A New Kind of ‘Hamilton’ Show, This Time on Lake Michigan – Smart Media Magazine

A New Kind of ‘Hamilton’ Show, This Time on Lake Michigan


CHICAGO — Audrey Burcham and Grace Troelstrup got up at 5 a.m. Saturday to be sure they’d make it on time. By 7, three hours before a large “Hamilton” exhibition opened here, they were standing at the front of the line with their moms. Audrey, 12, was clutching an Alexander Hamilton doll as well as a hard-bound collection of inspirational tweets from Lin-Manuel Miranda and, of course, a Playbill; Grace, 13, was wearing a gold star “Hamilton” knit cap and toting “Hamilton: The Revolution,” the explanatory book known to fans as the Hamiltome.

“We’re obsessed,” Audrey said. Grace nodded in agreement. “Hamilton is our life now.”

Hamilfans (yes, that’s what they call themselves) have a lot of ways to engage with the juggernaut musical. There’s the show itself, of course, now playing in six productions in North America and Britain, with a seventh expected at some point in Germany, and the books and the app and the cast recording and the mixtape.

The immersive exhibition tracks the life of Alexander Hamilton, who was the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, from his childhood in the Caribbean to his fatal shooting on a dueling ground in Weehawken, N.J., and it also uses his life as a tool for exploring early American history.

It follows the arc of the musical, but also delves into issues that are only lightly mentioned onstage — like the role of slavery in the economy of the Americas, including colonial New York, and offers information about soldiers of color, women at war and Native Americans. A room focused on the election of 1800 features silhouettes of those excluded from voting in early America, including women, enslaved African-Americans, Native Americans and poor whites.

There are carnival-game-style exhibits that try to help visitors understand Hamilton’s concern with debt, banking, and manufacturing policy, and, inside a facsimile of George Washington’s wartime tent, there is a tabletop plan for the Battle of Yorktown featuring toy ships and soldiers that move by magnetization. There is a room with a spiral path to represent the hurricane that affected Hamilton’s early life, there are quotes about Hamilton from famous Americans and there’s a legacy area where visitors can write down their own wishes for America.

“I have so many people come up to me and say, ‘I hardly knew anything about Hamilton, and I want to know more,’” Mr. Miranda said in an interview here. “This is for them.”

There are, of course, many nods to the musical, including an audio guide narrated by Mr. Miranda and two other member of the original cast — Phillipa Soo and Christopher Jackson. The exhibition also has a soundtrack that will be familiar to fans — it’s a reorchestrated instrumental version of the show’s score, recorded in a Los Angeles studio by a 27-piece band.

“There are two ways to respond to the musical — one is to say, ‘Everything is not accurate, and I don’t like that,’ and the other is to say, ‘Everything is not accurate, so come with me and let me tell you more,’” Professor Freeman said. “I’ve been studying this period for many decades, and I’ve never seen this kind of interest — people want to know more, and it’s a wonderful thing that the show wanted historians to come in and offer a responsible version of more.”

Professor Gordon-Reed, who called the musical “fictionalized biography,” said the exhibition “attempts to tell the story in broader context.”

“I imagine lots of young people will be there, and this will give them a more nuanced view of what happened in early America,” she said.

Early attendees seemed impressed. Among those lined up for the opening were Alex Lipp, 19, of Chicago, and Cyandra Bennett, 19, of Sheldon, Ill. On Friday night, they had seen the musical in Chicago — Ms. Lipp cosplaying as King George and Ms. Bennett as Hamilton. And on Saturday morning, Ms. Lipp showed off a forearm tattoo with words from the show’s libretto, “History has its eyes on you,” while Ms. Bennett had the show’s signature star drawn in black makeup under her left eye.

Because they were in the first group to move through the museum, they got an unexpected bonus — they spotted Mr. Miranda in the last room, and got a selfie with him. “It was surreal — I was shaking really hard,” Ms. Lipp said. As for the exhibition, she said, “There was literally nothing I didn’t like.”



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