot be simply loud. An accent cannot simply be an accent. Miranda recognized Chernow's biography as a hip-hop story. He's right. As a minority, I totally get it and the score was written to encompass that. I need to hear it from the pit. In Chicago, they delivered. In Dallas, they played the score as if it were any other musical. Problem is, Hamilton is not. It is different.
Additionally, I wish-wish-wish they had been more appropriately amplified.
So that brings us to the sound in the Music Hall, which was the biggest concern for, well, pretty much everyone. My expectations weren’t high, and that is probably why I was completely satisfied with the sound here. Janice, I believe you disagree.
Janice L. Franklin: Until the City of Dallas commits to addressing the acoustical issues in the Music Hall, sound problems will not only persist, but will worsen. The Winspear is no beacon to acoustical excellence either but it is superior to that of the Music Hall. I start with this because my criticism of the sound is unfair if I do not set this disclaimer first.
To an element of the sound that is within the control of individuals, the design was poor and inadequately balanced for the performers in this space. This score is bold and driving. That must be the case because of the genre, and its function as a storytelling device. Example: “The Battle of Yorktown.” The floor of the building in Chicago reverberated. The building shook, and one felt the floor hum, sending reverberations up through my feet. The audience was almost frenzied after that number, which it should have been. The music intends to evoke such an emotional response. Without that depth of sound, the song is less than it should be. Another song that demanded such reverberation was "Right Hand Man," with the lyrics "shh-boom" and "we were out-gunned, out-manned."
Mark Lowry: For all of the groundbreaking aspects of Hamilton, the most important, I think, is that it tells the story of historical figures who were mostly of European/Caucasian descent, and uses performers of color in those roles. The only role designated for a white actor is King George (and there are some white performers in the ensemble). As Cheryl mentions above, the question of “who tells your story” is key. Theater directors had done color-conscious casting before (note: this is different from “colorblind casting”), but Miranda really opened up that conversation.
Teresa and Janice, as persons of color, talk about your perspective of seeing this show that became such a big hit—and, I would venture, brings in a more diverse audience than most Broadway musicals.
Janice L. Franklin: Miranda has articulated his reasons for casting the roles with American minorities. America is a country that bristled when the black First Lady made a statement about the slaves building the White House. This is a country where a sitting member of Congress openly (as in front of TV cameras) mulled over the possibility of slavery as a good idea for today. To see more of the actual American story onstage brings one to tears. We are hungry for it.
Hamilton includes the fact that the constitution considered the plight of the slaveowners. Today as we discuss the electoral college, many seem ignorant of the fact that the electoral college existed to protect the slaveowners. So yes, it is a treat to see anything onstage which talks about these things. The first African came here with Ponce de Leon (Juan Garrido) to Puerto Rico, our oldest port. Half of America was Mexico. Africans were already on this continent, having found their way, during the time prior to the European occupation. So, the story of America IS the story of the people who are now the minorities.
And yet, open any American history textbook and this will not be the impression presented at all. Hamilton, for many kids, is filling the void intentionally established by historians in this country. That’s disgraceful, a professional and academic failure, and a mistake. The casting is why Hamilton works as well as it does. Without that, it loses its conceptual truth.
The lyric “immigrants, we get the job done," is my favorite line in the show even though my African ancestors were not immigrants. People choose to emigrate; slaves do not.
The American minority experience is specific to the United States, not any other country, just as Americans cannot fully comprehend the societal tensions in Iraq. Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton in Chicago) told me what it has been like in New York and Chicago to interact with the kids who come to the show. Our conversation was more personal because we are both minorities with shared experiences even though we are of different generations. Our views of the importance of Hamilton were and are the same.
Teresa Marrero: Well, first off, I am not a person of color. I am a white Latina, so we have to mark this because I would never pass myself as a person of color. One look at me tells you that. However, as a Cuban-born Latina who comes from a culture where there is a strong African tradition, I can say that all of Cuban culture is Africanized one way or the other (dance, movement, food, music, religious practices). But this fact does not make me brown or black.
My observation of black and brownness in this piece is a mixed bag. On the one hand, a resounding YES to seeing black and brown actors on stage. This is so overdue in U.S. theater. However, I found myself a bit uncomfortable because this thought kept creeping up on me: All of these historical characters were white slave holders (including Hamilton)…Alexander Hamilton did not really marry a beautiful black woman, the “founding fathers” sided with the South on the issue of human beings as property, etc. So this single thought kept jolting me out of the dreamy experience of seeing extremely talented persons of color perform to the top of their ability. The performers excelled; their historical counterparts belong to an historical narrative that has yet to be unpacked and fully de-mystified.
Like Janice, I did give a shout out on the line “immigrants, we get the job done!” This play makes a strong statement on immigrants’ contributions to nation-building in the United States. As a Latina, I object to using the word “America” for the United States. “America” signifies an entire continent.
However, as I looked around the audience, I saw a sea of white faces (mine included). I’d venture to say it was 95 percent white folks in attendance. It is not enough to say, “oh well, of course, they are season ticket holders.” Why is the ticket holder base white? So, then we get into a larger political conversation about access, economic and cultural practices.
One detail that did strike me from looking around were the number of (mostly white) middle and high school aged children. I have friends who purchased tickets only for their child because buying two tickets would put an economic burden on the family. Yes, I know about the lottery. Good. But this does not take care of the issue of access for the populations that really need to see themselves on stage. “Yes” to getting children in the theater at a young age!
Upon Googling “the phenomenon Hamilton” I came across an interesting question: what race was Alexander Hamilton? This made me think: well, either we are going to have to deal with straightening in the classrooms the misconception that the founders were NOT persons of color, or prompt our kids to imagine “what if” our founders were persons of color, and not slave holders? Other than making theatrical history, this play prompts topics of discussion available to educators at all levels. And that is where the real change can happen.
An Epilogue from Janice L. Franklin: I had accidentally purchased a Hamilton ticket in the balcony, which I did not want. It was a good seat but I wanted orchestra and so purchased a second ticket. I gave the balcony ticket to my “play niece,” Sharby. She saw the show the day after we did.
Sharby’s mom was my best friend in high school. Sharby is a married, educated, gainfully employed 39-year-old mother of a three-year-old. She used to teach high school but now works in the financial sector. She is a “woke” individual.
She called me after the show in tears. She was so grateful for having been able to see the show. Then she said “I have needed this my whole life. I saw The Color Purple in Chicago and The Lion King on Broadway. But until tonight I have never seen myself onstage as a real person of history. I saw me and I am overcome with pride and joy. I didn’t know until this night how much I needed this moment.”
THIS is why Hamilton needed to exist. This is why Hamilton as the hip-hop story his life really was, needed to be told in this way. Sharby is knowledgeable about history and politically aware. Still, she is a minority who never knew what it felt like to be acknowledged as a “normal person.” Not as a slave...or a poor, struggling, uneducated soul...or a hooker...or angry teen mom in the projects. Or as a person in need of saving.
A person of color played George Washington—and it was okay.