Monday, April 29, 2019

Hamilton The Exhibition

Hamilton the Exhibition is now open at Northerly Island
on a peninsula near the Adler Planetarium.  It's not Weehawken
NJ, but it will have to do!\.
I had a great time attending the opening day of Hamilton the Exhibition, even though by the time I left the exhibit it was snowing in April.  Welcome to Chicago, Hamilton the Exhibition!

As you all know, I have been a big supporter of Hamilton since I first heard the soundtrack three years ago, and have chronicled on this page and on Facebook my obsession with Hamilton (I've seen it three times, and was so thrilled to meet the director Tommy Kail (and later Lin-Manuel Miranda) the creator at various events.  So I was excited to attend a press conference with Lin-Manuel and Exhibiton Creative director David Korins (who also did the scenic design for Hamilton)  And I surprised my son by picking him up at school to take him to the press conference!

A model of New York during Hamilton's time.
I thought he would be thrilled, and maybe secretly he was, but he was also upset, because we were cutting into his valuable screen time.  He had a couple of near crying experiences at the press conference, and I felt like an idiot for bringing him and expecting more from him.  Really, that's the problem with ten year olds-- they seem like they've got it together, but they are really hanging on by a very tenuous thread.  I also made the mistake of not having sweets for him, (I ran out of time) and that didn't help the situation.

We muddled through, and I got to hear Lin-Manuel and David Korins talk about the exhibition.

Here's just a sample of what they talked about.

Later, we walked around the gift shop and they've really plussed-up some of the merch.  They had a beach towel that said "Run Away With Us For the Summer" and shot glasses that said "Do Not Throw Away Your Shot."  They also have glasses to raise to freedom, and a lot more.

The next day we drove back to the exhibition, well-rested, relatively well fed, and amply supplied with snacks (although I think my son would disagree with that last point, as he ate his snacks and mine about 2/3 the way through.  Ah, 10 year old metabolism!)  My son was better behaved then, and suitably impressed.  I think he even liked having been in the same room as Lin.  (although we didn't get to trip a little light fantastic!)

The exhibition was fantastic, and may be one of the most dramatic and well-designed exhibitions I've ever seen.  Part of it is my affinity to the subject matter to be sure, but a lot must be attributed to David Korins, whose design and thinking this exhibit reflects.

My feelings about Hamilton The Exhibition in a nutshell!

One of the things that makes this interesting is that it is an exhibit about Hamilton the person, but it is seen through the lens of Hamilton the Musical. 

Throughout the exhibition, there are little places where they tell how the musical changed facts or combined people for dramatic effect (for example, it wasn't Jefferson, Madison and Burr that confronted Hamilton about his payments to Mr. Reynolds-- it was three members of Congress.  But in the musical, it didn't make sense to introduce three new characters to disappear. 

Or the fact that Burr didn't actually attend Hamilton's wedding.  Or that Angelica was actually married BEFORE she met Hamilton, and therefore was never available.

 It's fascinating to see all those things in reference to the musical that wouldn't make any sense in a typical exhibit.

Here are some of my favorite parts of the exhibit.

Every guest gets a headset that has a geolocator, so as you walk into each room of the gallery, that triggers an introduction, or explanation.  My son's didn't quite fit, but he was able to make it work.

So now you have Lin-Manual Miranda and Phillipa Soo (who played Eliza) guiding you through each room.  Commentaries by other people, including Yale Historian Joanne B. Freeman and Christopher Jackson, who played George Washington, are also included.  There are also various exhibits where you can point your headset at something and hear a more thorough explanation.  This does two things-- it gives people a natural certain amount of time to take in the exhibition, and keeps people moving along through the exhibition.  There are a few rooms that are stops along the way-- little experiences that only a few people can do at a time.
More importantly, it now gives us the opportunity to really personalize the experience at the hands of two fantastic actors, and that makes the experience come to life even further.

Each room that you enter in the gallery tells a story of the musical and thus of Hamilton's life.  Many of them are beautifully designed, and have a theme that is relevant to the musical, but are not handled very dryly.

For example, there is a hurricane room, in which they talk about the hurricane that devastated the Caribbean island that Hamilton was born on, and which you wrote so eloquently about that the island people took up a collection to get him educated in the United States.  This is a slow stairway up into the next set of galleries, that features two turntables slowly turning debris.  Creating a hurricane of sorts.  The turntables also echo the turntables in the production.

Another room that was pretty amazing was the tent/war room for the battle of Cornwallis  This is a tent that you walk into and there is a giant map in the center.  You sit or stand around it, while Christopher Jackson as Washington tells you his plan.  Meanwhile, as they explain what happens, mysteriously, 3 dimensional sculptures of ships, and figures representing Cornwallis, or Rochambeau, or Lafayette all move as if my magic across the map.  It's pretty remarkable.  (I wanted to videotape it, but the proctor said no videotaping, and she was standing right next to me.  You'll have to see it for yourself!
The map, with the figures

One of the last rooms is the most dramatic.  You enter into it and see two lifesize sculptures of Burr and Hamilton about to duel.

The details are great, down to the pistols used and the glasses on Hamilton (which are mentioned in the musical)

In this room, there is also a dual timeline (see what I did there?) which shows Hamilton's last 32 hours on the top and Burr's last 32 years on the bottom.  One of the fascinating ironies is that Alexander Hamilton Jr.  presided over Burr's divorce as he was dying.  These guys were intertwined!

Timeline:  Hamilton's last 32 hours vs. Burr's last 32 years.

The last couple of rooms are dedicated to the legacy of Hamilton and to Eliza.

Replica of Hamilton's desk

Hamilton family tree

One of my favorite parts was seeing what people over history had said about Hamilton.  He was a divisive figure for sure.  (And Balloon of Malice has to be one of the best insults ever!  Thank you William Carlos Williams!)

And at the very end, you the viewer got to have your say.

The very last room was both intriguing and circular.  It featured the first song about Hamilton (What's Your Name), as performed by the current(?) cast of Hamilton.

 It was great, and I think promises that the inevitable movie of Hamilton the Musical will also be great, but it's a little weird that we didn't start with that song.

I love how it made the circle complete- we are talking about Hamilton, and here's a reminder of the musical.  But I think that if you were going to really make it circular, you should start the whole shebang with this video, which is the video of Lin-Manuel Miranda performing a new song that might be part of a concept album he was making called Hamilton The MixTape.

To get tickets to Hamilton the Exhibition, visit

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