Forty five years ago, “1776,” a brilliant buoyant musical about our Founding Fathers opening to raves at the 46th Street Theater on Broadway. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1970. Last night, “Hamilton” a brilliant new musical about the founding fathers told in hip hop, rap and R&B, opened at the Richard Rodgers Theater. No one remembered that the Richard Rodgers used to be the 46th Street Theater. That’s synchronicity.
Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s musical about Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, et al is like the sequel to “1776.” But in recasting the revolutionaries with black and Hispanic actors, bringing in wildly melodic music and hypnotic rap, Miranda has turned “1776” on its head. Now white actors only play Brits and seem foolish. King George is turned into a kind of snarky Mel Brooks character. The revolution is a hoot.
Miranda based his show on Ron Chernow’s serious biography of Hamilton, and it took him five years to break the whole thing down into a musical. The characters are finely tuned and delineated, with many plots, facts, and figures of historical value punctuating the non stop entertainment. Don’t get me wrong– “Hamilton” is funny and fun, but it’s also smart and moving.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies. He was an immigrant, although the NY Post portrays him every day on their cover in a drawing that makes him look patrician. He was an outsider who wanted to be like Adams and Jefferson, yet fought against them. His friendship with Burr is itchy-scratchy. They are “fremenies.”
“Hamilton” already has $30 million in advance sales from its Public Theater run. Its reputation is so high that Miranda, appearing on stage as Hamilton the first time, got a wild cheering ovation for almost three minutes before the show began last night. In the audience were luminaries upon luminaries: the Public Theater’s Oscar Eustus, Samuel L. Jackson and actress wife LaTanya Richardson, Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann, Spike Lee and wife Tanya Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal, Salman Rushdie, Rosie O’Donnell, Tatum O’Neal, Jon Bon Jovi and wife Dorothea, Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlie Rose, Susan Sarandon, Judith Light, Dan Lauria, Lucy Liu, Sally Field, playwright John Patrick Shanley, Ana Gasteyer, producer Cameron MacKintosh, and Raven-Symone.
Following the performance, the entire audience headed downtown to Chelsea Piers for fireworks on the Hudson River (as good as Macys, same outfit), and a performance by The Roots. This was quite unlike anything we see for even the biggest Broadway show opening. Extraordinary.
But this is “Hamilton,” a show that can’t be overhyped. Everything about it screams genius. Tony, Pulitzer– it’s all coming. Why wait? Hand them all out now. Every single cast member is a rock star, from Manuel himself as Hamilton (and you realize he wrote the book, music and lyrics) to Leslie Odom Jr (whose showstopper in Act II last night was mesmerizing) to Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Christopher Jackson, Jonathan Groff, and the remarkable Daveed Diggs as Lafayette in act I and Jefferson in Act II.
The soundtrack album is being recorded this weekend for Atlantic Records by my old pal, Pete Ganbarg. We should hear it in a few short weeks. I can’t wait. I’m already humming “The Room Where it Happened” and “Helpless” among Miranda’s two dozen pop gems. Forget some of these other shows that are “hard to get into.” Put all your focus on seeing “Hamilton.” Now.