The irony of real-life circumstances was clearly not lost on the Chicago opening night audience Wednesday at the PrivateBank Theatre for the mega-hit, Tony Award-winning “Hamilton.”
At the same time the crowd was watching the super-talented cast rap about the politics and turmoil of the new America circa the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were verbally slugging it out in Las Vegas. “You can’t help but think about how this show resonates with what is happening tonight,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan during the “Hamilton” intermission. “It really does hit close to home.”
The reaction of the audience seemed to mirror that thought.
The debate scenes between Thomas Jefferson (played with exquisite comedic timing by Chris De’Sean Lee) and Alexander Hamilton (Miguel Cervantes) drew big laughs and breakout applause. Yet, perhaps the biggest audience roar of the night came when Lee, in his second role as the Marquis de Lafayette, noted, “Immigrants — we get the job done!” That reference was shared in a scene with Hamilton himself nodding happily, considering our first secretary of the Treasury and face of the $10 bill was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis.
All through the show, various lines generated laughs and clapping from audience members apparentlythinking how this rap musical — set more than 200 years ago — touched on issues and political points being made today.
A few examples included “You don’t have the votes,” “Governing is harder” and “Talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or for.”
The zinger about the country’s first vice president echoed a complaint many U.S. veeps could understand: “John Adams doesn’t have a real job anyway.” That too generated loud guffaws.
A popular supporting character was King George III, played with great aplomb by Alexander Gemignani. His reference to absolute rule got knowing laughs, but included an ominous note about dictatorship:
“When push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
Finally, the show’s repeated references to sexual infidelity and secret political deal-making (“No one was in the room when it happened.”) also made us all think of late 20th and early 21st Century American politicians.
So, beyond the great music, acting, choreography and staging, the ongoing success of “Hamilton” is likely anchored by its ability to make audiences see that history DOES have a way of repeating itself — for better or for worse.