There’s an obscure little hip-hop musical nominated for a few 2016 Tony Awards. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Just kidding. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve not only heard about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant musical, “Hamilton,” but you’ve bought tickets to see it on Broadway (or at least wished you could), listened obsessively to the original cast recording, and watched the #Ham4Ham videos on repeat. If you haven’t, know that your teenage kids definitely have. “Hamilton” is a bona fide national obsession … just ask President Obama, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. But is it worth all the hype? Here are five reasons why it most certainly is — and why it will clean up at the 2016 Tony Awards on Sunday, June 12 (7 p.m. on CBS), hosted this year by James Corden (“The Late Late Show”).
1. “Hamilton” is the most-nominated show in Broadway history.
With 16 Tony Award nods, “Hamilton” is nominated in every possible category in which a musical can be nominated, from music, book and lyrics to choreography, direction and design elements, and the big prize, Best Musical. Seven members of the amazing cast have been singled out for recognition: Miranda (Alexander Hamilton) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr) for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (my money is on Odom, as Miranda will be honored with two or three other Tonys); Phillipa Soo for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical; Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson — he will win), Christopher Jackson (George Washington) and Jonathan Groff (King George III) for Featured Actor in a Musical; and Renée Elise Goldsberry for Featured Actress in a Musical. Of course, only one person can win each acting award, so there will be some disappointment, but basically Miranda and Co. will clean up big time. In a recent interview in The New York Times, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, nominated for the hit musical “School of Rock,” referred to this year’s awards as the “HamilTonys” — and he knows a thing or two about how Broadway works.
2. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius.
No, really. In 2015, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Miranda with one of its coveted fellowships, also known as “genius grants,” that arrive with no strings attached and a stipend of $625,000 (over five years). The award is given to 24 people each year on the basis of extraordinary creativity in one of many disciplines. The 2015 winners included a Cornell University chemist, an environmental health advocate, a choreographer, a set designer and an author. Miranda was selected not only for his brilliant work on “Hamilton,” but also in recognition of his previous Broadway hit, “In the Heights,” which won a 2008 Tony for Best Musical. And did I mention he also won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama? The man’s got skills.
3. It was originally planned as a hip-hop concept album called “The Hamilton Mixtape.”
In May of 2009, Miranda was invited to perform a number from “In the Heights” at the White House in “An Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word” for President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and a roomful of invited guests and other artists. Instead, he dropped what became the opening number for his masterpiece. He told the crowd that Hamilton’s story was testament to “the word’s ability to make a difference.” It was the story of an immigrant — Hamilton, born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, illegitimate, orphaned, but oh-so-brilliant — and how he became one of the Founding Fathers. Turns out the arc of Hamilton’s life — Miranda was inspired to start the project after reading author Ron Chernow’s weighty biography, “Alexander Hamilton” — proved so compelling that Miranda was convinced to turn it into a Broadway show. Fast forward to the 2015 Grammy Awards, when the original cast album of Hamilton won for Best Musical Theater Recording. The album, produced by The Roots, reached #1 on the Billboard Rap charts.
4. The show is sold out on Broadway through January.
That is, unless you are willing to go through one of the secondary market sources (resale) and pay extraordinary prices. I’ve seen a pair of orchestra tickets on sale for $3,500, and that’s not an isolated incident. People talk about scoring tickets to see “Hamilton” like they used to talk about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But I can tell you from experience — I was lucky enough to see the show on Broadway last summer — it is astonishing theater, and the best show I’ve ever seen. That is not hyperbole, and I’ve seen hundreds of productions in my time. It’s not just Miranda’s music and lyrics, though they are extraordinary and capture history in a way that makes it seem fresh and vital. It’s not just the nontraditional casting, or the excellent choreography and staging that make it such a transformative theater-going experience. It’s the sum of its considerable parts that add up to theater history. My advice is to buy your tickets and plan a trip around them. And yes, I know that Miranda is scheduled to leave the Broadway production in early July, but it will remain transformational theater with or without his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton.
5. The traveling production of “Hamilton” sets up shop in Chicago on Sept. 27 for an “open-ended” run.
If you’re a Broadway in Chicago subscriber, you’re all set, at least for a first showing. But they’ve halted group sales, as it became clear that many of these tickets have found their way to the secondary sales market, where prices were immediately jacked up. And people are already making plans for a visit to Chicago built around seeing “Hamilton,” so when single tickets go on sale June 21 at 10 a.m., hop right on it. Word is the production will be around for 18 months or so.
If you’d like to pre-game on all things “Hamilton” before seeing the show at The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago, you’ll want to purchase (or download) the original Broadway cast recording and also buy “Hamilton: The Revolution,” a fascinating book by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter that details the making of the music step-by-step and contains the entire libretto. Then wait for the single-ticket sales to open on Broadway in Chicago and set your alarm clock to purchase tickets. People: don’t throw away your shot.
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