I’ve attended performances where the audience buzz was thick with anticipation before the curtain was raised but for “Hamilton,” the anticipation was indescribable.
Now at the Kennedy Center Opera House through Oct. 9, the musical focuses on the formative years of America’s independence and political process.
Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for your genius in creating the book, music and lyrics using hip-hop, jazz and R&B surrounded by Broadway thrills. All recognition is deserved from Tony, Grammy and Olivier Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an unprecedented special citation from the Kennedy Center Honors.
As I imagined, the buzz in the Opera House revealed that the audience was all too familiar with “Hamilton” either from going to see it on Broadway or from the movie exclusive that aired on Disney Plus during the early months of the pandemic. The characters were well known – from Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to King George and the Schuyler Sisters.
The audience remained eager to hear every lyric sung by this superior cast representing a global community of immigrants.
“We just wanted to get on board in terms of musical theater, in terms of representation, in terms of what it means for us to tell the story of these flawed people who created a flawed country with ideas worth chasing to which we have fallen short for 200 years,” said Miranda in an interview with “The Undefeated” now known as “Andscape.”
The opening scene was an overview of a uniquely-delivered history lesson. “Hamilton” was like riding a wild horse. Just hold on! As a “Hamilton” newcomer, I looked everywhere and listened to every word of the dialogue in song. It’s a lot for the acting team to take on, especially when the set design includes a turntable that moves the actors around the stage. That was dizzying for me. I cannot imagine what it was like for the cast to learn that process.
Ta’Rea Campbell was Angelica, one of the three Schuyler sisters. Her sister Eliza marries Alexander Hamilton. The close relationship between these two sisters is one of several plots which unfolds within the storyline.
As for experiencing the unyielding movement of “Hamilton,” Campbell said there were four weeks of rehearsal before hitting the road. Several actors and members in the ensemble are understudies and in swing roles. Swings can move in and out of any character when necessary.
For the performance I attended, Eliza was played magnificently by Vanessa Magula who was an understudy. Her performance showed how you should never dismiss the work of understudies.
“Now that we are up and running, we don’t have rehearsals as much unless you are a new person coming in,” Campbell said. “Who would have thought that historical content can come from hip-hop?”
“Hamilton” followers already know what’s next as new songs and scenes are featured in the production. For example, whenever King George enters, the lyrics to the songs he sings and his highly-exaggerated facial expressions deliver comic relief.
“They usually applaud him every night. It’s weird when they don’t,” said Campbell, who has also appeared in “The Lion King,” “Sister Act” and other musicals on Broadway and with touring companies.
In her role as Angelica, Campbell both raps and then transition her style to one reminiscent of a Broadway diva. She shared how she changes the pace.
“It is just like a song. If you’re a singer or do musical theater, you are used to learning lyrics,” Campbell said about rapping. “You have to be comfortable with it so that if there’s any outside influence like I trip on my dress, I won’t be deterred.”
The cast performs in authentically-designed costumes. Shoes, coats, vests, dresses with a bum roll and corsets mean a lot of heaviness when moving around the stage.
And from the audience’s reaction to everything about “Hamilton,” the cast clearly felt the love from fans.
“It stimulates the mind, spirit, heart and senses,” said audience member Clyde Nelson, a District resident and Fairfax County school teacher.
For more information, visit www.Kennedy-Center.org