Who knew our Founding Fathers could be this cool? Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda, that’s who.
HAMILTON runs May 22-June 10 at the Fox Theatre. Details, tickets (which can top $600) HERE or at 855.285.8499.
YOU MIGHT NOT have given him much thought until recently, but the guy on the $10 bill has become the most popular Founding Father in the land. His name is Hamilton, and here’s how it happened.
In the summer of 2007, just before his In the Heights moved to Broadway, playwright-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda was vacationing in Mexico with then-girlfriend Vanessa Nadal. He was reading Ron Chernow’s 818-page Alexander Hamilton.
Choosing that biography was some sort of crazy fate, Miranda says. At one point he turned to Nadal and said, “I think this is a great hip-hop musical.”
“That sounds cool,” she replied.
Miranda and Nadal had known each other since high school, and he held great stock in her opinions, even though she’s not particularly fond of musicals. Her response was all the encouragement he needed.
“Can you have Angelica rap?” Nadal asked Miranda. “That would be cool.”
Miranda spent the next seven years writing the book, music and lyrics for Hamilton. Nadal came home from work one day and said, “Your king tune was stuck in my head all day — that’s probably a good sign.” She was right. King George’s witty Beatle-esque “You’ll Be Back” became a showstopper for Tony Award nominee Jonathan Groff.
Miranda, now 38, considers Hamilton a love letter to his wife. “This show simply doesn’t exist without Vanessa,” he says. He calls her the “best of wives and best of women,” just as Hamilton does his wife, Eliza.
Julia K. Harriman, who plays Eliza in Atlanta, says the role “is easily the coolest thing to ever happen to me.”
Best of wives, best of women
Harriman, 25, has worked mostly as a singer-songwriter and voice-over artist, with little theater experience. She often had trouble getting cast, she says, citing her Asian-Caucasian heritage.
“I’d go in for a commercial, and they’d try to match me up with parents, but then they couldn’t be convinced that I looked like I could be the child of those parents. I never saw someone that looked like me.”
In Hamilton, that’s an advantage. From the get-go, Miranda envisioned a multicultural cast — to represent a nation born to welcome immigrants and to signal America’s diversity today.
For her first 10 months in Hamilton, Harriman stood by for the three Schuyler sisters, which meant learning four key roles, a time she calls “terrifying and intense.” She only knew a song or two from the score when she auditioned and was cast before ever seeing it.
One historic day in 2015 …
Hamilton opened on Broadway on Aug. 6, 2015, and became an immediate box-office hit and critical favorite.
“I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show,” New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote. “But Hamilton … might just about be worth it.”
Hamilton won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for best musical. It won 11 of the 16 Tony categories in which it was nominated, including direction (Thomas Kail), leading actor (Leslie Odom Jr.’s Aaron Burr), featured actress (Renee Elise Goldsberry’s Angelica Schuyler), featured actor (Daveed Diggs’ Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson), book and score (Miranda), choreography, orchestrations, costumes and lights.
The one-of-a-kind musical shows no signs of slowing. Four productions are playing simultaneously around the country, a feat never before accomplished. That means that more than 8,000 people experience Hamilton somewhere in North America each night, the Hollywood Reporter says. It’s also in London, and Miranda is planning to reprise his leading role and take Hamilton to Puerto Rico.
How to account for this watershed moment in theater history? The words “epic” and “contemporary” come to mind.
A musical for non-musical lovers
Hamilton’s theme — the birth of a nation — is likely as big as they get. Among its cast of characters are three presidents, several vice presidents, a king, assorted U.S. Cabinet members and that scrappy title character introduced as “a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished in squalor …”
The show’s up-to-the-minute vibe, multiracial casting, earth-tone design, energetic choreography, layered lyrics and melodic score (incorporating rap, soul, R&B and traditional Broadway sounds) have won over throngs who claim to have never liked musicals before.
“The show in New York is different from our show,” Harriman says admiringly, “and our show is different from any of the others.” The freewheeling combinations of 28 diverse cast members “bring a whole new light every single time to this beautiful material and stunning choreography.”
Harriman says she enjoys meeting and chatting with kids who see Hamilton as part of the show’s educational outreach.
“My favorite thing of all is when kids who’ve just seen the show say that now they can see themselves up onstage someday. This show is opening doors, crashing down barriers.”
As Vanessa Nadal might say: “That’s cool.”
Four Hamilton cast members come from Georgia. They are:
CHRIS De’SEAN LEE (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson) was born in Augusta and raised in Atlanta. He recently completed his junior year at Belmont University in Nashville.
JEFFERY DUFFY (Ensemble) has roots in Atlanta’s Adamsville neighborhood. He attended Pebblebrook High School/Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts and received his B.F.A. from The Juilliard School. In 2017, Dance Magazine named him one of “25 to Watch.”
JENNIFER GELLER (Ensemble) grew up in Marietta and attended Pebblebrook High’s CCCEPA. She has performed in regional theater and toured with Bring It On: The Musical.
HOPE ENDRENYI (Swing) grew up and trained in Marietta. She, too, attended Pebblebrook High’s CCCEPA. She has a B.F.A. in dance from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.