Tag Archives: Hamilton

Dolly staircase

Secretary Hamilton, Have You Met Mrs. Dolly Levi?

Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes
Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes

I hit the Broadway ticket jackpot recently — well, two of my friends did and I was lucky enough to reap the benefits. In one week’s time, I got to see two of the hottest shows on Broadway in 2017: Hamilton, still one of the most in-demand tickets as it approaches two years on Broadway, and the revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, which broke all first-day Broadway ticket sales records last September. Hamilton and Hello, Dolly!–complete opposites of the musical theatre spectrum, one would think. A month or two back, I wouldn’t have thought that I would find correlations in such different shows and relevance in our current political climate, nor would I see how much we need both of them today in the growth and influence of musical theatre itself.

A friend texted me a few weeks back to see if I was busy one evening, telling me he won a ticket lottery for Hamilton. I thought he was kidding. I bailed out on a board meeting that night (though my co-members were all for it — come on, Hamilton!) so I could go. Our seats were in the front row, all the way down to the right. I could hear the actors singing both live and through the monitors; I was almost hit with flying beads of sweat several times, I was that close. Now I am not a Hamilton obsessive. I’ve listened a few times to the Original Cast Recording, watched some YouTube clips, and I have looked through quite a bit of the big HamilTome (look it up). But I haven’t actively memorized any of it. But it didn’t change the fact that that night, I was excited — the spontaneity of getting to go; the proximity to the virtually bare stage; the ground-breaking elements of this musical presenting American history; and finally being in the room, yes, the room where it happened.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

And the show didn’t disappoint. Even though there were at least three understudies on for major roles, and I don’t know how many were even left from the original cast, it didn’t matter. The cast was uniformly excellent, powerhouse performers communicating in fast rap, jazz riffs, and hip hop-infused choreography. The audience members were on the edges of their seats, resisting the urge to snap their fingers along with the opening number, but roused to thunderous applause time and time again as the biting lyrics coincidentally hit points reflected in today’s news, delivered with precision by the cast. The clean simple lines of the off-white knickers and corsets/vests that the ensemble members wore, the bare brick walls and wooden staircases and platform, and the way in which the central turntable kept the scenes transitioning seamlessly let the sung-through music and lyrics tell the story with minimal distraction. The show was an ensemble piece for the most part telling the story of Hamilton AND Burr, often with all actors on stage, many in multiple roles, weaving this story of the founders of our nation. It was a period piece in a most modern fashion.

For Hello, Dolly! a week later, the story was a little different. A friend went (at 4:00 AM) to queue up for standing room tickets for the Wednesday matinee. And she managed to get a pair for us. This time we were in the far back left of the orchestra–most theaters actually have numbered tags along the back wall where you can lean–almost the exact opposite of where I had been seated for Hamilton. A grand red drape with the simple show logo hung across the proscenium arch. Now I’ve listened to both the Broadway and film recordings of the show and have seen Dolly several times since childhood. It’s one of my favorites, and I know pretty much every word. As the more than 50-year-old overture started to play, I could see heads swaying in front of me as familiar strains washed over the excited crowd. Finally the grand drape opened on colorful, vaudevillian backdrops with sets dressed in the cheerful clutter of a hay and feed store or the purples and pinks of a ladies hat shop. Singers and dancers whirled across the stage in bright suits and dresses, or literally galloped around a staircase as actors farcically popped in and out from behind curtained restaurant booths. Subtle and modern, it was not. But it was glorious, and in the center of it all was a mega-watt force of Bette Midler, a leading lady of the highest caliber in a show designed for a star. Standing in the back, I was hard-pressed not to sway and dance myself bouncing on my heels during my favorite number, the brightly hued “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and regretting a little that I was already standing as the audience leapt to their feet in a mid-show standing ovation after the title number. It was magical.

Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But here’s what I realized in the audience that day. We need both the Hamiltons and the Dollys in this world. We need the gems like Hello, Dolly! that stand up through the wear and tear of decades and shine that much brighter when brought into the light and are given glittering new productions, and we need the spare and edgy, forward-thinking modern musicals like Hamilton, because without one, the other cannot exist. Listen to Hamilton and you hear allusions not just to rap artists, but to Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics from South Pacific. And it’s not just a matter of building upon what came before, it’s letting the air come back into the older shows and hearing the script and lyrics in the context of today, while celebrating the traditional structure and staging of a Golden Age show. Besides the title tune and Bette Midler’s initial entrance, the most vocal audience response at Hello, Dolly! was to the line, “Money… pardon the expression… is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!” Cheers, applause, and woots! The reaction was as visceral as if it had been one of the pointed cabinet rap battles in Hamilton, with its witty revolutionary barbs that reflect in today’s politics.

Do I have a type of show I prefer? Sure, I’m a classic Broadway girl all the way, but there is a direct line from classics like Hello, Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof to the mega musicals of the 80s like Miss Saigon or Les Miz to Hamilton or the current Broadway darling, Dear Evan Hansen. I think the big question is where will that line next loop around and where will it lead next? And how will today’s theatre students and future actors, composers/lyricists, and directors look to the past worlds of Jerry Herman, Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Cole Porter to become the next Pasek & Paul or Lin-Manuel Miranda? There’s room, and the need, for all of them. We don’t have to choose–and we shouldn’t.

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Hey, Broadway, Time for a Camelot Revival!

All who appreciate good theatre have been given a once-in-a-lifetime gift in the past 18 months, and that gift is Hamilton. In case you live under a rock, yet somehow are reading the StageAgent blog, Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton, a man who was never President of the United States but was just as influential as any in the birth of our nation. Hamilton created our financial systems, the Coast Guard, The New York Post, and was named the first Secretary of Treasury in the United States. Oh yeah, and about 240 years later, some guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a hip-hop musical about him. And it won all the awards. We’ve made up awards to keep giving to this show, just to show how grateful we are. In the time it took me to write the last sentence, it picked up two more.

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I kid, but seriously, the hype is real. A true but mostly-untold story, Mr. Miranda (along with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler; director Thomas Kail; musical director Alex Lacamoire; and author of the book, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow), wrapped a semi-biography in the language of this generation—in rap and hip-hop. And Miranda had the vision to tell the story with actors who traditionally would never cross lines of race or gender, so that it can speak to a contemporary teenager who may feel completely disconnected from the founding fathers. And it works beautifully. The bar for excellence has been raised sky-high in the way that great artists have always done.

Hamilton shows its protagonists not as we idealize them to be, but as what they are: people. Fallible people, honest people, hard-working people, desperate people, hungry people. A group of men and women trying to do something nearly impossible—birth a new nation in a new land, with new rules of governance, without a motherland to support them. The country was founded in blood, sweat, slavery. For better or worse, the freedoms we enjoy today are built on this foundation. We shouldn’t look at the Founders as superheroes in powdered wigs, but as humans, sometimes deeply flawed, sometimes incredibly inspiring. Hamilton gives us this opportunity.

Uh…I thought this was supposed to be about Camelot…

I’m getting there. Camelot arrived on Broadway (the first time) in 1960, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. Written by Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe and Moss Hart, Camelot is the story of Arthur, and his journey from foolish teenager to King. (I don’t really have to give you the plot of Camelot, do I? Moving on.)

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Camelot is a story of inspiration, of reaching for the stars. It is widely known that President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of the show, and would often listen to the cast album before he went to bed at night in the White House. He was particularly fond of the closing lyrics:

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.

The Kennedy Administration was often referred to as the “Camelot Era.” Idealistic, hopeful, ever-striving for the next goal. When America truly entered the “Space Race,” it was Kennedy who said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others too.”

President Kennedy delivering the his famous “Moonshot Speech.”
President Kennedy delivering the his famous “Moonshot Speech.”

King Arthur was idealistic too. Perhaps a bit naïve, but hopeful. In his powerful speech closing Act One, Arthur says:

“This is the time of King Arthur, and we reach for the stars! This is the time of King Arthur, and violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness. We are civilized.”

Sound familiar?

Camelot, of course, is about some other things that aren’t so inspiring. And it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. Arthur fails his mission to keep the peace in the kingdom, war has come to his doorstep—war caused by an adulterous affair between his Queen and Lancelot, spurred on by Arthur’s bastard son (he was no saint, I suppose). But even as the battle is upon him, Arthur turns to a young boy who has come to join the fight, and instead sends him to hide, to live, and to tell the story that for one moment, however brief, there was a glorious kingdom known as Camelot.

Back here in our universe, it’s been an interesting month or so, to say the least. And many of us find ourselves in an uncertain world. It’s a good time to be reminded that it’s always the right time to do the right thing. Arthur didn’t want to sit at the head of a table, he wanted it round, so that all were equal even though he was King. He wanted a world governed by reason, about what was right, not who was mighty. He had a partner in Guenevere, not a subordinate, but an equal.

Throughout history, art has reflected the time in which it was created, whether it serves as a mirror for the present, a reminder of days long gone, or a glimpse into the future. Those who appreciate art often look to it for guidance, or inspiration. Hamilton gives a gritty edge to what has often been a whitewashed history lesson. Camelot presents a magical, idealistic take on the rules of governance. If ever there was a time to have both shows running on Broadway, I think now is that time.

Besides, who doesn’t want to hear Audra McDonald sing Guenevere?

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Instagramming photos of the Hamilton program is now a form of social currency.

Hamilton Hype: Why We Are Obsessed

Standing on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, after a quiet Sunday matinee of Hamilton, I looked out into the gilded, empty house, and thought, “What would Hamilton think of ALL THIS?  As a self-proclaimed history lover (my friends and I picked presidential boyfriends in the 10th grade, because we were that serious about American history,) I wondered how this influential, almost-forgotten founding father would feel about his city today, and his long-awaited legacy turned fame.

On a week-long pilgrimage to Manhattan to catch up with friends and theatre, Hamilton was as prevalent in real life conversation as it is on my daily Facebook feed—people snapchatting themselves lip-synching to the soundtrack, others drinking Hamilton-branded wine, or posting choirs covering “My Shot.”  The obsession is real, and it’s spreading like bubonic plague.

As an industry professional who has chosen a life in non-profit theatre because I don’t believe we’re all in this game to meet the bottom line, I can’t quite wrap my head around the the fact that people are now wearing snap brim hats that read A.HAM  not ironically.  My first night in town I waited at the stage door to ride the train home with a friend in the cast.  I thought to myself, “Why is there a fifty year old man standing in a planter box waiting for a glimpse of these people he doesn’t even know?  Why are people screaming SO loudly? WHY CAN’T I JUST WALK ON THE SIDEWALK!?”  I’d never seen a stage door so reminiscent of a Hollywood red carpet.  And they’re all here to watch a play.  I’m dumbfounded.

Instagramming photos of the HAMILTON program is now a form of social currency.

 

If you didn’t catch Hamilton when it was downtown, or you don’t have a connection or several hundred dollars, you probably won’t see this “game changing” piece of theater for another year or two — capitalism and social hierarchy rule Broadway.  Consider the $1000 A. Ham paid to keep his affair a secret — that’s about half of what an actor will make for an entire Off-Broadway run at a theatre just a few streets over from the Richard Rogers.  It’s our industry’s manifestation of the capitalist economic structure that Alexander Hamilton built!

The wild success of Hamilton has left most producers too scared to move their shows to Broadway until after Hamilton sweeps the Tony’s.  While Lin-Manuel Miranda and his cast are in the midst of taking “Their Shot,  plenty of Broadway bound shows, actors, stage managers and designers are in limbo: waiting for work, waiting for their show’s shot at success in the commercial sector.  “Every action has its equal opposite reaction, and this Hamilton fever hits home for a lot of us—and most of us can’t even see the cultural phenomena that’s changing our industry!

A musical for a new generation of School House Rock fans, the show touches on major plot points in American History in a magically lyrical poeticism Alexander would appreciate.  The mashups of beat boxing, R&B melodies, and traditional Broadway underscoring, elegantly mirror Hamilton’s own poetry, and beliefs.  Hamilton introduces us to a hopefully romantic man who wrote eloquent verse about hurricanes, but spoke his mind, no matter the consequences to his career.  Luckily for Miranda, this is one of the best plots a writer can ask for:  an immigrant orphan with a fierce drive to succeed  moves up in the ranks, builds a country almost overnight and then to ruins himself with infidelity and die in a duel to a rival of fifteen years.  In love with two different women who happen to be sisters? Even better.  And thanks to this new hip (hop) version of history told in a contemporary American voice by people that look like all of us, maybe some of the high schoolers flying from all over the country for a three hour musical history lesson will go home an look up the Federalist Papers, and have a better understanding democracy.

A few days before watching the show, I took my friend to the Trinity Church graveyard to see Hamilton’s grave. He and his family are buried across the street from a discount shoe store, just five miles from his hit musical biography — capitalism at its finest.  My friend looked at the monument and said “Wow, I had no idea he was so young.”  And I scoffed, “Yeah, he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.”  And in that moment, I realized Hamilton wasn’t written for me — I wanted more Revolutionary War grit and gore than the Broadway glitz and glam of backup dancers in tight pants and endless color scrollers. Hamilton was written to inspire new generations of history lovers and theater goers (two things I can get behind).  Not only is it a tribute to the man, (and more importantly his wife who spent fifty tireless years preserving her late husband’s memory and repairing his reputation, only to die before his biography was published) – it’s a love letter to New York and to the birth of our country.

 

Alexander Hamilton’s view of the Shoe Outlet.

Eventually, the show will tour, but the sentiment “How lucky we are to be alive right now, in the greatest city in the world, won’t be quite as potent outside of Manhattan.  Because in those moments of the show you realize you’re not the first person who’s hoped that “in New York you can be a new man, and when the city inevitably devours you, you know you weren’t the first, and won’t be the last.  We all want to be “in the room where IT happens, because –

like Alexander Hamilton – we were born with the American Dream we will work harder, do better, achieve more, and (fingers crossed) be remembered.  That is part of the phenomenon —everyone wants the underdog to win, and most of us identify with A. Ham on some level, and we just want to change the world.

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Trick-or-Treat on Broadway!

Pratfalls and Other Serious Business 
with Megan Loughran
Many people don’t know that New York City’s Broadway theatres participate in a long-standing tradition of stage door trick-or-treating.
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Come October 31st, anyone can don a Halloween costume and knock on any Broadway stage door, at which point the trick-or-treater will be given a fun-size candy and a quick audition. Here’s what to expect this year:
The treat: Green apple licorice
What to prepare: “Your best 16 bars, with a contrasting selection — if asked.”
The treat: Marshmallow ghosts
To prepare: “Seeking replacements for ensemble singers with ballet skills. Self-choreograph a 30-second ghost dance. Please make sure we can see your feet, even though this is not traditional for ghosts.”
The treat: Edible red sequins
To prepare: “16 bars of ‘Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun’ or another Cindy Lauper song with a Halloween pun wedged in.”
**Not participating, British people do not have Halloween.**
The treat: Paydays
Looking to see: “16 bars of ‘The Circle of Life’ as sung to a small pumpkin you have carved into Simba.”
The treat: Tony-award shaped popcorn balls
To prepare: “A self-written monologue of 60 seconds or less about the unusual experience of growing up in a funeral home and/or being in a show with so many women on the creative team.”
The treat: Bars of actual gold
To prepare: “Please sing the entire score from start to finish, for we know you can.”
Please note: none of this is real. (I was told I had to add this to prevent people from bringing Simba pumpkins to the Minskoff, or thinking they could digest sequins.)

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