I am incredibly fortunate because I was exposed to theatre at a very young age. My father was a college professor at SUNY Fredonia and then at University of Pittsburgh at Titusville. In addition to teaching English, he directed shows at each of these institutions. Needless to say, I spent many weekend afternoons at the theatre with him as he conducted rehearsals or worked on the sets. Undoubtedly, those early years were what sparked my insatiable passion for theatre.
When I was in the fifth grade, my father took a sabbatical from his teaching position and took me and my sister to London for a few months. We were enrolled in Fox Primary School, where we spent our days, while he hammered away at his typewriter, writing. In the flat that we lived in near Earl’s Court, we had a caretaker. He was an elderly gentlemen of modest means, yet he and his wife attended the theatre every week. When my father asked him why they went every week, he simply stated, “Because one should.”
I am a firm believer that theatre enriches the soul is so many ways. Yesterday I was in New York City with two of my daughters and my eldest noted that she has, at fifteen, already seen twenty Broadway shows. Twenty! I didn’t see my first Broadway show until I was seventeen, after we moved to Connecticut.
Clearly, attending Broadway shows is not a viable option for many. Unless you live in the tri-state area, it is not incredibly convenient to get to the Great White Way. And, even if you do live nearby, the price of a full priced Broadway ticket can run you in the neighborhood of $150 or more. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to see shows at a discounted price, most notably the Theatre Development Fund‘s TKTS booth in Times Square.
One great way to expose children to theatre is to plan your visits to Broadway in January, when Kids’ Night on Broadway gives children between the ages of 6-18 the opportunity to go for FREE with a paying adult. This is an incredible opportunity to bring your children to the theatre for half the cost. Not only do you save money, tickets are usually made available to shows that are otherwise sold out. I fully expect to take advantage of this deal if Hamilton participates next year and, given the show and its creator/star, I would be surprised if they weren’t included in the list.
In addition to the variety of shows that take part in KNOB, there are discounts for restaurants and parking, as well as special programming offered by a few venues! Tickets usually go on sale a few months before, so add your name to the mailing list and get ready to take your kids to the theatre!
One week before the highly anticipated musical Hamiltonopened at The Public Theater, its creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, posted two telling things to his Twitter account. First, he referenced the fact that Sondheim’s work was not even mentioned in the original New York Times review of West Side Story. He then encouraged his followers, fondly dubbed Twitterico, not to post reviews because they might not be aware of who they are hurting by omission. In another tweet, he reminded us that when In The Heights opened on Broadway, Twitter was not a thing, further stating that his feed would be a review-free zone following the opening of his new musical and requested that he not be tagged in any reviews.
On opening night, he took to Facebook with a most insightful post about the process of writing a new musical: “You write for 6 years. You surround your work with people who are smarter than you & make it better. Then you get to say: Opening night.” He followed that that up with an extremely classy acknowledgement and thanks to all of the actors who helped him during the process with various readings, workshops and concerts. Creating a new musical takes a village and Lin-Manuel Miranda knows that.
Not writing a review of Hamilton, however, would be akin to witnessing a significant historical event and then not telling anyone about it. Not having the opportunity to thank the people involved in bringing this brilliant piece of theatre to life would be an injustice.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Critics, audiences and musical theatre legends are all in agreement: Hamilton is a bona fide hit, a game changer. Undoubtedly, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast and creative team of Hamilton are doing something at the Public Theater that will forever alter the landscape of the musical theatre genre and will likely be dubbed the next Great American Musical.
Adapted from Ron Chernow’s definitive biography of the founding father whose face graces the $10 bill, Hamilton chronicles the life of a scrappy and ambitious immigrant from the moment he arrives in New York City to his infamous demise at the hand of his friend and nemesis, Aaron Burr. In the titular role, Miranda is engaging and energetic, pulling the audience into his loving embrace and not letting go until the last Fresnel has dimmed.
As Hamilton’s comrades, each tackling dual roles, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan and Anthony Ramos banter with Miranda’s Hamilton with perfect comic timing. Diggs’ Thomas Jefferson is boisterous and larger than life, providing the perfect foil for the epic rap battles that ensue in Act II. As Alexander’s wife, Eliza Hamilton, Phillipa Soo is pristine and compassionate, with a voice to match. Renée Elise Goldsberry brings Eliza’s older sister Angelica to heartbreaking life as we witness her struggle between the unrequited love for her sister’s husband and her steadfast devotion to her sibling. Christopher Jackson’s George Washington is dashing and dignified, in stark contrast to the simmering malice Leslie Odom, Jr. brings to Aaron Burr. Bryan d’Arcy James’ foppish King George infuses perfectly timed humor throughout the musical and he is a company member that will certainly be missed when he departs to star in Broadway’s Something Rotten!, which begins previews on March 23rd.
Hamilton reunites Miranda with the creative team of the Tony Award-winning In TheHeights: director Thomas Kail, music director/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. This, however, is a reunion of class superlatives who have only gotten better with age. The assemblage of actors, musicians and dancers united under Kail’s cohesive direction tell a moving and inspiring story that is visually stunning. Navigating the complex terrain of rap, hip-hop, indie pop, jazz and R&B, Lacamoire provides a lush and seamless musical tapestry. Blankenbuehler’s intricate choreography keeps the cast in constant motion and is positively thrilling and, at times, breathtaking. The moment that inevitable shot leaves the barrel of the gun all production elements are perfectly synchronized to create a truly striking moment of theatre.
The rustic set design by David Korins serves as the perfect sandbox for these players to play in and it is beautifully and warmly lit by the candlelit glow of Howell Binkley’s lighting design. Paul Tazewell’s costume design is largely grounded in historical style with a touch of urban flair.
Hamilton, in many ways, like the city that serves as its backdrop, is a melting pot. The multiracial cast, in a time with an African American in the highest office, projects a modern view on a time that is, in many ways, not unlike our own. Musically, the references are bountiful, paying homage to Gilbert & Sullivan one moment and in the next tipping a hat to Notorious B.I.G. Structurally, Miranda has pulled out all the stops, providing the audiences with big ensemble numbers, tearful moments followed by humorous ones and infusing the entire piece with just the right amount of dramatic tension.
Certainly Hamilton is not the first musical to focus on history through a contemporary lens. Assassins and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and to some degree 1776, have all looked at historical figures and turned them into modern musicals. So what makes Hamilton different? Alexander Hamilton made his way into history with words. His gift of language got him into college, it gained him favor with George Washington, it helped him through our nation’s first sex scandal and it made possible his drafting of the Federalist Papers and our nation’s economic policy, thereby landing him the role of the first Secretary of the Treasury. Not unlike Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has made his way into musical theatre through his mastery of language. While his heart is rooted in the telling of a compelling story, his brain brilliantly weaves the spoken word into awe-inspiring art. Emblazoned across the Playbill are lyrics from the show: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” How fortunate for audiences that Lin-Manuel chose to tell Alexander Hamilton’s story. We should all be so lucky to be immortalized in such a grand and artistic fashion.
If you have a ticket to Hamilton’s Off-Broadway run, you hold in your hands, without exaggeration, the hottest ticket in town. With a sold-out run that has extended twice, a Broadway transfer is imminent. Musical theatre enthusiasts are paying top dollar for tickets to Hamilton or are entering the daily “Hamilton for a Hamilton” lottery with 2,000+ other hopefuls. Yes, the announcement of its arrival on the Great White Way is eagerly anticipated but this baby has just been born. Let’s give it time to enjoy its first days and all the adoration, for it’s only a matter of time before it leaves the nest to enjoy a long, healthy life uptown.
In this post, three separate stories will converge into an evening of events that I choose to give more meaning than I probably should. These three stories are depicted in the photo banner above.
In 1988, I attended an American Theatre Wing panel discussion that featured Michael Crawford, Judy Kaye, Blythe Danner, John Lithgow and B.D. Wong. I was so taken by the discussion of M. Butterfly that I scurried over to the TKTS Booth afterward and purchased tickets to the show, which I would be attending with my father. Following the show, he and I went backstage to meet John Lithgow, as my father had met him back when he did The Changing Room. I was all of 19 years old at the time and when I handed my Playbill to Mr. Lithgow for his autograph, he inscribed upon its cover: For Alicia, We’ll work together soon. John Lithgow.
In 2008, I saw a musical that changed my life: [title of show]. I learned that creativity, perseverance and talent can, in fact, get you to Broadway. Shortly thereafter, I arranged for Susan Blackwell to teach her Die Vampire, Die! creativity workshop at the theatre I was affiliated with at the time. I need to say this: Susan Blackwell is my spirit animal. She has taught me how to unleash my creativity and how to kill the vampires. She is also one of the classiest ladies I’ve ever met. I don’t know if she realizes what a tremendous impact she has had on me. But I think she does.
Photo #3 Also in 2008, shortly after In The Heights won the Tony Award for Best Musical, I braved a virtual hurricane to see my friend Robin de Jesús in his Tony nominated performance. Minutes before curtain, as I raced to the Richard Rodgers in a torrential downpour, I lost my wallet on Manhattan street Despite this unfortunate turn of events, I was blessed to have experienced the original cast perform the work of a fresh, new voice in American musical theatre: Lin-Manuel Miranda. After the show, when I was telling Robin my tale of the lost wallet after the show, Lin stopped by to nuzzle Robin’s neck and posed for a picture.
On Sunday night, my husband and I had the enviable pleasure of attending a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton at The Public Theater. The sold-out run has extended three times prior to its scheduled opening on Febuary 17th. To say it is the hottest ticket in town is an understatement.
When we arrived at the theatre, my husband and I were commenting on how large the stage looked compared to the last time he had been there, which was for another contemporary musical with an historical figure as its focus, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I mentioned that I was taken by the size of the space when I went to see Fun Home there last year. He asked me if I saw it alone and I reminded him that I saw it after I attended Susan Blackwell’s full-day creativity workshop in January.
As we sat in our seats reading our programs, my husband leaned over to me and said, “Isn’t that Susan over there?” Sure enough, a few rows in front of us, Susan was taking her seat. It was a little freaky, actually. As much as I respect and admire the woman, I assure you that I don’t frequently find myself bringing her up in conversation.
During intermission, I ran into Susan and we exchanged the brief pleasantries suitable for the ladies room. Afterward, I hastened to the bar to grab, appropriately, an ale to enjoy during the second act. As I placed my order, I looked up and standing there, in all his tallness and grandeur, was John Lithgow.
I shit you not!
I wanted to say, “Hey, remember that time a quarter century ago when you said that you and I would work together soon?” Instead, I averted his gaze and thought to myself, “Oh my God, he’s the Trinity Killer!”
I am going to reserve my review of Hamilton until the show opens one week from today. I will, however, say this: this show alters the landscape of contemporary musical theatre in ways you cannot imagine.
So, to Mr. Lithgow, who gave a young girl the hope that she could have a career in this crazy business of show, I say, “Thanks for letting me believe that I have a shot.”
To Ms. Blackwell, the loveliest vampire killer I know, I say, “Thanks for showing me how to have faith in the words that will allow me to take the shot.”
To Mr. Miranda, the man who has raised the bar for every theatre artist living today, “Thanks for inspiring me to stop throwing away my shot.”