“Hamilton” has had a long journey since Lin-Manuel Miranda, then known for his musical “In the Heights,” performed “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word in 2009. Since singing the show’s opening song to an audience that couldn’t have known what was to come, Miranda’s Tony-winning musical that puts a hip-hop spin on the story of the Founding Fathers grew into a worldwide phenomenon. “Hamilton” now boasts three concurrent North American tours and productions in the U.K., Australia and Germany alongside its continuing Broadway run.
As the “Hamilton” tour makes its way back to Seattle, setting down in the Paramount Theatre Aug. 3-Sept. 11 after a previous stint in 2018, here are five things you can keep your eye out for as you (re)experience the musical.
Other forms of storytelling
During a 2016 conversation with Anderson Cooper, “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler revealed details about the staging of the musical that even shocked Miranda and fellow original cast member Christopher Jackson. As Entertainment Weekly reported, Blankenbuehler said he believes audiences perceive forward progress and inevitability as a counterclockwise motion. As a result, anytime Alexander Hamilton makes a new choice, the action on stage moves counterclockwise. And anytime there is a resistance to fate in the musical, the action on stage shifts to a clockwise motion.
Additionally, Blankenbuehler said, Aaron Burr and Hamilton are also very specifically choreographed to have Burr, the more rigid of the two, moving in straight lines while Hamilton moves in arcs.
In the filmed version of “Hamilton,” Ariana DeBose plays a role called the Bullet, a part played by an ensemble member in each “Hamilton” production. The Bullet haunts characters throughout the musical. An interaction with this individual means that character’s death will soon follow.
There are a few clear moments to spot the Bullet. One, the Bullet is the first to die in the musical, killed as a spy during King George III’s “You’ll Be Back.” After that, this role becomes intricately tied with the fate of those on stage, especially Hamilton. The Bullet is alongside John Laurens in “Yorktown,” killing a British soldier. Shortly after, we learn of Laurens’ death. In “Stay Alive,” the Bullet is a literal bullet — using two fingers to trace a shot that barely misses Hamilton. The same visual representation of a bullet resurfaces as the bullet from Burr’s gun, seemingly waiting for Hamilton to finish his final soliloquy before ending his life, during the musical’s penultimate song, “The World Was Wide Enough.”
“It’s really intense for me because I always know I’m aiming for him — even if the rest of the ensemble members don’t,” DeBose told The Great Discontent back in 2016. “So even if I’m just a lady in a ballgown at a party, there’s still a part of my character that knows that that moment is going to come.”
The creative team behind “Hamilton” specifically crafted every small detail of what you see on stage. Lighting designer Howell Binkley didn’t include any scene change blackouts during the show, aside from the one heading into intermission, as a way to keep the show’s forward momentum. The set, designed by David Korins, was crafted to symbolize a country still building itself. But as “Hamilton” readied its Broadway return after closing due to the pandemic, the creative team found itself rethinking one particular moment.
During Thomas Jefferson’s big Act 2 opening number, “What Did I Miss?,” Jefferson references a letter on his desk from the president and he asks, “Sally, be a lamb, darlin’ won’tcha open it?” The line refers to Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore Jefferson multiple children. The moment, enshrined forever in the film, played lightly as the ensemble member momentarily acting as Hemings danced over to Jefferson.
In a report last year, director Thomas Kail told The New York Times that the cast and creative team looked to revise this moment because of “the shameful distance between the liberty he wrote about, and the life he lived as a slaveholder.” To change the tone and meaning of the moment — the only moment where an enslaved person is named — the “Hamilton” team changed the blocking and choreography to have Hemings turn away from Jefferson, with her arms forming a cradle.
As calculated by FiveThirtyEight, the fastest tracks in “Hamilton” clock in just shy of 200 words per minute. To put that into perspective, were “Hamilton” to be sung at the pace of other Broadway shows — FiveThirtyEight used shows like “Spring Awakening,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Company” (which has its own blistering song in “Getting Married Today”) for comparison — “Hamilton” would take around four to six hours to complete.
The speed results in some tricky passages for performers. In “Guns and Ships,” Marquis de Lafayette has a segment that sees the actor spit out 19 words in 3 seconds. And Angelica Schuyler, in “Satisfied,” has a 24-second stretch in which she raps 121 words. In FiveThirtyEight’s calculations, the average word per second of these songs (6.3 and 5.0, respectively) is matched only by “Getting Married Today” — a 68-word-in-11-second stretch that has led to the song being known as one of the most difficult songs in all of musical theater.
If you still can’t get enough “Hamilton,” check out “The Hamilton Mixtape,” the 2016 album featuring an assortment of songs from “Hamilton” (and some that didn’t make the cut) sung by famous artists. The 23-track album has Usher singing “Wait For It,” Alicia Keys on “That Would Be Enough,” Regina Spektor and Ben Folds taking on “Dear Theodosia,” Ashanti and Ja Rule singing “Helpless” and John Legend singing “History Has Its Eyes On You” as only John Legend can. Plus, Common, Ingrid Michaelson, The Roots, Wiz Khalifa, Busta Rhymes, Kelly Clarkson, Nas, Chance the Rapper, Sia, Queen Latifah and so many more. It really is a testament to the impact “Hamilton” has made in pop culture.