You may have heard: Hamilton opened its six-week run in Seattle on February 6, and if your social media feeds are anything like mine, they’re lighting up with Face-brags of Paramount Marquee selfies with the telltale gold and black sign glittering in the background. Maybe you’re counting down the days until you will see the show (or maybe you’re seething with regret that you didn’t get tickets?).
Last night was media night at Hamilton. I, of course, jumped at the chance to see the show again (I saw it in Chicago last September). Hamilton hardly needs an introduction--let alone a review. The rap-turous masterpiece that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s life work as one of our country’s founding fathers through all-too-familiar recurring historic themes (see: “Immigrants, we get the job done") has made people who are not into musical theater excited about musicals.
But the question on the minds of superfans (I count myself among them) is this: Is the Seattle performance as good as the original Broadway cast soundtrack so many of us have been obsessively listening to?
Personally, I was late to the Hamilton obsession party, despite the fact that my musical theater nerdom dates back to my 1980 junior high pit-orchestra days (Grease! Joseph!) and I’ve dutifully seen Cats, Les Miz and all the other big-name shows–including Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. I have no idea why Hamilton, which opened on Broadway in 2015, was not on my radar. But if you ask my husband, I more than made up for lost time when I started listening to the soundtrack in December, 2016. HOW HAD I NOT DONE THIS EARLIER??!? I finally understood what the fuss was about.
After a months-long listening bender, I took a hiatus when I was prepping to see the show for the first time, in Chicago last fall with my back-home besties for my 50th. I stopped listening mostly because of the aforementioned concern: What if the cast didn’t live up to the insanely perfect original Broadway cast that includes Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., etc.? We have all sat through mediocre touring groups and cringe-y high school performances of favorite musicals, but those don’t usually come with a $200-plus ticket. So for the Chicago show, so I figured I would be wise to re-calibrate expectations big time.
When I saw that show, an understudy played Aaron Burr and his performance was not anywhere near as mind-blowing as I had hoped for. And because of a bizarre 24-hour food poisoning/stomach thing, I was not completely on my audience game either. So when the Seattle tour was announced, I checked out the backgrounds of the cast the way I used to check references of my kids’ babysitters.
As part of my deep dive, I looked into how many versions of Hamilton are out there. There is, of course, the original Hamilton run, still playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City (but the original cast, of course, has long since moved on). There are also “sit-downs”--long term, semi-permanent runs--in Chicago and Los Angeles. Then there are the national touring groups. The first national tour was launched in March 2017 (check out the cast and crew here). The Seattle cast is part of the second national tour that started this year (it’s headed to Portland and beyond after its stop here). Hamilton, as it criss-crosses the country, is keeping a lot of musical theater performers and dancers employed.
I’ve seen a lot of shows come through Seattle and it’s only been in the past year that the tour groups have been as stellar as the original Broadway casts. Because there has been a run of so many good new musicals coming out of Broadway (a number of them incubated right here in Seattle) over the last few years, audiences are becoming more sophisticated, more dialed-in to good shows, so I think touring groups themselves are having a renaissance. Fun Home at the 5th Avenue Theatre in 2017 and the recent showing of Book of Mormon at the Paramount both had absolute stand-out casts. I had to do a double take to make sure that Andrew Rannell, the original lead of Mormon, wasn’t the one up on the Paramount stage (he wasn’t). So I had high hopes for the touring cast of this musical of all musicals
Most of the Seattle cast members appear to be on-the-rise, hard-working theater professionals who, prior to this run, have been understudies, part of an ensemble or have had smaller roles on Broadway or in a touring groups. Dive more into their bios here. And here’s my take on how the Seattle cast measures up to the original soundtrack expectations.
(Spoiler alert! You may want skip to “Do’s and Don’ts” below if you haven’t seen the show yet and want to go in unbiased.)
The pit orchestra piano at the Paramount. Photo by Rachel Hart.
Shoba Narayan--Eliza Hamilton (Natasha in, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) is earnest, loyal, fierce perfection. Kyle Scatliffe -- Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson (The Color Purple, Les Miserables, As You Like It) was spot on, strong and lively. The stage lit up every time he was stepped on it. Fergie L. Philipe -- Hercules Mulligan/James Madison (Jesus Christ Superstar); Elijiah Malcomb--John Laurence/Philip Hamilton (Hairspray, The Wiz) and Nyla Solstre--Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds made the most of their small roles, as did Jon Patrick Walker-- King George (Young Frankenstein, High Fidelity, Peter and the Starcatcher) who totally steals the show in all three of his scenes.
The other performers were very good, but at various points in the show left me wanting that extra. Marcus Choi--George Washington (stage credits include Miss Saigon, Wicked) was not as, well, commanding as he could have been, until his finale song “One More Time.” Wow. Nik Walker--Aaron Burr (who was an understudy for the original Broadway production) has a lot of great moments (including “Dear Theodosia”) and played this frustrated character with terrific nuance. Ta’rea Campbell--Angelica Schuyler (who was an understudy for Original Broadway production of Book of Mormon) was strong, but I just wanted more brass.
Joseph Morales--Alexander Hamilton--starred in the first national tour of In The Heights, and also played Hamilton on Sundays in the Chicago run (fun Northwest fact: He attended Southern Oregon University.). His voice was lovely but his stage persona could have used a little more of Lin-Manuel’s young, scrappy and hungry energy.
So, no, the show is not a carbon copy of the Broadway version. But as whole, as a stage production, it’s still so much fun and just plain fantastic to see. You miss so much if you just listen to the soundtrack; it’s sometimes hard to tell who is singing which part; seeing it in person brings clarity. The staging is pretty simple and static, save for some props brought on and off stage, but experiencing the killer choreography (those turntable floors!) and human architecture is worth the ticket price alone. (Can Hamilton hip hop exercise videos be far behind?.) This cast still needs a little seasoning, but even with not all parts are perfect, theater-goes will appreciate why tickets go for upwards of $1,000 when you see how many people are on stage, how hard the dancers and performers are working--many of whom are constantly on stage--and how seamlessly it all clips along. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to see the show one more time with my husband and kids (we are Paramount season subscribers) later this month and will most likely notice something else I didn’t see before.
Tour group, original Broadway cast or otherwise, this musical has people going to the theater, and celebrating the arts--and that is always a good thing.
Hamilton merch! Photo by Rachel Hart
And so, here are a few insider do’s and don’t tips for enjoying your Seattle Hamilton experience--and to make sure everyone around you enjoy theirs, too.
Hamilton, the Seattle Run: Do’s and Don’ts
Absolutely, under no circumstances, should you sing along during the show. Do not even hum. There were two 20-somethings behind me “whisper singing” the entire second act, most likely lubricated by what’s in the sippy cups you can now bring into the theater and it was infuriating.This is not the Sing Along Sound of Music, people. (Though, now that I think about it, they really do need a sing-along version of Hamilton. Maybe someday when the inevitable movie version comes out?). People are not paying to hear you sing. Mercifully, for those who just can’t hold it, King George gives the audience an opportunity for a brief pressure release in one of his many show-stealing scenes. But other than that: tap your toes, maybe engage in some mild head bobbing (not crazy, back and forth chair dancing like the woman in front of us), but keep your mouth shut. Zip. It.
Nit pick about the plot. How historically accurate it is remains a subject of debate, but just enjoy it.
Try your luck with the lottery tickets. 20 pairs of tickets a day, $10 tickets!
Listen to the soundtrack before the show if you haven’t already (Pro Tip: Amazon Prime members can stream the soundtrack for free). The music moves so quickly from one song to another and it’s so helpful to go in knowing the basics. But just listen a few times, maybe even once. Then go hog wild after the show.
Save the PBS documentary Hamilton’s America about the making of “Hamilton” until after you’ve seen the show. The trademark turntable staging and intense choreography won’t be as much as a surprise if you see this before the show. But this documentary is a must for Hamilton fans.
Go full bore Hamilton dorky pre show with a themed dinner. Though there are no specialty cocktails or photo opp stations at the Paramount, the nearby Tom Douglas-owned Carlile Room just a block or so away has a brilliant Hamilton-themed menu (Arron Burrger, love it.) And the, Rider restaurant, in the newly-revamped Hotel Theodore, is just two blocks away. Though there’s no themed menu, do not miss the pull-apart rolls with crab butter!
Do hoot, holler and cheer all you want as your favorite songs start. Seattle audiences have always been terrific fun to see shows with (and for the most part, have good audience behavior). Most popular song on the applause-o-meter last night was the Cabinet Battle #1.
Post-show, borrow a page from Hamilton’s playbook and start writing letters. Love letters. Thank you letters. Letters recording your family history. Letters to your representative convincing them to take a stand or make a change. Follow The Letter Farmer on Instagram, grab a seat at one of their cherry-red bistro tables and start pouring your heart out on paper.
Pay it Forward. Every middle schooler and high schooler in the city should see this show. That won’t happen, I’m afraid, but 5,700 lucky local high school students from yet-to-be-announced schools will get that very opportunity to see the show on March 8 and 14. Kids who are studying US history (in Seattle, that’s likely high school Juniors) will get to the see the show for $10 a ticket, participate in a Q&A with the cast and have the opportunity to perform an original work they created based on their studies on stage for the high school audience. It’s all made possible through funding from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and their #EduHam program. Donate to help keep the program going.
Wait patiently for it to make the rounds at local high schools. The performances may be slightly cringe-y but at least you know you’re seeing the next stage stars who will be employed on future Hamilton tours--and take comfort that the schools’ arts programs will be rolling in the money from the packed houses every night.
Hamilton runs at The Paramount Theater through March 18. The Seattle show is basically sold-out, though you can still find a smattering of tickets on Ticketmaster on any given night, and there’s always the Hamilton lottery for $10 tickets!)