Hamilton opens on Broadway as On the Town announces closure

HamiltonBway0258r Phillipa Soo and Lin-Manuel Miranda.jpg

Phillipa Soo and Lin-Manuel Miranda.in Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York. Picture: Joan Marcus

You may have heard about this new musical called Hamilton, retelling in hip-hop style the life of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. (I’m being ironic, of course.) Anyway, the show has finally and officially opened on Broadway.

Thursday, 6 August was the red-letter night, and if the event seems somewhat anticlimactic, you can blame the avalanche of acclaim and awe the show has generated since it premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater, back in February.

Even before that sold-out run ended in early May, the Broadway transfer was announced, and the buzz only got buzzier as the show began its Main Stem previews on 13 July. Celebrities packed the audiences, topped by US President Barack Obama, who proclaimed the work “phenomenal”. Former President Bill Clinton and family had made it earlier to one of the Off-Broadway performances.

Journals and newspapers have been delivering thought pieces on how the show’s historic characters mirror today’s political scene, and plans were announced for a hard-cover book about the  musical, which will include the script, along with essays, interviews, photos and who knows what else. The tome is to come out next April.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the multi-tasking talent who wrote the show‘s book, music and lyrics and also portrays the title role, based his work on the 800-page-plus biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Even the plan to replace or add to the portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the U.S. ten-dollar bill with an historical female figure yet to be determined has done its part to keep the hubbub going.

And now that the show – directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler – has officially been given its Broadway birth, are the critics still ecstatic? Well, the New York Times stuck to its guns, declaring that this show “about young rebels grabbing and shaping the future of an unformed country” is “making its own resonant history by changing the language of musicals.”

And if I may be so bold as to quote myself from my review back in February: “Miranda’s version of hip-hop and rap is  surprisingly engrossing, giving clarity and drive as well as relevance to the storytelling. It makes hip-hop theatrically valid.”

“Most strikingly,” I further noted, “ to witness the mostly black and Latino cast cavort in Paul Tazewell’s handsome late 18th century costumes provides a foreshortening of this country’s social history that is masterful.”

Meanwhile, the fatal epidemic that infected so many of the Broadway musicals that opened during the 2014–2015 season has now caught up with the revival of On the Town. This exhilarating mounting of the landmark 1944 work, with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, has posted a 6 September closing notice. It’s  the eighth to close among the 13 musicals that launched open-end runs during the season. The production failed to score a single win at the Tony Awards, although it was nominated for our of them, including Best Musical Revival, and while it received strong reviews after its October opening, it has had a hard time filling up the humungous Lyric Theatre with its more than 1,800 seats.

When it closes, On the Town will have played 28 previews and 368 regular performances. If it’s any consolation, that will make it the longest-running of the three Broadway revivals of the show. The original ran for 462 performances. This revival will also go out on a high note of interest, in that ballerina Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named a principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, will be stepping into the show for its final two weeks, replacing Megan Fairchild as the elusive Miss Turnstiles.

Ron Cohen

* Readers may also be interested in:

Hamilton – The Public Theater, New York – Review

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