A Beginners Guide to ‘Hamilton’

Get ready for the Seattle debut of the smash-hit musical at the Paramount Theatre.

Here’s the thing about musicals that break into the mainstream consciousness: They’re really f’n good. Sure, the level of insane praise heaped upon Hamilton build it up to be the greatest artistic creation that humankind has ever been blessed with. And sure, Hamilfans can be a nauseatingly giddy lot. But Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about a Founding Father is a legitimate masterpiece. It actually lives up to the insane hype.

With that in mind, here’re a few things to prepare the uninitiated for Hamilton’s premiere run in Seattle at the Paramount Theater from Feb. 6–March 18.

Prepare for the Historical Density

The amount of detailed information Miranda packed into Hamilton’s songs is astounding. It encapsulates Alexander Hamilton’s unlikely immigrant path to America, the Revolutionary War (where he served as George Washington’s right-hand man), the creation of the United States, affairs, political rivalries with Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, and multiple tragedies. (If Miranda could do this for every subject, America’s education woes would be solved.) While it’s all laid out clearly, brushing up on Hamilton’s Wikipedia page wouldn’t hurt (or better yet, check out Miranda’s fantastic episode of Drunk History, where Alia Shawkat and Aubrey Plaza play Hamilton and Burr).

Another tip: If you’re not someone that listens to hip-hop regularly, listen to the Hamilton soundtrack before attending. While I’m a proponent of going into musicals with a clean slate, I’ve heard from some more traditional theater patrons (read: older white people) that they would’ve been completely lost if they hadn’t listened before seeing it live. If someone who never listens to rap music—and therefore isn’t used to the sorts of delivery rhythms and cadences of the genre—goes in cold, it might be too hard to pick up the lyrics on first listen.

It’s Not Only Hip-Hop

While wordsmith raps form Hamilton’s core, it would be inaccurately reductionist to claim it’s only a hip-hop musical. The show peppers in classic musical theater styles: “The Story of Tonight” could be a friendship ode pulled from Rent, “That Would Be Enough” is a timeless tender love ballad, and “History Has Its Eyes on You” is a Les Misérables-worthy sweeping epic.

Furthermore, the Schuyler Sisters (Hamilton’s in-laws) come off like Revolutionary Destiny’s Child during their titular R&B number. “Non-Stop” carries a reggae tinge. “Helpless” transparently serves as Hamilton’s version of an Ashanti and Ja Rule duet. And King George III’s three numbers are blissful British Invasion tunes.

Speaking of which…

The King Rules

While the plot centers around Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson, and Eliza, the tyrannically King George III nearly steals the show in his few brief minutes of stage time. Acting as an aside from the American action, his majesty is the musical’s lone character devoted solely to comedic relief. His introduction—“You’ll Be Back”—channels the spirit of a possessive boyfriend that feels wronged, and Colonial America is his unfaithful ex. The song just drips with delightfully sinister Britpop glee. (Who knew “Cause when push comes to shove / I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love” could be an effective line in a poppy earworm?)

Don’t Come for the Choreography or Set Design

Hamilton exists primarily in its book. It’s a lyrical musical. This being the case, aspects that other musicals lean on are not emphasized. The set is simple and static with zero flair. The choreography tends to happen around the main characters rather than involve them, and never gets too showy. It makes sense—you’re not going to ask the person playing Marquis de Lafayette to do a tap routine while he’s spitting such ridiculously rapid words.

There are a few standout moments that can’t be captured just listening to the soundtrack—the bullet-time effect of a gunshot in the duel scenes springs to mind—but Hamilton does not strive to be a visual spectacle. Set your expectations accordingly.

Don’t Fear Cast Changes

When a show is as hot as Hamilton, everyone wants to be involved in it. So if a lead actor happens to be taking the night (or afternoon) off when you see the show, don’t panic. The understudy almost assuredly will be stellar.

When I saw the musical in San Francisco, an understudy (Ryan Vasquez) played Aaron Burr. He was the best person on stage that night. Hamilton’s bench is deep. We’re not talking about a late-’90s Mariners bullpen here.

It’s Still Only a Musical

If you happen to have tickets to Hamilton, congrats! You’re gonna be in the room where it happens!

If you weren’t so lucky, be reasonable. A amazing as the show may be, it’s still only people singing and dancing on stage. This won’t be it’s only run in Seattle. No show is worth paying a month’s rent for secondary-market tickets.

That said, the ticketless can try their luck playing the daily Hamilton ticket lottery via the show’s official website or app. For every performance, 40 orchestra seats will be set aside for randomly drawn winners to purchase at $10 a pop. (Get it? A Hamilton?) Don’t throw away your shot … but also don’t throw away your money.

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