Lin-Manuel Miranda on hand as ‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ debuts in Chicago
“[The exhibition] became an opportunity to actually take another at-bat at the information we couldn’t get into the show,” Miranda says.
To quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, here’s your chance, Chicago, to “take a deeper dive” into the world of Alexander Hamilton.
The “Hamilton” writer-creator-star and Tony Award-winner was in Chicago Friday afternoon for the ceremonial cutting-of-the-ribbon at the much-anticipated “Hamilton: The Exhibition” at Northerly Island. The 35,000-square-foot exhibition is the offspring of Miranda’s groundbreaking stage musical, in the midst of a nearly three-year run just a few miles away at the CIBC Theatre.
The immersive/interactive exhibition is housed in a massive black and gold hangar-like steel structure, a temporary facility that’s taken several months and thousands of man hours to complete ahead of Saturday’s official public opening.
“As someone told me [earlier today], ‘We added to the skyline of Chicago,’” said David Korins, creative director and set designer for the stage musical and the exhibition, who also was on hand for Friday’s festivities. Miranda, Korins and the rest of the “Hamilton” musical creative team, including orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, director Thomas Kail, and producer Jeffery Seller, were all smiles as they christened their new “baby.”
‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ When: April 27-Sept. 8 Where: Northerly Island, 1535 S. Linn White Dr. Tickets: $25-$39.50 Info: hamiltonexhibition.com
“As of today, more people have seen ‘Hamilton’ in Chicago than have seen ‘Hamilton’ in New York City on Broadway,” a smiling Seller said, explaining why Chicago was chosen to launch the exhibition (which will most likely head out on its own “tour” if it proves successful here). “So it made perfect sense to bring it to Northerly Island and continue our collaboration between ‘Hamilton’ and the city of Chicago.”
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Inside the cavernous structure are 18 galleries, each depicting an era in the life of Hamilton — from his humble beginnings in St. Croix to his death after an infamous duel with political rival Aaron Burr. In short, what Miranda and company could not fully bring to life in a two-and-one-half hour musical, the exhibition, its creators hope, will. Korins said one of the biggest goals of the exhibition was to represent Hamilton’s life “realistically rendered and as detailed as we possibly could.”
Those details play out amid millions of dollars of “sets” with spectacular lighting/sound design, multimedia projections, interactive contraptions, artifacts, drawings, paintings, lavish decor and an audio tour featuring Miranda, “Hamilton” stars Phillipa Soo and Christopher Jackson, and a Spanish version featuring “In the Heights” star Olga Merediz.
The galleries include the tent from which George Washington commanded the Revolutionary War army as he planned the Battle of Yorktown. It “comes to life” as miniature military figures play out his strategy.
The haunting blue “Schuyler Mansion” ballroom gallery is a selfie/Instgrammer’s dream, with all of the key players in Hamilton’s adult life depicted in golden/bronze statues with “informational plaques” at their feet. Click the key on your audio tour and you’ll learn be introduced to George and Martha Washington, the Schuyler sisters, and Hamilton himself.
In “Uniting the States,” a pulley system of ropes depicts the tug-of-war between the colonies and British rule.
The Duel gallery is one of the most emotionally charged, with life-size figures of Hamilton and Burr standing the very distance apart from which they fired their pistols in 1804.
In the Legacy gallery, Eliza Hamilton’s life is also addressed in much greater detail, especially her crusade to propagate the legacy of her husband’s life and work.
“You can go through this [exhibition] and just be surrounded by the music. You can go through this and learn about slavery in the Caribbean and Hamilton’s time in St. Croix. You can learn about the role of women during the Revolutionary War . It’s the chance to go down all those avenues we can’t go down in a linear fashion [in the musical],” Miranda added.
The politics of “Hamilton” came up when Miranda was asked how the milieu of Hamilton and Burr resonates in 21st century America.
“It depends on your political stripe,” Miranda said. “In 2016, Burr was Trump; Burr was Hillary. It became a shorthand for changing your opinion. Hamilton has become a political shorthand. Among the things I didn’t anticipate was watching lines from our show become political quotes. When the healthcare bill was defeated, my Twitter feed was filled with ‘You don’t have the votes!’ … The fights we had then are the fights we’re still having. It has become another way for us to talk about what’s going on in the world.”
“We want to entertain you, thrill you, give you joy, but also we want to continue this amazing opportunity to educate you about why our democracy is important and how democracy still infuses our life with opportunities that we would not have,” Seller added. “This is a time in history where we need to double-down an affirm the importance of our democracy.”
Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, whom a smiling Seller referred to as a “rabid ‘Hamilton'” fan, also addressed the media/invited guests prior to the ceremony.
“I’ve seen ‘Hamilton’ four times and each time I was blown away by it,” Lightfoot said. “It’s sparked many a Schuyler sister sing-off in our kitchen, as our daughter knows every song verbatim.”