Denver, Colorado, USA
Performance: 24 March 2018
Article: 14 April 2018
“I'm just like my country, I'm young, scrappy and hungry and I'm not throwing away my shot.”
My Shot from Hamilton
Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
There's no denying Hamilton is a cultural milestone and a pop culture phenomenon. In 2016, it won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and it picked up the Pulitzer for Drama. The award parade continues as the show goes international, recently winning seven Olivier Awards in London.
Getting tickets for the show on Broadway requires either patience and flexibility in scheduling or a whole lotta Hamiltons (seats, at face value, run $229 to $749 each; the infamous "resale" market pushes prices north of $2,000 — and, yes, that is insane).
Getting tickets to the Denver touring production was nothing more than by luck for those who weren't subscribers to Denver Center's Broadway season. Subscribers got first dibs on the show, which itself wasn't part of the season package. Everybody else had to rely on Queue-It and good luck in getting a low, randomly-generated space in the online queue (which bloated out to something like 250,000 people, not including those calling the box office on the phone or standing physically on the line at the box office).
Others, like me, lucked out with a Queue-It glitch involving proxy servers and the failure to compensate for time zone changes. By that magical twist of fate, I had tickets at 9:10, even though tickets officially went on sale at 10:00 back on 22 January.
With three touring productions (each so tightly scheduled, adding extra dates to any given city's run is a pre-determined no-go) along with shows in London and the New York home base, Hamilton is a money-making machine.
That's all fine and good. The show's music has earned its accolades. Indeed, it's the music that makes the show. My Shot? Yeah. That's a great song.
And the subject matter — a biographical account of Alexander Hamilton — is given clever modern spins. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is cast as a sort of contemporary Prince (humorously missing out on the action while in Paris, as played out in the song What'd I Miss). And the King of England provides some comic relief in songs such as You'll Be Back and What Comes Next? as he views the events in America with extreme skepticism.
It's a significant slice of American history spiced up for today's audiences with modern sensibilities. And a slick, inspirational ending hook asks, "Will they tell your story?"
If it does anything to get audiences young and old back into a serious conversation about America and its place in history (and reigniting interest in history in general, for that matter), then I'm all for it.
But now comes the bit that might sound treasonous to some.
While I haven't had a shot at seeing the show on Broadway, I can say the show, at least on the road, has its problems.
I've grown accustomed to a certain kind of event experience. U2 shows — whether in arenas or stadiums — fill the venue with magisterial sound. Movies presented in IMAX enwrap audiences in surround sound that shakes the seats.
But attending Hamilton at the Buell was like taking a step back in time — and I'm not referring to the show's setting in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was my first show at the Buell in more than a year — almost two — and I had forgotten about its limitations.
The sound design and system were awful. And, by show's end, the at-capacity theatre was uncomfortably hot.
Production-wise, it was also like stepping back in time to 1987. The staging was exactly like a little show called Les Miserables, set in roughly the same historical time period (albeit in France rather than the emerging country now known as the United States of America). There are a surprising number of parallels with Les Mis. There's the aforementioned staging and historical timeline. And both shows are based on books. Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo's sweeping, massive novel, first published in 1862 (and which Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, noted would make a terrific musical). Hamilton's based on Ron Chernow's sweeping, massive biography of Alexander Hamilton, published in 2004. It had to take a keen eye to envision Chernow's detailed biography as a hip-hop musical.
It's a little ironic to consider a couple years ago a magnificently reimagined production of Les Miserables ditched the carousel altogether.
Okay. The theatre itself is now "antiquated" and the staging is strictly been-there, done-that.
Even so, Hamilton is all about the music. And the music still works its magic, even within the constraints of the theatre. It was good to revisit the Broadway recording on Spotify during the drive home and to catch the cleverness of the lyrics, a cleverness that didn't always manage to float out to the middle-orchestra seats.
But there's one more parting shot.
Back when Miss Saigon opened on Broadway in 1991, it was a huge controversy to cast Jonathan Pryce in the lead role of the Engineer — an Asian character. Now, nobody blinks at the thought of Hamilton, Madison and so many other historical (and Caucasian) figures played by other ethnicities.
The show intends to present America as it is today. I'm cool with that. But let's also make sure we're casting strictly for talent and not headlines. Hip-hop requires a certain talent. I get it. But, let's not swing the pendulum to correct previous wrongs at the expense of creating new ones.
I don't think AHam would stand for that.
The performance I saw in Denver got a rapturous standing ovation. People love it, either truly, madly, deeply (I know people who have confessed to being absolutely obsessed with the show) or by being swept away by the sheer force of the phenomenon.
For me, with Hamilton now in my rearview mirror, I'm looking forward to several years down the road. After Hamilton's Broadway reign has been usurped by the next next big thing. I'm looking forward to the time when regional theatres tackle the show. That's when the demands of limited resources will help reveal the show's true magic.
I've seen it happen over and over. Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Sunset Blvd., Sweeney Todd. Big shows with big, splashy debuts in the West End and on Broadway have managed to survive the times and get reinvented — just like Shakespeare's plays time and again — with different staging concepts and production values.
That's when the music will get its true time in the spotlight. And with sound systems that can fill the (typically smaller) venue space.
The ticket lottery is a ballyhooed way of trying to get tickets a day before each performance. The idea is people can enter a random drawing to secure either one or two tickets at undisclosed seat locations. The tickets cost only $10 each (a Hamilton, get it?). Coincidentally, in April 2016 Alexander Hamilton was spared removal from the $10 note — a long essay could be written on why his removal would've been a ludicrous move and in complete disregard to Hamilton's place in America's financial history.
Well, even though I did have two orchestra seats, I kept trying to get a cheaper pair via the lottery — and perhaps give the show a second shot. But no go.
Day after day — totaling something like 35 times — I received the daily negative affirmation that I didn't win. Maybe tomorrow. Piling it on, I also tried the lottery for a couple Broadway shows while I was in New York with an equal lack of success.
Now with Hamilton on to the next city, I kinda miss its daily thrill of defeat.