By now, getting disappointment from hyped event (be it “The Phantom Menace,” or Al Capone’s vault, or Michael Phelps racing a shark) is no longer a shocking sensation for most of us. It is one of those things that we couldn’t avoid in the entertainment industry, but at the same time calls for us to be wary of hyped events. I’m not saying all hyped event are exaggerated or overrated, but there is need to read between the lines when deciding to attend these events.
Personally, as a theatre critic, I have had my own fair share of disappointments when it comes to attending events I thought would be way over the top. Notable among them was “Les Miserables” but this is not a topic of discussion for today. However, I will be talking on the Broadway blockbuster du jour “Hamilton,” coming to Tempe’s ASU Gammage for a four-week run starting on Jan. 30. The Hamilton is a Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop portrait of America’s founding fathers, which has been a major hit in the US since it was first shown and premiered.
The show has been touted as the biggest musical to cross over into mainstream pop-culture awareness since “The Phantom of the Opera” three decades ago. However, the million dollar question fans will like to ask is does the Hamilton in New York lives up to the hype?
As a theatre critic, my answer on this one is a big resounding yes!
Here are the reasons why the hype is justified;
- ‘Hamilton’ isn’t just a show, it’s a phenomenon
For me, Hamilton is the least likely formula for phenomenal entertainment I could ever imagine. Back in 2010 when I interviewed Miranda about his first Broadway musical (In the Height) where he noted that he was working on a “hip-hop concept album” about the nation’s first treasury secretary, Miranda emphasized that the need to reassure the readers is a major theme behind his production.
Due to money constraints, I have never had the chance to watch Hamilton on Broadway, but I did make the trip to Los Angeles to see the national tour shortly after it opened there in August. With the exception of change in cast members for top roles, the Hamilton production coming to Gammage is essentially the same with the one I saw on the national tour.
- It’s bringing new audiences to the theater
The show’s appeal could be attested to by the diverse crowd at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Despite the presence of numerous theatre buffs, people also enjoy Devin James Cunningham, the 13 years old shy hip hop fan whose favorite artist is Drake. Likewise, according to the word of 47 years old Sharonda Bradford Cunningham of Cypress California (Devin’s mum), she said “A friend of mine loaned me the soundtrack, and we started playing it together and loved it.”
Sharonda referred to herself as a theatergoer and bought season tickets to the Pantages for the first time to make sure they could see “Hamilton.” This indicates that she had seen several musicals in the past year without having any prior awareness about them.
- ‘Hamilton’ moves the art form forward
If we take into consideration the first major musical to incorporate hip-hop and rap, which was “In the Height”, coupled with the success of Hamilton, then it means we can look forward to more to come in the future. This makes the show a watershed moment along the lines of 1967’s “Hair,” which injected rock and pop into the Broadway songbook and paved the way for “Grease,” “Rent,” “Spring Awakening” and more.
Right from the onset of the musical starting with Alexander’s first-act manifesto “My Shot” (“Just like my country / I’m young, scrappy and hungry”) to the romantic “Helpless,” which could easily be a radio hit for a contemporary R&B girl group (featuring guest rapper, of course), the music easily influence the audience to get them involved, thus making the musical show a gripping and captivating one.