It is a Monday night. It’s February 15, 2016, and I’m watching the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. They’re about to announce the Best Musical Theater Album of 2016, and I’m like cool, and they announce the winner, and I’m gonna be honest, I have no clue who it is but all of a sudden then I see this large crowd of people just running and yelling and jumping around onstage. I remember sitting up so I could get a straight view of the screen, and after blinking a few times, the only thing I remember thinking was …
“Why is this dude in Revolutionary War clothing rapping his acceptance speech?”
The Next Day
I’ve woken up from a dream.
That’s how long I have had these tickets … and last night I was lucky enough to attend a performance of Hamilton: An American Musical at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood. I want to tell you about it and I know my words here aren’t going to do it any justice at all, but I’m still gonna try because I want to remember these feelings forever.
On the afternoon of September 6, 2017, after a whole day of wishing classes would go by faster, my sister, my cousin, and I were struggling to put on presentable theater clothes and get ready. We barely had any time to because God blessed Los Angeles traffic, so we’re on the road before I know it, and I am anticipating my death with every passing second.
You need to understand how many times I have been to LA and passed by this theater and seen all the signs, but have never seen the show inside. I was crossing the street and looking at the marquee lit up so brightly that you wouldn’t even need the street lamps. With every step I took closer to the entrance, I could barely process anything.
Walking up to the door, I held my breath. Everything, even by then, still felt like a whirlwind. There were so many people and so many lines, and this flash of yellow lights and a black star somewhere. That’s how I felt getting inside and through the chaos.
Crowds of people. No order. Long lines. Total chaos. I hear the words “hip-hop,” “Washington,” and “Puerto Rico,” in the mess of all the people around me and laugh because only here would that ever make sense.
We get to our seats, and I’m losing it. David Korins’ set is gorgeous in person, I’ve only seen pictures. My heart is literally racing, and I don’t think I can say that that’s happened many times in my life. It’s been so long, and I know there is still so much I haven’t seen yet.
The lights go down.
You would think all of everything – the thrill, the excitement, the realization that I was finally in the fucking room would have hit me by now – but it didn’t hit me then.
It didn’t hit me until those first seven notes filled the air in the room so aggressively that I didn’t have a second to be thrilled, and I’m seeing Burr onstage for this first time asking that first question, and I can’t breathe. I’m at the edge of my seat the entire time. The audience is alive, and I swear when Michael Luwoye walked out and said what his name was, the room shook with applause. It was insane. During the number, my mind was remembering back to how iconic this song was. The early White House version from the clip off YouTube flashed briefly in my head, and as I was watching the actors cross the stage, all I could think of was “Look how far this has all come. Look what Lin Miranda has done.” I never wanted to blink. I never ever wanted to blink, for fear of missing the smallest little thing. The ending of Alexander Hamilton where they say “You never learned to take your TIIIIIIME,” stunned me so much. That was the first time I cried out of 181 times that night. It was beautiful. It was real, and it was only the opening number. It felt like I was sitting in a dream.
This was everything I had ever seen in a still picture, from a small screen off YouTube, on TV, days of wishing you lived in New York, all of that erased and come to life, right in front of you and right in your hometown. I can’t explain it. I’m doing a bad job. It’s just so much, and while you’re sitting there, you just feel all this gratitude.
I could honestly write essays on “My Shot,” so to see it on a stage tonight was unbelievable. It was so much. It was a lot for me. There is so much energy within the song, you can feel the audience waiting every second for it to get bigger and bigger and the wild thing is, it just does. I remember not breathing for almost a minute. There is something about people calling for a revolution and being brave enough to stand up and do it, and when I remember that and put that in perspective of all the historical figures that actually pursued it, I get overwhelmed at how amazing the song is. Luwoye’s Hamilton was already incredible, and I could barely even comprehend it.
Seeing the girls perform The Schuyler Sisters was one of the happiest moments of my night. I was sitting next to my cousin and my sister – there are three of us. I could go into everything about Angelica’s love for Eliza and how I feel that but I won’t because that’s another huge deal, but just to be there with them, and to see these girls own their place in a world at a time so dominated by men was amazing, and Emmy Raver-Lampman, Solea Pfeiffer, and Amber Iman were stunning. When they started their dance at “We hold these truths,” I heard my cousin gasp, and that made me so happy. To hear someone else be moved by this – Not just me, and it’s not even the whole thing. It’s just the little moments that you haven’t seen before, or it’s different from how you pictured it in your head that make you gasp and then smile. It’s the incredible feeling of pride and excitement you feel when you get to scream right after, “Include women in the sequel!” because there are very few things that you believe in more than those lyrics .. It was overwhelming in the best way possible, and I loved sharing that with the girls that I would do anything for sitting in the seats right next to me.
The best thing about being in the audience is the experience you get to share with the people around you. Don’t you love the theater? King George III is also the life of the entire party and Rory O’Malley was fantastic, and to hear everyone around you laughing at his song, you can’t help but smile too. It’s contagious.
During “Helpless,” I look over and see both my cousin and my sister smiling, their faces lit by the spotlights from the stage. It’s one thing to watch a love story unfold, and another to watch someone else take that in. It filled my heart. “Helpless” is the song that got me into all of this. It was gorgeous on stage, I promise you. “Satisfied” broke my heart. The entire staging for this song and the rewind is really just unbelievable to see happening in front of you. The idea for rewinding a scene like that musically and theatrically is just so brilliant to me, and to stage a flashback in that way is truly so beautiful and genius. Go Tommy Kail. Go Angelica.
Wanna talk about dancing!? Cool. This is what you don’t get from the cast album. The album is obviously incredible musically. I absolutely praise and adore Alex Lacamoire and what he does, but the choreography is something you must go to the theater to see, and I can confirm that Andy Blankenbuehler is some other force of artistic nature because every movement was so brilliant. I was blown away by all the movement on stage, and there is just so much to look at and see at any given second. He truly deserves his Tony. This ensemble is talented. There is so much more to every story behind every song when you see the dancers paint the picture for you. They hold it all together.
If you were following the show before July 9, 2016 – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr.’s last day on Broadway as Hamilton and Burr – you probably felt what a lot of fans felt in that – if you’d never seen it, you wanted to break down and cry knowing that the original cast of this show you adore would no longer be playing their parts. After July, many of the cast started leaving the roles they originated. That day was also Phillipa Soo’s last day as Eliza, and Renee Elise Goldsberry left her role as Angelica in September. It was just this roller coaster of loving the show, but not wanting your favorite people to leave. I remember feeling heartbroken that I would never get to see Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton because for so long, you’ve listened to the record, and of course when you go to see it, you want it to sound exactly the way that you already love it. You don’t want it to be different. You’re afraid that if it’s different, it won’t feel the same.
Michael Luwoye’s Hamilton and Joshua Henry’s Burr chucked all of that out the window for me. Watching them, I did not. Even. Care. Not even halfway through the first act, I was endlessly grateful I was seeing them tonight. It didn’t feel the same as the cast recording. Obviously. It felt better.
The way that “Wait for It” starts is so simple and I think it’s some of the most beautiful lyrics ever written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and he writes a lot of beautiful lyrics. Joshua. Henry. Was. SO. GOOD. I couldn’t even tell you. I don’t know why I’m trying. When there’s that pause in the song before the music hits you and the ensemble comes in, it literallytook my breath away. I know that’s an expression people say when they’re super amazed at something, but I literally felt my breath escape through my mouth. I was so stunned by that performance. I looked over at my sister who is absolutely in love with this song, and she was in complete disbelief at Henry’s performance. He was so incredible.
It’s a show about the foundation of America, so I’m gonna get political for a second and not apologize for it. It’s the night of September 6, 2017. The day immediately before, Trump announces he wants to repeal DACA. Hamilton and Lafayette walk out onstage. They say, “Immigrants … We get the job done,” and the audience roars. There is a deafening amount of applause and screaming. I see a few people stand up on their feet to cheer, and that moment moved me so much, and that was proof to me that this show was not just a show. I teared up at the impact, at the message this story was sending, and how they literally do this every night. Eight times a week.
The one song that always pulls me out of the whole suspension of disbelief in the theater and the musical art form for a second is “Yorktown” just because it’s representative of what was America’s turning point in the war, and whenever I hear it I remember that the notion of your side winning is truly something else. Especially after you’ve become attached to all the characters. Laurens, Lafayette, Mulligan, and Hamilton as a group of soldiers fighting for all of this makes it riveting and groundbreaking. “Yorktown” is one of my favorite songs in the show. I love it SO much and during the number, I was at the edge of my seat. I remembered how I felt watching that number performed on The Tonys and how grateful I was that they chose to do that song that night. Luwoye killed it. He completely killed it, and when they’re moving all the furniture to symbolize their victory and they’re all shouting, “The world turned upside down,” and they all stand on top of their boxes, I got chills. I started crying.
I don’t even want to talk about “Nonstop” because “Nonstop” is a lot. It’s just so much. The first time I heard this song, with the constant, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time? Why do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? Why do you write like you need it to survive?” I was just like, I know why. I get you, Alex, and in the moment of watching this song onstage, when Burr is constantly mocking and pressing him, and Hamilton is still writing despite the mess going on around him, despite the country trying to get a grip in this post-war world, he is still writing, I felt that, and I was stressing out for him. I think I genuinely feel that pressure too in my own life. When Washington and Angelica and Eliza and everyone’s voices come in together at the end, I couldn’t even handle myself. I know that the end of “Nonstop” on the record is one of the most amazing things. To see it staged, I wanted to fall out of my chair. There was so much to look at and take in and absorb. I literally burst into tears again. For the first act to end with Hamilton saying, “I am NOT throwing away my shot,” in the most aggressive, most passionate way he will ever say it made me crazy. The room erupts, everyone applauds, and I can’t even do that because I’m crying so hard. I couldn’t clap because I was sobbing. The lights come up for intermission. People are giving me looks and their faces read, “Why on Earth are you crying? None of the sad shit has even happened yet?” Don’t talk to me.
The fact that I still had an entire hour and fifteen minutes left of more of this beautiful piece of theater, I was so overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude and amazement.
I’m dragging my cousin and my sister behind me, running down the stairs from the second floor coming back from the restroom saying, “I refuse to miss Jefferson!” We get back to our seats, and I am so ready for all that jazz to hit me except I was actually zero percent ready.
The Room. Where. It Happens. “The Room Where It Happens” is one of my favorite songs on the record, and I’m running out of adjectives to describe Henry’s Burr. It was just insane. He made it his own, and it was remarkable. My sister freaked out at the end when Burr holds that long note. Henry pulled that note from the sky and delivered it. He was just so. Good. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say. When Hamilton says, “God help and forgive me, I wanna build something that’s gonna outlive me,” I got chills all over my body. That line means the world to me. That line is why I’m here writing this. That line resonates with me so much, and to hear it in front of me in this moment, I can’t even tell you.
I’m just gonna say it. I cried during “One Last Time” because I miss Barack Obama. I absolutely love the honest character Lin-Manuel Miranda has made out of George Washington as a leader, and when Hamilton started reciting the lines to his Farewell Address, I was just thinking of him and I lost it. I read and study this stuff in school, and to see it musically in front of me is a huge deal. When the ensemble sings “George Washington’s going home,” I really started crying out of how much I missed a leader who could lead with honor and honesty.
“Hurricane” is .. I love .. “Hurricane” ………. It’s so hard to explain. This song is so special to me. This notion of writing your way out of everything horrible you’ve ever been through, every mess you’ve made, everything that goes wrong, to get you to where you want to go .. The fact that Hamilton gets there because he writes has always resonated so deeply with me. This idea that the mess around you is a disastrous hurricane and your impending death, but the only way you get out is to write .. If that’s not my life.
There were three times last night where my breath was taken away. The first time was in “Wait for It.” The second was during “Nonstop,” and the third was during “Hurricane.” There is a lighting change that takes place at the second of what I think is the most calm and serene moment in the song, and I audibly gasped at the scene. Sorry to the people around me. I know heads turned. I couldn’t really help it, just the way that whole rap near the end of the song was delivered had me wanting to fall out of my seat. The way that Luwoye said, “I wrote my own deliverance,” completely floored me. I was so moved and overwhelmed by his talent at this point, I literally had to take a deep breath in. Luwoye’s Hamilton is flawless.
Solea Pfeiffer is the incredible actress who plays Eliza, and I say incredible and mean every part of it. I heard the first six piano notes of “Burn,” and I started crying like she was still just walking out and I was already done. Her voice was incredible – delicate and moving, but it held all her presence. You could feel her anger in the song. What stuns me the most about “Burn” is the fact that Eliza Hamilton in real life got rid of every correspondence between her and Hamilton after the Reynolds Pamphlet went public. She was that angry with him. I mean, when your husband is literally a writer, that’s a huge deal. Historians only know what they know of Eliza Hamilton through letters from people who talked about her. Nothing from her because she got rid of them all, and the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda writes that she burned them is amazing to me. As a writer himself, he had nothing to work with except for the reasoning that a wife would be angry in this moment. When she says, “Let future historians wonder,” I cry harder for her pain. She knew. Hamilton’s such a jerk. Solea Pfeiffer was wonderful and continues to be deeply inspiring to me.
Ruben Carbajal plays Phillip Hamilton, and here he comes about to die. I am anticipating my emotional wreckage, and that scene is just so heavy. By the time the piano starts for “It’s Quiet Uptown,” I am very much hating the show. There is no room for me to breathe, Lin. Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica comes back out and her voice is so beautiful that it’s the most calming and comforting sound you could hear in the mess and pain of the last two minutes you just went through. “It’s Quiet Uptown” has an indescribable, untouchable but completely understandable grace to it. Eliza forgiving Hamilton is SO moving but to witness that moment on stage left me speechless, and this is the part where Michael Luwoye is completely at fault, like I absolutely 100% blame him for my tears. I had both my hands cupped over my mouth, and I was trying SO hard to be quiet but I was sobbing because the song by itself is already incredibly special, but the way that Luwoye reacted as Hamilton to Eliza’s forgiveness, and the way that Solea Pfeiffer held her grace in that moment .. I don’t think I will ever ever ever forget seeing that scene. I couldn’t even breathe. He was just SO good and SO talented. It was clearly evident in that moment. I was so moved to tears witnessing that. I could hear people around me taking out tissues from their purses and pockets. Words don’t reach to describe this part.
Can we get back to politics, please? I’m laugh-sobbing at this point and I’m trying to push my pain away. I remember then just thinking how truly grateful I was to the creators of the show for making this part so funny. It’s truly life-saving after all the tears. What I love about Act 2 is how governmental it is. I’m that kind of nerd, so I literally think it’s so fun. Endorsing people, voting for people, and then when Burr gets angry in “Your Obedient Servant,” which I think is the most underrated song in the show, it’s incredible finally seeing their whole journey on stage in front of you.
“The World Is Wide Enough,” and I never wanted it to be over, but Burr keeps singing anyway and he shoots that pistol. When Hamilton gets to his speech, I’m crying again. I’m tired, and my dude is about to die. Rise up. Wise up. Eyes. Up. I couldn’t even tell you what I felt after that. I don’t even know why I’m typing this. The summary is I cried 181 times, okay. It was too much. When Burr says, “Now I’m the villain in your history,” my heart breaks because it’s true. The way kids learn about Aaron Burr in classes is when you learn about how duels were still acceptable at the time. “The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me,” is interpreted by Tommy Kail as this … “Someone else having success does not undermine your chance at success.” That quote ran through my head during this number and that was enough for me to just accept the fact that I couldn’t stop the tears anymore.
“Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story” starts, and I keep sobbing, and I’m really hating Lin-Manuel Miranda for writing this show. Eliza starts singing about the orphanage and I break. Down. I couldn’t breathe. I was sniffling horribly. The second it finished, I stood up from my chair with the rest of the room and clapped for what felt like forever.
The lights come up, and I am broken. My family is laughing at me for how much I cried. There are water stains all over my dress from the tears. My face is all red, and I’m trying to stop crying but I can’t. I leave the theater broken, but my heart was so so so full.
We’re waiting in line at the stage door at the back of the building, and I’m praying that Michael Luwoye comes out. I just wanted to thank him. Hamilton, as a character, is so important to me, and I just needed to tell him thank you. I didn’t know if anyone was going to come out or not. I guess that’s the joy of stagedooring though. You’re just supposed to wait … But we were really lucky.
So many of show’s cast members came out to meet fans. It’s one thing to have done a three hour show, dancing and singing for everyone for that long, but it’s a whole other thing to be gracious enough and happy enough and energetic enough to come greet fans at the stage door when you haven’t even had dinner yet. Every actor was smiling and taking the time to have a conversation with everyone and taking pictures … They were so gracious, and they didn’t have to do that but they did, and how amazing it is to be able to say, “Thank you,” to them and to share that feeling with each other.
Most of the actors leave, and the line grows quiet for a while. I’m in a conversation with my sister as we’re still waiting when my cousin taps me on the shoulder and tells me to look behind me. I spin around to see Michael Luwoye at the front of the line signing autographs and after, “Oh my god,” I drop to my knees on the Hollywood sidewalk with a hand over my mouth and the tears just flowed out, right when I thought I got my cool back.
The only thing that was running through my head then was, “I can tell him thank you. I can tell him thank you. I can tell him thank you.”
I know I cry a lot, okay. My sister and cousin are laughing at how it’s literally the thousandth time I’ve bawled tonight, and I’m trying to stand up and compose myself when suddenly he’s standing right in front of me. I’m an absolute disaster. I’ve followed Michael Luwoye as an actor for a long time, and he says a lot of things that inspire me and help me get through what I need to on a daily basis. I just watched him perform as my favorite character for three hours. I waited eleven months to be here, and I tell him he’s my favorite person and he hugs me and I’m crying a dumb amount of tears.
Dear Michael Luwoye, if there is ever a day where you come across this, I’m sorry.
In person that night, I actually I apologized to him for looking like a mess because I was still in tears. He told me to, “Never apologize for crying.” He won’t ever know this, but I literally take that advice with me and trying to apply it to the art that I try to make. When I feel guilty for feeling anything, I try to remind myself of what he said. Never apologize for your feelings. Never apologize for just feeling. Feelings are human. They fuel creativity, and that’s what makes this all so real. He’ll probably never know how much that helps me.
I thank him for as much as I can in the moment, and I watch him as he talks to the rest of my family. He was SO humble and kind. He could have gone out the side door where nobody waits for anyone. He could have gone home, but he took the time, and I know he doesn’t always have the time. Tonight, he did. Tonight, I was so lucky. So so lucky.
I take a breath.
We head back to the parking lot, and I’m in the middle of the crosswalk at Argyle Avenue and I turn around to look back at the marquee. I watch them turn off the lights. I knew I probably wasn’t coming back to LA for a while now. This is probably the one time I will ever see this show, and that’s okay. I was grateful. I was grateful it was exactly the way that I saw it. I turned back around and saw my family ahead of me. To be able to share this night with them, I was happy they were here with me. Can they finally understand where I’ve been with this for the past two years? They probably think I’m finally gonna shut up about it but they would be very wrong.
Hollywood Boulevard is empty. The weather is warm. The sky is dark, but I feel so light. I was so happy.
The entire night I felt like I was walking through the chaos of a fast-paced dream, and then later when the thrill started to fade away, I realized that the only regret I had about this night was forgetting everything I wanted to say when I was meeting this incredible group of actors at the stage door. In the middle of post-show aftermath and trying to dry my tears, I just completely forgot. I forget to tell Rory O’Malley how much his podcast powers me through and helps me to keep choosing to pursue this life despite the difficulties. I forget to tell Joshua Henry how much In The Heights means to me, and then I forget to tell Michael Luwoye a hundred other things, like how ecstatic I was back in January finding out he’d be going on tour as Hamilton full time, how I had waited nine months to see him play this role, how deeply grateful I was for him saying yes to go on tour in the first place, how much he inspires me to continue to be myself in an artistic world I felt like I never fit into, how important his voice has been to me, how important “Hurricane” is to me, his decision to tell this story. I forgot to say all of it. I know told him “Thank you,” somewhere along the way, but I really just cried like the mess I always am. For them to bring this story that I had waited so long to witness to life in front of me, for re-lighting and then fanning that spark inside of me, for inspiring me that night, I was so grateful. I hope they know. I hope they somehow know.
There is the person you are before seeing Hamilton – over a year of listening to the music, seeing photos, hearing other people’s stories about what it’s like, being patient but you’re past it, thinking you’ll be 41 when you can finally afford tickets, checking for the latest news on New York time, wondering what the staging actually looks like, pulling over in your car to take a breather because you’re crying so hard as the album was playing .. and then there is the person you are after seeing Hamilton – utterly and indescribably astonished and inexplicably grateful. There is a fire inside me that has been re-lit to the fullest. My world will never be the same. I think that’s the only thing that I can say. Last night was the best night of my entire life. I wish for everyone that cares about this show to have this feeling someday. Someday. It’ll happen for you. I promise.
Some people say this show is over-hyped and I will definitely call you out on that if you say that to my face. It is genius and it deserves all its success because it is genuinely a good piece of art and quality created. We are living in the presence of a modern day Shakespeare – a musical Shakespeare – at the peak of his works, and it is notan exaggeration, no matter how many times he’ll deny it. It’s true.
I have never been to New York and I’ve never seen Broadway. When I was younger, I loved musicals. I thought they were the most magical thing. It blew my mind how some of them were born out of books like Les Misérables. I was that thirteen-year-old weirdo carrying around this gigantic book around school because I wanted to read Victor Hugo. When I discovered that they took that story and turned it all into song, it was like my whole world opened up.
When you grow up though, you can sometimes lose or forget or just put on the shelf the things you fell in love with as a child. For a long time, I forgot about musicals. I couldn’t afford to see theater so often so I never really went. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to New York anytime soon so I kind of just stopped following Broadway news. What Hamilton has done for is re-lit this fire. Lin-Manuel Miranda created a story that made its own sparks fly so high that even the child in me was able to wake up and see them. It’s reminded me about magic. It’s shown me again the importance of storytelling. It’s convinced me to keep creativity alive. It’s validated what I loved as a kid by proving to me how easy I can still fall for art like this and how much I can still love it.
It is not just a show.
It is not just a show to so many people. Every single day, some aspect of the show, a lyric, a phrase, a concept still remains increasingly relevant. There are kids all over the world obsessed with this musical because they had never seen people look the way they look on Broadway or even on a stage before. There are kids understanding American History better in classrooms because they can relate to these characters and now it doesn’t feel like a distant or irrelevant thing. It is very much the opposite. Hamilton is important and needed. Live and in person, Hamilton is also everything you would ever expect it to be, and a million things more. It is worth every penny. It is worth all the pennies.
My god. You read this far? I know I just wrote a century of pages, but there is so much more I could try to say. My heart and my head are full of so many emotions and thoughts … I think I just broke my block.
I’ve woken up from a dream.
The Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton: An American Musical 2016