Bill and I flew to Honolulu this past week to see a touring production of "Hamilton," the hip-hop musical, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. We were a bit late to the dance about seeing this show, but it certainly deserves all the raves it has received. As geezer "whiteys," the first thing we adjusted to is that the roles of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, et. al., are played by actors of color, primarily Black. This takes you back a bit if you know that these historic figures were decidedly Anglo/Caucasian. Then again, this casting comes to make sense, since a bunch of white folk jumping to hip-hop tunes would look and sound a bit goofy. Also, the casting and lyrics are designed to convey the potential that immigrants of all races bring to America.
Regrettably, the very large Blaisdell concert hall was only one-third full the night we attended, but that's understandable after such a long run in Honolulu. Although a million people live on Oahu, more than 40% are not of American descent and might not understand the lyrics or even care about U.S. history. Another large percentage of Oahu's residents are either too poor or disinterested to buy tickets. That dismays me, since the story is about a poor, fatherless immigrant who came to America and eventually became a military officer, statesman, and founding father who served as the first United States secretary of the treasury from 1789 to 1795.
TJ Was Not a Silly Boy
We had center orchestra seats, but I wish we were a bit nearer the stage so we could see the actors' expressions. Their voices were excellent and the acting top-notch, save for one fellow who camped his way through the role of Thomas Jefferson. I'm unsure why this actor portrayed Jefferson as a dandy, unworthy of our admiration. Perhaps that was because Jefferson was known for dressing a bit "fancy," and Alexander Hamilton reportedly disliked him. However, when it came to a crucial presidential election, Hamilton chose Jefferson over Aaron Burr, a courageous, yet pivotal decision.
Two other nit-picks were that the chorus dancers appeared a bit weary toward the show's end. And a stand-by in the role of Hamilton's wife, Eliza, could not be heard in her initial scene. However, once her microphone was amped, she had a lovely voice. Still, you could tell her lack of experience, in that her voice sounded too shrill or too loud during dramatic moments.
The pit orchestra did a "bang up" job, and I do mean BANG, with cannon explosions and the musical's relentless hip-hop beat. I admit that the driving rhythms became a bit numbing by the show's end. Were I some major New York script doctor, I might recommend that one or two more scenes be tempered from the all-wheel-driving beat.
The show culminated in a dramatic duel between Hamilton and Burr, and subsequent laments by Eliza on Hamilton's too-short time on this planet. The ending scene with Eliza was very moving. My husband was in tears, and I certainly choked up a bit too.
A Place Where Even Orphan Immigrants...
On the plane back to the Big Island, I sat by a lady who was originally from the Philippines. She is a well-traveled person who's lived in many parts of the United States. She told me that her three teens know the lyrics to Hamilton by heart. That shows me that Lin-Manuel Miranda's story about America as "a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up" has a positive effect on younger populations, as well as geezers like Bill and me. After all, our ancestors were immigrants too.
Read Up a Bit. You'll Enjoy the Show More
Prior to going, Bill and I read a synopsis of the show, thoughtfully provided to us by pals. This synopsis has links to the lyrics, so you can review them before the show. That was helpful to my pair of elder ears that are unaccustomed to translating hip-hop into intellectual concepts. Wikipedia also has good summaries about Hamilton, if the 2.64 pounds of the biography by Ron Chernow are a bit heady for you. My husband read the entire Hamilton book years ago. Shudder.
On the Pat-Oh-Meter, I'd rate this Honolulu touring production with four stars. I imagine the Broadway production would receive one more, should I be lucky enough to see it. I definitely would go see "Hamilton" again.
If you have not yet seen it, DO. You will be amazed and enlightened, especially if you do a bit of prep first. It's a fun show, very campy, but also a clever way to sell the concepts of democracy, freedom, and opportunity.