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Hamilton #MixedFeelings

Associate Editor Lauren Davidson saw “Hamilton” for the first time Wednesday at the Benedum Center. She had high expectations — could it live up to the hype?




Photos by Joan Marcus
 

The day after I experienced all that is “Hamilton” for the first time, I turned on Spotify and listened to the soundtrack on repeat. All day.

It’s safe to say I loved the show.

The performances Wednesday night at the Benedum Center were stunning, especially Austin Scott’s Hamilton (Edred Utomi has since taken over the role in Pittsburgh). The set was amazing. The entire musical was stunning to behold in a way I was not expecting, with one (almost unchanging) set and few costume changes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chorus play such an integral part in a show, not only as singers and dancers but through the way the actors created a visual effect on the spinning turntable at center stage throughout so many of the songs.

But I did not leave the show feeling as though I had experienced the Best Thing Ever. It did not break the list of my top five musicals of all time.* (What, you don’t have a list?)

Perhaps some of it was hype — could anything live up to the phenomenon that is “Hamilton”? But I know plenty of people who saw it for the first time this week and said it did, indeed, wow them.

Was it the anachronisms? (All I remember from the Leonardo DiCaprio “Romeo and Juliet” movie was being mystified as to why members of the two houses were wearing modern clothing and fighting at a gas station as they spoke in iambic pentameter.) That wasn’t it either. I didn’t mind an update in the language when the set and costumes were clearly turn of the (18th) century. The way this played out in “Hamilton” worked from beginning to end.
 


 

I think it’s because I left feeling I had seen something great, but I hadn’t seen a great musical. I wanted some dialogue between the back-to-back songs; without any, I felt as though I were missing pieces of the story, pieces of the characters. Given that format, I wanted the songs to feel like they were separate songs without almost running into one another; instead, we were given bits and pieces of reprises throughout the score (the repetition of “My Shot,” “Satisfied” and “That Would Be Enough” chilled me at first but left me feeling bored later). I would have enjoyed a grand reprisal of the title song at the end, instead of being left quietly (although I appreciated that Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, got some well-deserved recognition and time to acknowledge her own many accomplishments; Hannah Cruz’s performance was excellent).

It’s called “Hamilton: An American Musical,” and I wanted it to feel like a musical.

But having sat on that for a few days, I realized something. It’s not called: “Hamilton: The Musical.” It’s called: “Hamilton: An American Musical.” It’s meant to reflect today’s America. The story of a founding father has been updated in terms of gender and race, and inclusivity has been a part of its story from the time it premiered, both on stage and through numerous outreach efforts by its cast and creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

If this is the way musicals are headed — and that’s likely given that “Hamilton” has been a critical and commercial success — I’m on board. I don’t know if I’d pay hundreds of dollars to see it again, but I’m glad to have experienced it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to seek out the “Hamilton Mixtape” and “Hamildrops” so I have something else to listen to once I’ve run through the soundtrack a few dozen times.
 

*Here they are, in order:

“42nd Street”
The ultimate musical about a musical, it was the first show to introduce me to this magical world of show business. I saw it when I was young; when I came home singing and dancing, my mother said I had “caught the Broadway Bug.”

“State Fair”
I first saw the 1945 screen version featuring the great actors Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews. It’s a perfectly simple, happy story with a perfectly simple, happy Rodgers & Hammerstein score, and I adored it on stage as well.

“White Christmas”
This was another I first saw on the big screen (it’s Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney singing Irving Berlin, what more is there to say?) but I loved it just as much when I saw it on stage. And it’s OK if you cry when fake snow falls over the audience during the final number, right? Asking for a friend.

“Guys & Dolls”
Again, my love for the screen version came first: You’re going to put Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra together in a sappy Frank Loesser musical? I’m in. I love every stage version I’ve seen since, including the 2009 Broadway revival; the dice game absolutely holds up with no real dice.

“Hair”
You weren’t expecting that one after my first four, were you? This show did for me what “Hamilton” has done for many people: it left me feeling transformed. I knew very little going into “Hair” when I saw the Broadway revival in 2009, but it entertained me, thrilled me and, most of all, inspired me in a way no other show ever has.

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