The production of “Hamilton” now in Seattle isn’t perfect — but it has disarmed the cynicism of jaded reporters, theater directors and professional critics. In case you were wondering: Yes. It’s really, really, really good.
Can “Hamilton” possibly live up to the hype?
The hypnotic — almost talismanic — power of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hyperkinetic musical about the messy lives and deaths of U.S. revolutionaries is hard to deny.
The show started Off Broadway in 2015, quickly hopped to Broadway and is now launching its second national tour in Seattle. Along the way, it’s become a strange cultural crossroads mixing onstage spectacle (18th-century history without the wigs, hip-hop, R&B, old-fashioned musical-theater tropes) and offstage drama (Beatles-level fandom from screaming teenagers, seats on TicketMaster’s legal secondary market going for thousands of dollars, a “Hamilton”-tattooed teenager who couldn’t afford a ticket but was offered several by readers after they read her story, a local man arrested in a QFC parking lot for allegedly trying to sell forged tickets).
‘Hamilton: An American Musical’
Through March 18 at The Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle. Late-release seats may become available on short notice (check stg.com or 800-982-2787).
Forty $10 tickets are available by lottery for each performance; register for lottery two days before each performance at hamiltonmusical.com/lottery or via the “Hamilton” app at hamiltonmusical.com/app.
And, after the Valentine’s Day show, 10-year-old twins stood by The Paramount’s stage door with dozens of other fans, waiting to have their T-shirts signed by cast members.
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Did the show live up to the hype for them?
“Yes! It was amazing,” Marley Schrepfer said. Her twin, Morgan, jumped in: “It was past amazing! It was amazing, and then three new levels of amazing.”
I wouldn’t go that far, but damn. It pains me to write this, because I wanted to be a contrarian and come in with my critical guns blazing, but “Hamilton” is really, really, really good. Is it get-arrested-in-a-parking-lot good? No. Does it have a few glaring flaws? Yes. But does literally every critical-minded person I’ve talked to who’s seen it — reporters who don’t even like musicals; jaded theater directors; my date to the show, who has a long, acerbic record of not suffering fools on stage — think “Hamilton” deserves its hype?
There are 10,000 reasons why “Hamilton” lives up to that hype — and the sheer volume of those reasons is the reason. “Hamilton” packs so much into a bullet of a musical that it leaves you spinning.
From a sheer stagecraft point of view, it’s a 45-course, single-bite-per-course meal where every bite is delectable: the singing, the dancing, the rap battles between revolutionaries slapping the beat on a bar tabletop in New York, which advance to more formal rap battles between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton that (improbably) make their debate about whether the new nation should have centralized federal power or decentralized power, vis-à-vis the new treasury, sound fatally urgent.
And, unlike many other glitzy Broadway musicals, its set is minimal: a bare wooden floor, a couple of staircases to the side of the stage, and actors moving furniture around with crisp choreography.
That could be a hidden ingredient that makes “Hamilton” fans so emotionally attached to the show: In our incessantly screen-mediated world, the humans have to carry the whole weight of the story, from doing knee-slides across the stage in a dance number to commanding your attention by jumping on a table to rap like their lives depend on it.
“Hamilton” feels like a friendly but fierce sparring match between the stage and each audience member’s brain.
The punches and references come thick and fast, and from nearly every corner of the Anglophone cultural universe: Destiny’s Child, KRS-One, Shakespeare, the Notorious B.I.G., the Bible, the Federalist Papers, Gilbert and Sullivan, a spy rapping like Chuck D, King George III as a mincing but threatening lover, Bob Fosse choreography, immigration, sex scandals, gun violence (both in the big-time war sense and the one-on-one, grudge-duel sense), songs that glamorize writing (in one bit, as ensemble members hold a wooden plank at an angle for Hamilton to write on, they actually make writing — the dullest of human events to any outward observer — seem dramatic and sexy), occasional clever use of swear words in the lyrics.
And wait, was George Washington’s big finale in “One Last Time” a “Drowsy Chaperone”-style meta-musical in-joke about the soaring, cheesy vocals in big finales?
Yes, I think it was. But it’s hard to keep track. “Hamilton” is the product of one fevered, brilliant brain refining history, headlines, musical theater and pop culture into one hot shot. It will pleasantly exhaust you.
It’s also the beneficiary of lucky timing: this multiethnic musical (people of color play the Founding Fathers; black actors play slave owners) sprouted during President Barack Obama’s administration but reached the full flower of its popularity under President Donald Trump’s. That coincidence gave “Hamilton” a two-stage velocity. First, it showed people of color successfully running a country. Now, the scenes of revolutionaries cursing the pasty, arrogant, well-fed monarchs of the world have a fresh edge. (Would today’s “Hamilton” craze be this fervent — and would the audience feel so impassioned — if, say, Michelle Obama were president?)
On the night I attended, the audience screamed and clapped when Hamilton (Joseph Morales) and the Marquis de Lafayette (Kyle Scatliffe) high-fived after their joint line: “Immigrants. We get the job done.”
The drawbacks: At times, the sound for Seattle’s “Hamilton” is muddy. As a bass player in the orchestra pit said to an audience member during intermission: “Yeah, the sound is a challenge. This building from the ’20s doesn’t have the acoustics to handle these big speakers, but we’re doing the best we can.”
And it fails the “Bechdel test,” named for U.S. cartoonist Alison Bechdel, which tests whether a work of fiction includes women who have a meaningful conversation about anything besides a man.
Some performances seemed workmanlike, while others were thrilling: Ta’Rea Campbell nails her numbers as the passionate but conflicted Angelica Schuyler, the sister of Hamilton’s wife, whom Hamilton maybe had a later affair with. Scatliffe — Lafayette and later Thomas Jefferson — is a tower of stage confidence and ease, telegraphing volumes with a raised eyebrow or a flick of his hand.
But those are just details. “Hamilton” has pulled an almost-impossible theater trick — for 10,000 reasons, the effect the musical has on people (praying for seats, committing crimes, getting tattoos) seems to have eclipsed the play itself.
As Hamilton raps early in the musical: “This is not a moment; it’s the movement.”