That’s right folks, it happened. This past Tuesday I finally found myself sitting in the Richard Rogers Theatre, better known as”the room where it happens.”
I bought my tickets for Hamilton a year-ago. After saving ~many~ of my summer paychecks to snag a coveted seat (which I will admit was located only three rows from the very last row of the rear mezzanine *whatever*) I was in.
I couldn’t believe it. All day leading up to the 7 P.M curtain I kept saying to my mom, “It hasn’t sunk in yet, it doesn’t feel like we’re really going.” My little brain couldn’t comprehend that the soundtrack that had been pumping through my headphones, computer and car for over a year was actually going to play out in front of me. But sure enough, as 7 o’clock rolled around I found myself being ushered to my seat; my hands gripping a coveted playbill with the now iconic image of Lin-Manuel Miranda pointing defiantly up to the sky.
As I flipped through the program, I quickly came across the half-page cut-out alerting the audience of who would be playing what roles for the nights performance. Now, I knew well in advance which actors were currently playing most of the parts. But that night, there were some stand-in’s going on who I hadn’t heard of before, including the actors playing George Washington and Hamilton himself (I did get to see Taran Killam play King George though which was INCREDIBLE).
So here’s where I have some lasting questions and thoughts:
As I’m sure you can imagine, I don’t have adequate adjectives to describe for you just how impactful seeing Hamilton live was. It was everything you’ve ever heard anybody whose had the opportunity to see it said it was. But where the bulk of my thoughts have been since leaving the show have to do with what I perceive is the challenge of playing characters who are so iconically solidified forever in the form of the original cast recording.
Obviously Broadway shows have been recorded before, many even having multiple cast soundtracks behind them. But for me, Hamilton is different. For those of us who did not have the opportunity to see the show before the album came out, our first interactions with the story were through the voices and interpretations of Lin, Leslie, Phillipa, Christopher, Daveed, Renée, etc. I’ll be honest with you, it was a sort of bizarre and somewhat difficult experience to watch and hear other actors play these parts. And this is not a critique of the abilities of the actors I saw on Tuesday. They were all extremely talented and connected to the story in a moving and genuine way.
What became apparent to me somewhere in the first act was that I had subconsciously prepared myself for a heightened experience of what I was already familiar with, rather than something brand new. But of course it was going to be completely different. These were different people with separate impulses and experiences from their predecessors. And while some actors took many liberties and found ways to transform the audiences expectations, others did not. But neither choice felt wrong or right.
I don’t have a very eloquent solution to my confusion. I still find myself meeting this question of how to encounter something as either a performer or an audience member in a fresh and malleable way. But still, I will end by saying that whoever plays any of the roles in this show, one thing is certain: the story speaks for itself. The writing and the music are timeless and effortless and will come alive no matter who is voicing them.