So first general reactions and then I dump out everything I can remember about the staging and so forth, behind a cut to spare your reading lists and also in case you would rather discover that in person someday.
Here's the cast list for today's matinee:
Alexander Hamilton: Javier Muñoz (alternate, will be taking over part next week)
Eliza Hamilton: Phillipa Soo
Aaron Burr: Leslie Odom, Jr.
Angelica Schuyler: Renée Elise Goldsberry
George Washington: Christopher Jackson
Marquis de Lafayette / Thomas Jefferson: Seth Stewart (understudy)
Hercules Mulligan / James Madison: Andrew Chappelle (understudy)
John Laurens / Philip Hamilton: Anthony Ramos
Peggy Schuyler / Maria Reynolds: Jasmine Cephas Jones
King George: Rory O'Malley (most recent person in the role)
Philip Schuyler / James Reynolds / Doctor: Gregory Haney
Samuel Seabury: Thayne Jasperson
Charles Lee: Neil Haskell
George Eacker: Daniel J. Watts
Ensemble: Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Gregory Haney, Neil Haskell, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Elizabeth Judd, Morgan Marcell, Austin Smith, Voltaire Wade-Greene, Daniel J. Watts
I knew that Alexander and Lafayette/Jefferson would not be the main cast, but I didn't know about Mulligan/Madison, which bummed me out a bit because Okieriete Onaodowan is one of my favorites. However, I was excited to see how other people approached the roles.
The theater seems pretty small and intimate, though admittedly it's been ages since I saw a Broadway show so my comparison may not be accurate. I had a perfect-for-me seat, orchestra row F basically center [**] — any closer and I would have had such a headache from craning my neck. (Well, it would have come on sooner, anyway.) The orchestra is underneath the stage, which I couldn't figure out at first, but toward the end, possibly during "Yorktown," I saw a bit of the conductor's hair poking up through the slot in the stage. (Here are two pictures, one of the Act I stage and one of the Act II stage (with the stairs in the center); I'm so sad I missed seeing them add the higher wall. The rectangular opening for the conductor is visible in the Act II photo.)
The start of the show was a little disorienting, or possibly it was only because I was so discombobulated: go in, run to bathroom, sit down, look around and attempt to post pic to Twitter (the cell networks were clearly overloaded by everyone else doing similar things, because it took about twenty minutes to post). Then a recorded King George is coming over the sound system to tell us to turn off our phones, another moment of darkness, and then right into it.
The performances. I'm not sure if Odom Jr.'s speaking/rapping voice was somewhat strained or if he was just doing something different; his singing sounded terrific to me. And his intensity is stunning, y'all; I swear I saw his hands trembling with rage during "The Room Where It Happens." The two understudies didn't quite pop for me during Act I; I'm not sure if that was just me acclimating (though I am pretty sure Stewart's French accent was very variably present), because they were great in Act II. (And very similar to the cast recording, to my ear, though admittedly I deliberately have not been listening to it recently; I wonder if the goal of the understudy is to mimic and if that is a little weird, or if a sung-through musical is going to enforce a lot of similarity by its nature. Obviously I know nothing about acting or musical theater.) Muñoz (as you know Bob) basically co-created the role with Miranda, is obviously very at home in it, and has a slightly more conventional, I guess, voice? And everyone else was amazing; I started listing actors and songs and then deleted it because I was just listing everyone and everything.
(Another I-know-nothing thing: many of the actors, at least, had mics (I don't know if the women had mics in their dresses or hair; I don't remember seeing any mics along their cheeks, as opposed to the men), but everyone still seemed to be projecting for the back and the effort that took was visible, which was a little surprising to me—not the effort but that they would still go for that volume with the mics.)
The staging. I so wish I had a holographic memory and could replay the show in my head and look at everything at leisure, because there was a lot going on most of the time and it was so interesting. Not just the choreography--though that was very impressive, especially with the double turntables in the stage. In a play we did senior year of high school, I gave an entire speech in the dark because I missed my mark, okay? (Emilia's at the end of Act 4, Scene 3.) I would straight-up kill myself trying to navigate those turntables. But there was also the use of both levels of the stage, people interacting and reacting in the background, the lighting and the props, everything. There were also a few transitions that aren't in the recording that I think really add to the show.
Even without added transitions, though, it was interesting the way a lot of the emotional logic of transitions between songs seemed to jump out at me much better on stage. It might be because, even though the cast recording is mostly pretty seamless, it's still tempting for me to think of it chopped up into songs? I'm not sure. But it felt more like a single whole thing.
Possibly related to that: it also felt like a lot, very fast. I think this may be because I'm conditioned by Disney movies to think of songs as intermittent things, big setpieces that take up a lot of emotional room; but Hamilton is like 99% songs, and so even though it has changes of pace and smaller moments, I still react as "song = intense moment." I dunno.
I think that's it for general reactions. Seeing it definitely added to my understanding and appreciation, and it was really impressive, but if that's not in the cards for you, it wasn't massively transformative of the cast recording, so don't be too upset?
Okay. I spent the first two hours of my drive in silence, because I felt sort of overflowing and wanted to let things settle. The next two I listened to the cast recording (only through "I Know Him"), remembering little bits. And now for the song-by-song rundown.
- "Alexander Hamilton": you saw this at the Grammys, but today instead of Laurens sending Alexander off to New York with just a hand-clasp and eye-fucking, Laurens gave him a shoulder bag. (I need an analysis of who gives Alexander coats etc. throughout the play; some of it is logistics but not all of it.)
- "Aaron Burr, Sir": Burr is holding an open book when Alexander approaches. A little less pointed on "I'm not stupid."
- "My Shot": I thought there was a video of this online somewhere in the staged version, but it's not coming up on a quick search. When Burr comes into the song, he hands out shots of booze to the other four. Also, I could've sworn the cast recording was "You want Britain to keep shitting on on us endlessly," but apparently it's "Meanwhile, Britain keeps," which I heard more clearly today. And when Laurens starts the "rise up" bit, he mimes convincing an ensemble member.
- "The Story of Tonight": after "My Shot" crashes to an end, the lights (I think) come back up on the four singing a bit of the whoa-whoa refrain as a transition.
- "The Schuyler Sisters": oh my gosh Peggy is so cute here in her reluctance.
- "Farmer Refuted": Alexander is heading up to Farmer when Burr says "let him be," and then Lafayette, especially, eggs him on. By the end they are fighting for space on the literal soapbox.
- "You'll Be Back": everyone leaves and King George sings most of this standing stock-still (and pulling a hilarious face after "why so sad?"). He does a very little bit of dancing toward the end.
- "Right Hand Man": non-verbal transition: there's one ensemble member left on stage (I think when King George is still on); for some reason I formed the impression that she was a spy. At any rate, a redcoat kills her, which does a lot to move the tone between the two songs. Washington holds a quill out to Alexander as he waits for his answer; later, when Alexander comes back, he hands Alexander a sword; and he holds out a quill again during "One Last Time." And watching Burr have to walk out really drives that rejection home in a way that the implicit exit on the cast recording doesn't.
- "A Winter's Ball": Alexander actually meets Angelica and kisses her hand during Burr's verse referencing the sisters.
- "Helpless": no growly bit at the end of Alexander's part. Washington gives Alexander the wedding ring (and dances with Angelica earlier in the song).
- "Satisfied": I haven't been mentioning much about the choreography because I lack vocabulary, but the rewind/parallel movement here is mind-blowing.
- "The Story of Tonight (Reprise)": it's nice to see the warmth on Alexander's face, because honestly to me their friendship, or Alexander's feelings of friendship toward Burr at least, don't really come across that clearly on the cast recording.
- "Wait for It": this also starts out with Burr very still and alone, if I'm not mistaken. Ends on blackout?
- "Stay Alive": During the Battle of Monmouth, Washington is on the second story and Lee is on the first; Lee retreats upstairs to deliver his condemnation of Washington.
- "Ten Duel Commandments": you've seen this one, too (it's really remarkably close given that the ground wasn't turning).
- "Meet Me Inside": after Alexander blurts "Call me son one more time," he kind of shrinks and puts his hands together in supplication. Washington gets in his space when ordering him home.
- "That Would Be Enough": nice subtle job on the pregnancy belly. Staged just the two of them on a stone-looking bench.
- "Guns and Ships": attempts slight misdirection on the "immigrant you know and love" by having a bunch of people around Lafayette, who's bent over a desk; Stewart is bald so this probably works a little better when it's two people with dark hair in those roles.
- "History Has Its Eyes on You": (the division between these two songs is really pretty arbitrary, isn't it?) There's the sword.
- "Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)": you've seen this, too.
- "What Comes Next?": King George wanders on while they're still clearing the stage from the last song and has to dodge people. On "I'm so blue," he stomps his foot and the lighting changes.
- "Dear Theodosia": sung sitting in two chairs facing directly into the audience; Hamilton brings his chair out partway into Burr's first verse. Burr crosses himself when he comes back into the song.
- "Tomorrow There'll Be More of Us": you've read this one. Transitions directly out of the chairs of last song; Burr may still be on stage when it starts.
- "Non-Stop": pretty sure Burr gives Alexander his fancy lawyer coat to start this. Angelica's verse is delivered with her on Alexander's arm as he walks her to the ship and they look longingly at each other. Washington asks Alexander to join his administration from the second story, with Eliza on the other side; she rushes downstairs after he agrees.
- "What'd I Miss": The staircase is moved to the center to start the second act, and Burr goes backwards up it during his verse; Odom nearly tripped near the top, but caught himself. When Alexander introduces himself, he shoves in front of Washington, who is holding out his hand, and is given a "WTF?" look by Jefferson.
- "Cabinet Battle #1": hand-held mics come out; an ensemble member has them in a wooden box and presents them to the debaters. I think this is the one where Jefferson drops the mic (into Madison's hand).
- "Take a Break": no, really, you were being offered an emotional threesome, Alex. Also, Philip is just as cute as you think.
- "Say No to This": the ensemble as Greek chorus is really apparent here.
- "The Room Where It Happens": during the dinner Alexander is frantically pouring wine for Jefferson & Madison, before they agree and toast.
- "Schuyler Defeated": Philip and Eliza are on the second story; Burr and Alexander on the first.
- "Cabinet Battle #2": Burr being with Alexander in the last song gives him a reason, sort of, to be at this Cabinet Battle, even though he's a Senator . . .
- "Washington On Your Side": . . . which is why he gets to stare off-stage and wist about how it would be nice to have Washington etc. And then Jefferson comes in and stares in the same direction. The staging on this shows how Burr is kind of an interloper / late addition to the Jefferson + Madison dynamic.
- "One Last Time": the quill, again. The overlapping verse doesn't really work for me on the cast recording; it works a little better live as they aren't mixed equally loud.
- "I Know Him": Washington walks off as King George walks on. The ensemble member who whispers the news about Adams mugs hilariously and then wipes it off her face when George disapproves. At the end of the song she brings out a stool and he makes her reposition it right behind him so he can stay and watch for a bit.
- "The Adams Administration": Alexander drops his published response from the second story.
- "We Know": I don't actually think I have anything to say about this?
- "Hurricane": the lighting on this is particularly striking.
- "The Reynolds Pamphlet": I don't think any pamphlets made it into the audience, despite King George and Jefferson strewing them everywhere.
- "Burn": it looks like actual fire when she puts the letter into the lantern and then drops it burning into the bucket; the flames then flare up briefly but it goes out very quickly; I imagine the inside of the bucket is treated to cause that for safety reasons. Also Phillipa Soo delivers most of the last verse on her knees and still kills it.
- "Blow Us All Away": Eacker's up on the second story.
- "Stay Alive (reprise)": be glad the cast recording omits Eliza's scream at the end. (It's a little bit of a cheat to have them in black when they first arrive.)
- "It's Quiet Uptown": I was too busy wiping my face to applaud properly.
- "The Election of 1800": Odom Jr.'s face while campaigning is a wonder. It really looks like it could freeze like that. Hamilton announces his endorsement from the second story, with Burr and Jefferson at opposite corners of the stage at the front.
- "Your Obedient Servant": ensemble members waft the letters back and forth; Hamilton's itemized list of thirty years of disagreements gets handed over sheet by sheet by sheet.
- "Best of Wives and Best of Women": I got nothing.
- "The World Was Wide Enough": Philip appears on the "same spot my son died" line. During Hamilton's monologue, I believe I remember seeing compressed visual references to "My Shot" and maybe some other things I can't remember what else now; I don't remember where Laurens is, upstairs or down; his mother is probably down because she's always signified by two ensemble members holding her up stiffly on her side; Washington may come shake his hand? Eliza definitely comes out and they spin around each other. This part doesn't quite work for me on the recording, and also works better live, though I still don't love it.
- "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story": I really regret that in the cast recording, it's hard to hear that it goes from "your story" to "Will they tell our story?" to "Will they tell my story?" At least because I was close I could see the difference. Also, full-out wibbly-mouth sobbing.
[*] I had to be in New Haven for work yesterday, but there weren't any government rate hotels in New Haven proper and also I had this ticket today, so I stayed a bit north of New Haven on a convenient highway. Drove to the Yonkers MTA station this morning (about two hours), missing my planned train and having to go back to the parking garage to get, you know, my actual ticket for the show; went to the matinee; MTA back to Yonkers, drove back to the hotel to get the suitcase I'd left and then drove another two hours to Quincy, where I am at Readercon.
[**] Chad's parents gave me money for a ticket for Christmas, and so Christmas morning I was in the basement of their house on Chad's computer trying to book a ticket. I found one in the mezzanine for not too much more than what I'd been given, and went to buy it . . . to find that it was a reseller ticket, and resellers will only resell in pairs. Swearing, hair-tearing, more clicking through every damn date on the calendar ensued, and then I found a single ticket direct from the theater, for, well . . . more than the pair of mezzanine tickets would have been, but not hugely more, so I clicked "buy" and told Chad he didn't have to buy me presents for my birthday or Christmas this year.