I saw Hamilton in Chicago a few weeks back, and it was one of the best stage experiences of my life. That sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I have no other way to describe it. It was a stunning work of art and I feel so fortunate to have been able to witness it. The use of dance, of verbal poetry, and of engaging storytelling left me speechless.
I had, of course, already listened to the original cast recording countless times, and while some may imagine this would hinder my listening experience, it did anything but that. Because I knew the story so well, I could sit back and watch it unfold without questioning what was happening or what was going to happen next. Because the music is mostly constant and the words go by so fast, I could hardly stop and think, “Hey, that’s not how Lin-Manuel did it in the original!” And either way, I didn’t need to. Each of the members of the Chicago Hamilton cast did a superb job in maintaining the original characters while still giving it their own unique spin.
The title role of Alexander Hamilton is played by Miguel Cervantes, and his portrayal proves that even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s shows can be filled. One could imagine the amount of pressure a role such as that would be, especially following in the footsteps of the creator, Miranda, but if Cervantes ever had any doubts, he doesn’t show it in his confident and engaging performance.
While it’s easy to talk about how amazing all of the performers were (I certainly could go on at length), it is sometimes forgotten the amazing background work that a show displays. If there is a show that displays obvious attention to background detail, Hamilton is it. Everything from the dancing to the movement of the stage to the transition between scenes was fluid. It flowed seamlessly, carrying the audience from one scene to the next without the viewers every noticing that change was occurring.
The set design is simple, an open standard level wooden stage with entrances from all sides and an upper level walkway that borders the space. After purchasing the program, which has design notes near the end, I realized the stage was set up like a target, with two outer rings, one inside of the other, and a circle at the center. All three of these components rotate individually, which creates the captivating scenes that can be seen in many of the songs, such as in “Hurricane,” where Hamilton stands in the center of the target while the rings rotate slowly around him.
Every aspect of the background was detailed and painstakingly executed to the point that the audience doesn’t even have to think about it. After listening to the album, I knew what to expect from the words. But I did not know what to expect from all the other components that are so often forgotten. All of these components created beautiful moments that I will remember forever. With all these parts working together so perfectly with the ensemble, it creates quite the emotional show for a theater lover like me. I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t cry in the climax of the “Battle of Yorktown” with no other reason except the performance and the perfect marriage of every aspect of the theater in that moment was so overwhelming that I had no choice but to feel it emotionally.
Chicago’s production of Hamilton was an amazing show. It is worth seeing. I feel unbelievably lucky to have been able to experience the best show I have ever seen, even if I am still paying it off on my credit card, and I know I’ll be talking about it for years to come.