History Has Its Eyes on “Hamilton”

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” is one of the best shows to come out of Broadway, and I was lucky enough to see it in Chicago.

Emily Christian, Columnist

Many are familiar with the opening song “Alexander Hamilton,” which beautifully introduces Hamilton’s (Jimmie “JJ” Jeter) story and the roles of important figures in his life. This first song integrates both traditional ensemble, solo, and hints of rap, but its slow pace doesn’t set up for many of the show’s other songs, which may be performed with so much rap that the lyrics are hard to follow (my dad made the mistake of not listening to the playlist beforehand, so he had trouble listening with understanding). “Hamilton” has a wonderful mix of both slow and fast songs, allowing for variation in the story to match the “rhythm” of different chapters in Alexander Hamilton’s story.

Aaron Burr (Gregory Treco) acts as the narrator throughout much of the show, as he makes appearances in songs where he would not otherwise be relevant. He was also a major part of Alexander Hamilton’s life, as he was “[his] first friend, [his] enemy…” as stated in “The World Was Wide Enough.” Burr also plays a huge role. He holds a rivalry with Hamilton, which escalates into hatred when Hamilton expresses his support for political enemy Thomas Jefferson (Colby Lewis). “Your Obedient Servant” is dedicated to the exchange of formal letters exchanged between Hamilton and Burr, which helps to recap the relationship between the two and push along Burr’s aggravation. The following three songs, which close the show, explain Hamilton saying goodbye to his wife, Eliza Hamilton (Ari Afsar); Burr killing Hamilton in their duel; and the aftermath of Hamilton’s death. Gregory Treco drew out Burr’s emotions effectively with his powerful voice, and even added a few small additions different from what can be heard in the Broadway cast recording of the song. To me, this made Burr’s character unique and therefore more human.

The Schuyler sisters, Angelica (Montego Glover), Eliza, and Peggy (Candace Quarrels), add life to “Hamilton” that would otherwise be missing. At the beginning, the three sing about the change going on in New York City during the revolution. Angelica is excited for a revelation, and her strong character is revealed. She includes the following in her lines: “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’ll compel him to include women in the sequel…” Her drive for progression appeals to me, and I hope she poses as an inspirational character to others. Peggy is the youngest of the sisters, and she isn’t too sure about sneaking out to go downtown with her sisters. They are part of a rich and politically powerful family, and she believes they should behave as their father, Philip Schuyler (Jose Rosario Jr.), wishes. Angelica ends up contradicting Peggy and Eliza’s pessimistic statements. Peggy isn’t mentioned on many occasions after “Helpless.” She died of an illness in 1801, but this was not mentioned in the show. Upon meeting Peggy, I adored her. Her doubt about her older sisters seems so natural with how sisters act today, and she was a quite believable character. I was upset by how little she was elaborated on, as her story has little progression. I am glad that Peggy is involved at all, especially with her absence in the majority of “Hamilton.”

Angelica and Eliza are both sisters and best friends. When they meet Alexander Hamilton, both sisters discover their love for him. Angelica approaches him and breaks small-talk, as shown in “Helpless” and “Satisfied.” They click immediately, but Angelica’s loyalty for Eliza is far more powerful than her liking to Alex. She introduces him to her sister, and their story begins. Hamilton writes Eliza love letters, and they marry within weeks. Although I find that this episode in their lives is portrayed in far too quick of a manner, it is understandable, as the political events soon to come take up more time and importance than this scene. Keeping it short also helps to draw “Hamilton” away from becoming another Broadway love story.

Nearly half of “Hamilton” is occupied by Alexander Hamilton’s role in the American Revolution. In “Aaron Burr, Sir,” some of the other key characters are introduced. These include Marquis de Lafayette (Colby Lewis), Hercules Mulligan (Wallace Smith), and John Laurens (Jean Godsend Floradin). Hamilton has a unique relationship with each of his best friends, and most are included in a song in which they have a role. Lafayette’s character is revealed in “Guns and Ships,” Hercules Mulligan’s role is elaborated upon in “Yorktown,” and John Laurens, though not spotlighted in a specific song where he is key, is referred to as Hamilton’s best friend on multiple occasions. In opening song “Alexander Hamilton,” Laurens uses the line “Me, I died for him.”

Act 1 of “Hamilton” is rather laid-back, despite the pressures of war. The show turns around in Act 2, where Alexander Hamilton finds himself wrapped up in political drama and scandal. The variation of conflicts happening all at once may be confusing, but they keep the audience engaged and interested. Angelica, who Hamilton has been communicating with overseas, returns to America to visit him and her sister. Hamilton refuses to go upstate with them to spend the summer with their father. Hamilton’s insistence upon staying at home irritated me. His wife and sister-and-law, who he hadn’t seen for years, offer to go on vacation and he turns them down. Hamilton is dedicated to his work and desperate to get his plan to congress, and he ultimately spends the summer downtown.

During that time, he is engaged in a relationship with Maria Reynolds (Candace Quarrels). To continue seeing her, he must pay James Reynolds (Jose Rosario Jr.), which Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison (Wallace Smith) find out about. From then on, this affair becomes a political issue. In attempt to redeem himself, Hamilton publishes the Reynolds Pamphlet, explaining what happened between him and Maria. Eliza finds out about this and is devastated. She removes herself from Alexander’s life in the song “Burn.” Eliza destroys the many letters she saved from her life with Hamilton. To add on to the heartbreak, their son Philip Hamilton (Jean Godsend Floradin) challenges George Eacker to a duel in response to Eacker insulting Alexander. Eacker shoots at Philip before the count to ten is even up and Philip dies, Alex and Eliza by his side. In desperation, they move uptown to mourn. While Eliza tries to find forgiveness for Alexander, political turmoil happens elsewhere. The Hamiltons are not involved. This part of the story is heart wrenching, as the two who used to love each other so deeply are torn apart. Of course, the show still maintains the balance of love and politics.

Hamilton is pulled back into the outside events, where he must choose to endorse either Burr or Jefferson. As explained earlier, he ultimately chooses Jefferson and seals his fate with Burr. With a show so centered around Alexander Hamilton, the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda includes Hamilton’s death was a risky move, but it gave a sense of closure. For anyone who enjoys rap, American history, comedy, or anything in between is bound to also enjoy “Hamilton.” Viewing this show is an incredible experience, and the incredible songs and plot make it all the better.