What I Saw at the Revolution

The American Revolution, that is: we saw Hamilton on Thursday night.

Gratitude where it is due: many thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, and The Public Theatre for doing a performance as a fundraiser for Hunter College High School, our alma mater.

The show is the maddest, smartest, cleverest ride you are likely to see. I’m waiting for the cast album so I can spend a good week savoring the wordplay. There’s been a lot written about the show’s rap elements, but all the references to popular music are wonderful, particularly Jefferson’s 80’s R&B-ish turn and King George III’s views on the colonies rendered as a British bubblegum break-up tune. For those of us spending days thinking about diversity, the color-blind casting is right on. The performers are wonderful, with special shout-out to Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Christopher Jackson (Benny!), and Jasmine Ceaphas Jones. And if want a lesson in incisive characterization, go check out Miranda’s casting breakdowns.

You have no idea how hard it was to write the above and use the word “smart” only once.

There are some things that could be tweaked, like the show flow—if the first act is as fast and inextricable as a musket shot, the second act doesn’t make the finale feel inevitable. To my mind, there’s a bit too much sentimentality that doesn’t propel the plot and not enough of what would move a man to challenge and kill another. The subplot involving the sisters has some lovely music, but doesn’t consistently add to the drama. And unfortunately, not all the leads are equal in commanding the spotlight.

Here’s my radical suggestion: cast Hamilton as a woman. Do for gender what the rest of the casting has done for race and imagine a strong woman as part of the Revolutionary boys’ club. Then look at the dramatic arc when a woman is central to the action (we can discuss how that get’s sung later; fortunately, there’s lots of rap).

I gather from what I read about the move to Broadway that tweaking is going on. While critics have talked about the need to cut 10-15 minutes, Miranda pointed out that it wasn’t about the time, but about the stories that they were choosing to tell. That’s something for all of us story-tellers to keep in mind when looking at subplots and subsidiary characters.

Friday we woke up exhausted and elated and started looking for dates to go see it on Broadway. Looks like it will be the kid’s “Sweet 16” present. It’s sweetly symetrical: tickets to “In the Heights” were his 12th. A lovely box-office person hearing it was for Lyn-Manuel’s biggest fan found me three tickets smack in the middle of the fifth row. What a night we had! I said to him at the time, “Don’t count on ever having this experience again.” And yet we are: the excitement, the anticipation, and most of all, the satisfaction in seeing something that can stand scrutiny. Because it’s that kind of show: you want to see, hear and think about those choices again and again.

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