Friday, January 27, 2017

Not Throwin' Away My Shot... to See Hamilton!


I was raised on musical theater thanks to both of my parents. My first musical was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond at the Masonic Temple Theater in Detroit. It used to be the big thing we'd do during the Christmas break. We would dress up in our Christmas outfits, drive into Detroit, see a show, and then get Steak 'n' Shake on the way back home.

Thanks to my parents' generosity I have been able to see so many wonderful shows, including Wicked, Spamalot, The Producers, Jersey Boys, Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, and my personal favorite, Les Miserables. That musical featuring Jean Valjean changed my life - we were in the second row, stage right, and could see the spit coming out of their mouths as they enunciated every word. The rotating stage was truly a revelation.

So when Hamilton came around and took everybody's hearts, including my siblings', I was just biding my time. My sister and brother both told me to listen to the cast recording, even though I was kind of hoping I could see the musical first before getting into the recording.

But when you have a 2-day cross-country move on the docket for the summer of 2016, well, you buy the album and listen to it as you survive Nebraska.

And with that, Hamilton took hold of me.

I got as in-depth as anyone, including finding and enjoying as much fanart as possible. When The Hamilton Mixtape was released in December, I made sure to preorder and enjoy it as soon as I could.

In the back of my mind, though, I still really wanted to see the show as soon as possible. Broadway was pretty much impossible, but as soon as they announced the residence at The PrivateBank Theater in Chicago, I was constantly searching for cheap tickets.

My long-awaited purchase day arrived on December 30, when I looked at Ticketmaster and found single-seat tickets for a January show for only $300. (This was after my older brother had been looking for tickets for the tour that started in San Francisco and found them to be well over $500.)

If I wanted to score a lottery ticket, I would have to gamble, and I'm not much of a gambling girl. I bought the ticket for January 21 and the 2pm show and celebrated profusely.

Fast forward to the second full week of the year, and Lin-Manuel Miranda announces on Twitter that Wayne Brady (of Whose Line is It Anyway? fame) is joining the Chicago cast as Aaron Burr! I was excited to see what he would do, but a bit reserved, too. He's an older guy, and while I know he has the singing chops, could he really play Burr? I actually thought he might play a better Washington than Burr. Whatever - my parents were excited that I was going to see him. I wished he was playing anyone other than my favorite character in the show.

Eventually, the long-awaited day arrived. The whole day was amazing, but everything revolved around that 2pm show: my train tickets, my tour stops, my lunch, and my transportation. Everything had to work out so I would show up at The PrivateBank Theater right on time.

I actually passed the theater as I was heading to my lunch location, and it was cool seeing the window treatments promoting Hamilton's stay at the theater.

Since my day was even more exciting than I'd originally planned, my phone was rapidly running out of juice. That scared me, since my ticket was on the Ticketmaster app on my phone! Would they let me in if I just said, "Hey, my phone is dead, but my ticket's on there - I promise!"

I got to the theater an hour before curtain (even though Hamilton actually has no curtain) and nervously waited for the doors to open. It was a mix of the theater crowd - those who were dressed up in cute dresses and suit jackets and ties - and the more casual fans that I've noticed show up to theater productions even more lately. I kind of feel bad that suits and evening gowns are a thing of the past, but at the same time, it's showing that musical theater is meant for everyone!

I noticed that there was a box office for the theater off to the side, and figured that maybe they could help me with my ticket issue. There wasn't anyone at the WillCall window, so I approached and asked if there was anything he could do to help me out.

Fortunately, there was! He asked me where I had bought the ticket, and I said I had gotten it from Ticketmaster. The guy was very understandable about my situation and said because I'd purchased the ticket from Ticketmaster, he could actually print me out my ticket! (He also mentioned that if I'd purchased it from StubHub or a third party site he wouldn't have been able to do anything.) Score for me - not only would my problem be solved, I would have a souvenir to show off!

The PrivateBank Theater is the smallest theater I've ever been to for a Broadway-caliber show. It made me appreciate places like The Fisher Theater and The Masonic Temple Theater in Detroit with their grand lobbies and beautiful architecture. This Chicago theater didn't really have a lobby - just a small entrance that was crammed with people trying to buy the official Hamilton merchandise and also buy a drink. The bathrooms were downstairs, and there weren't many of them.

I waited for as long as I could to take my seat, till I pretty much couldn't take it anymore. I was in the second tier of seats called the Dress Circle, stage left, second row. And man, I was geeked when I discovered how close my seats were to the stage! The only thing that could have fixed it was if I'd been first row. (I had a pretty tall dude blocking a small section of the stage. Bummer.)

Anyway, the curtain went down, and there isn't an overture or anything. Immediately Aaron Burr comes out and says, "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman..." and everyone cheers. They cheered especially loudly for Wayne Brady as he came out to take on Burr.

And, of course, there was loud cheers for when Alexander Hamilton, played by Miguel Cervantes, comes out for the first time. They actually stop the music so people can cheer for as long as they want!

The first three songs were stellar - especially "My Shot." If that song doesn't hook you with its intense and quick lyrics, then you're at the wrong show, my friend.

Then "The Schuyler Sisters" came. During this song was my first real performance flub I'd ever seen. And it came from Brady! He is supposed to come down and woo Angelica Schuyler (played amazingly by Tony Award winner Karen Olivo), though she is less than impressed. Here are the lyrics he's supposed to say (thanks Genius.com!):

[BURR]
Wooh! There’s nothin’ like summer in the city
Someone in a rush next to someone lookin’ pretty

Excuse me, miss, I know it’s not funny
But your perfume smells like your daddy’s got money
Why you slummin’ in the city in your fancy heels
You searchin for an urchin who can give you ideals?


[ANGELICA]
Burr, you disgust me


[BURR]
Ah, so you’ve discussed me

I’m a trust fund, baby, you can trust me!

And here's what came out:

[BURR]
Wooh! There’s nothin’ like summer in the city
.
..

Yea... it was a rather awkward ten seconds. But then Olivo takes her verse and dominates again. I was embarrased for Brady, but whatever.

So we get a few more amazing songs like "Farmer Refuted" and the deliriously funny "You'll Be Back" which is sung by King George III (Alexander Gemignani, who chewed up scenery and spit it out along with all his consonants). And then Burr comes out to introduce George Washington, but...it's not Wayne Brady!

At first I was a bit confused. Who was this new character who had just appeared? But then I, and the rest of the audience, realized that Brady wasn't coming back. This was his understudy, Carl Clemons-Hopkins! The guy is just as big as Brady, too, but seemed to be more of a bass than a baritone, meaning he didn't try to reach for those high notes that Leslie Odom Jr. dominated in the cast recording.

Now, while I didn't get any news of Brady's subbing over the weekend, apparently the news got posted by Chicago sites late Sunday and into Monday, prompting Brady to make statements that he had pain in his leg that messed him up and he needed to get it treated, which is why he was out. He did do the Saturday evening show. (He's done other  musical theater - he'll be fine.)

While it was odd at the time, it's cool to think I saw something like that happen on a Broadway stage. (Fun fact: I got my first ever Playbill since I saw "Broadway in Chicago!")

Anyway, Clemons-Hopkins, while he didn't have the vocal range, did an amazing job anyway. It was amazing to see him sometimes come undone as Burr when Burr is getting angry at Hamilton's successes in "Wait For It" and "The Room Where It Happens" but then immediately and physically compose himself by song's end. That was very affecting, and something you don't see in the cast recording. By the end of the show, everyone was rooting for Clemons-Hopkins - you could tell. He was formally introduced during intermission and that got a big round of applause. And then in the closing bows, (only Eliza and Alexander get solo bows) there was a lot of back-slapping of Clemons-Hopkins by cast members as they bounded offstage.

My favorite part of the show was the choreography and acting! There is only one set for the whole show, but it's on two levels, plus TWO rotating circles in the middle of the stage! The way that the cast maneuvers around the set, sometimes upstairs just watching what's going on below, sometimes participating, sometimes coming down or up the stairs, walking on the rotating stage, is something to behold. That takes a lot of training and practice. That's why I made sure to get a seat in a balcony - I wanted to see all of that come together!

The choreography was straight out of So You Think You Can Dance, and was very not-50s-Broadway. The Ensemble wore one outfit but added on to take on different roles throughout the show, like a skirt or a coat or a hat. Meanwhile they're doing all this amazing dancing to make up for the stark set and props! (Who needs an actual bullet when you can have an Ensemble player who is appropriately called, "The Bullet"?)

There are points in the show where you are actually taken to previous parts of the show - once in "Satisfied" and once in "The Room Where It Happens." I noticed when watching it that the choreography done in these flashback scenes is the exact same choreography that we first saw. In "Satisfied," Angelica is taken back to the time when Eliza first met Alexander, and Eliza was busy singing "Helpless" at that time. And the choreography matches in both songs! The same thing happens when Burr is wondering what takes place in "The Room Where It Happens." Hamilton enters the room twice - once at the beginning of the song and once in the flashback - but he does it the exact same way so you can see it's now being shown with Burr's thoughts being sung. I loved that.

Another great example of choreography is during "Satisfied" and "Hurricane" when the Ensemble (and some props) revolve around the main singer. In "Satisfied" it's meant to be a rewind to five minutes earlier. In "Hurricane," it actually covers Hamilton's life, so you see Burr-from-the-beginning with his book, but you also see Maria Reynolds from later in the show, as well as Washington from the middle. It's done very craftily.

The whole show was amazing from start to finish, and I remember during the first song getting the biggest smile on my face and realizing "I am here! I am watching Hamilton!!!"

Another great part of my experience was after the show. While everyone else was trying to file out the back of the balcony, one of the ushers pointed out that there were stairs in front, as well. So I went down that way and ended up right next to the stage. So what did I do? I got a picture, of course! Then I turned around and looked up at the seats. What an incredible view.

I had plenty of time before my train, so as I left and noticed fans in the alleyway waiting for cast members to come out for autographs, I decided to stick around. I wasn't sure anyone would come out - after all, it was a matinee and there was still the evening show to do - but some of the other fans said sometimes they do come out.

To my delight, there were a few that came out, including Clemons-Hopkins! Even when he came out, the stage manager declared him the man of the hour. And we audience members responded with glee and excitement! Yours truly even got a picture with him!

My time with Hamilton was over for the day, but it was incredible. If you get the opportunity - whether in New York, Chicago, or on the tour, DO IT. See this show. Coming from someone who has lived her life in musical theater, it's something you won't want to miss.

Don't Wait For It.

1 comment:

  1. Great and revealing article, as usual. Glad you got some background information about what happened to Wayne Brady.

    ReplyDelete

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