Before I reveal my reactions to Hamilton, I’ll share a quick anecdote. I bought my ticket in July, and the best I could manage three months in advance was a restricted-view box seat for full price. Meanwhile, a group from my school coincidentally chose the same night to attend with students. Work generally seeps into every aspect of my life, so I hold theater as my one mecca for separation. Knowing 75 students would be in the theater filled me with a bit of anxiety—but since I could not ask the students to go another day, I decided to keep a low profile. Keep my head down; arrive just a minute before the curtain. That failed! Within seconds I was spotted. I received a text which indicated, to my surprise, that the students mistook the “Lincoln seats” as being a place for minor celebrities, and their excitement in seeing me in one was “palpable.”
Before seeing Hamilton, I surrounded myself with a giant “hype shield.” Years before, I learned a lesson at Book of Mormon, which I enjoyed, but I missed the shock of some of the best lines because I had listened to the music beforehand. I was determined to walk into Hamilton with a fresh mind. No Hamilton music. No newspaper articles. Limited conversations with my boss about how she has seen Hamilton three times and will keep going back for more.
I loved Hamilton, of course—I’m not the first to say that in a blog. A few highlights: my favorite first-act song was “Wait For It,” a song so passionate and so climactic in its self-doubt that Aaron Burr (Gregory Treco) quickly emerged as my favorite character. In the second act “The Room Where it Happened,” (also sung by Aaron Burr) was a thrilling ode to the mysterious backroom deals that shape America—in 1780, in 2017, and in all the years between.
[Warning: those who want to read that Hamilton stands alone as the best musical of all time may want to click on a link here.] As I took in Hamilton, I kept asking myself, “Why Hamilton?” Why this show, right now? Yes, Hamilton is outstanding. It’s hip. It’s inspiring. It’s staging is a whirlwind of energy. It’s even a bit educational (so people claim). But… lots of shows have all of those qualities, and for every Hamilton many musicals like Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812, which multiple critics praised as “the next Hamilton,” close in less than a year. I kept making comparisons to Harry Potter, an outstanding book series that somehow became the only young adult books in town for a full decade.
I do not have the formula for what makes a hit, a mega-hit, or a flop, but I do believe that just as real estate has its slogan “location, location, location,” an appropriate mantra for Broadway would be Timing, Timing, Timing.
Timing is everything, and Hamilton was released just in time to be the official show of the Millennials, who were finally able to afford a Broadway show after being confined to jobs at Starbucks for so long. Also, there is always a gap of a few years between the mega-hits, and Broadway was ripe for the successor to Book of Mormon, which opened on March 24, 2011 (more than four years before Hamilton).
Additionally, Hamilton is satisfyingly anti-Disney—meaning that it includes substance, interesting characters, and song with depth—at a time when two-dimensionality is too prevalent on Broadway. Shows like The Lion King and Aladdin remain among the top grossing shows on Broadway largely because they are so effectively targeted to children. Even Wicked, which is one of my favorites, is a show with a solid following of teenage girls. On the other end of the spectrum, hits like Hello Dolly cater to a much older crowd. In short, Hamilton is a musical with a wider audience appeal than most of today’s offerings.
And, one cannot forget that Hamilton is a show about divisive politics at a time when divisive politics is omnipresent. When I was slogging through Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, I found some consolation in learning how other American eras were also defined by political dirty tricks and self-serving games of “politics chicken,” and America has survived to tell the tales. But there is no denying that America has become obsessed with politics to the point of making it an entertainment. Don’t forget—Hamilton’s previews on Broadway started just three days before Donald Trump officially joined the Presidential race (July 13, 2015; and July 16, 2015, respectively).
Whatever the reasons behind its astronomical success, Hamilton is a gift to musical theater, and I look forward to seeing it many, many more times in the coming years. I also look forward to seeing what will emerge as Broadway’s next mega-hit, for Hamilton is sure to impact how musicals are presented for decades to come.