The last time the legacy of Alexander Hamilton crossed my mind was during my IB History of the America class, when I was given the task of analyzing one of the many papers Hamilton authored and its lingering effects on the structure of our country. I am admittedly a sucker for hype and excitement, and yet the impact of the wildly popular musical dealing with something that was also a subject of intense history class study seemed to evade me since its debut in 2015.
I wasn’t avoiding it – it just never seemed to pique my interest enough for me to look into it further. My aforementioned, decidedly unsexy association of the Founding Father with the arduous IB exam season as a junior in high school certainly did not help either.
So, I went to Hamilton at the Kennedy Center last night totally blind. I was even unaware that the composition of the music was different than a traditional Broadway play, incorporating elements of hip-hop, pop and even brilliantly constructed rap battles into its score, until my (extremely excited) mother mentioned it to me right before the show began.
Whether it be to catch your favorite band live or take in the DC debut of an 11-time Tony Award-winning play, there is something remarkable, maybe even unforgettable about soaking up art that you’re excited about. And yet, there is something equally memorable about attending a performance with zero expectations and an open heart, as I did for this production.
And I was completely and utterly blown away. Every single member of the cast brought an exceptional level of talent to the show, and I have never seen actors so invested in their individual characters. I felt Hamilton’s (Austin Scott) hunger for power mature into a fiery desire to leave this new nation better than he found it in its fledgling years. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (Julia K. Harriman) grew from a lovestruck lady of wealth to the cornerstone of her family’s name, holding them up with strength and grace even in the absence of her beloved husband and son.
The serious tones of the production were perfectly offset by the humor of Thomas Jefferson (Bryson Bruce), especially when he appears onstage in Act II with “What’d I Miss,” complete with a sparkling grin and hilariously cheesy dance moves. And who can forget King George, who balances providing historical context with a large dose of comic relief perfectly?
I’d be hard-pressed to find an audience member who wasn’t brought to tears by “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” at the end of the show. The song served as a reminder that while on the surface the show may be about someone often considered a smaller player in the larger story of the founding of America, it’s truly so much more than that. It’s a story of ambition, love, loss and redemption – things all Americans face, in the 1700s and today, Founding Father or not.
Perhaps the best part of this particular production is something more unexpected, though. As parts of the story itself take place just a short drive from the Kennedy Center, there was a special kind of magic in seeing the play in our nation’s capital. Attendees have the privilege of being transported to the time when the tough conversations that led to the formation of America took place while sitting in the heart of what resulted in Hamilton and company’s efforts. Witnessing this unfold before your eyes through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s expertly crafted story at the Kennedy Center is an experience unlike any other.
For those familiar with the phenomenon of Hamilton, this particular cast and production will only add to the spectacular legacy the show has built for itself over the past several years. And for those like me going into the show with little to no knowledge of the show, prepare to carve out a little (let’s be real, a lot) of room in your heart for the play. It is certainly something that will stay with you forever – and erase any history exam-related memories you may have on the subject matter.
Hamilton runs now through Sunday, September 16. Go here for more information about the recently announced ticket lottery.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org