Anticipation builds for 'Hamilton's' January stint in Pittsburgh
The new year starts off with a bang with the opening of “Hamilton” in Pittsburgh.
Anticipation for the latest touring production of the megahit musical coming to Benedum Center – presented by Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as part of its PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series – has been unprecedented.
As a result, most of the 31 upcoming performances Jan. 1-27 were completely or almost sold out nearly two weeks before opening night. Fans are looking to digital lotteries being held two days before each performance for the slim chance to win up to a pair of 40 $10 seats being offered for all shows
The pop culture phenomenon since its Broadway premiere in August 2015 is generating the same excitement everywhere it goes — and giving audiences a history lesson about the birth of our nation they won’t soon forget.
America then and now
Its producers describe the show directed by Thomas Kail as “the story of America then, as told by America now.” It’s based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and served as the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary.
Composer, lyricist, playwright, rapper and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda – who currently portrays a London lamplighter in Disney’s holiday blockbuster movie “Mary Poppins Returns” – created the book and a lively musical score for “Hamilton” that features hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, RB and Broadway show tunes.
Young people ‘get it’
Josh Tower, who plays Aaron Burr, a Continental Army officer who became the third Vice President of the United States, said the show’s diverse cast and contemporary score speak especially to young people.
“The young ones totally get it,” he said. “They can feel the new beats and rhythms in their bodies and then their minds can pull in the lyrics. And to see people representative of them is a special thing.”
His role as the main antagonist of the musical culminates in an Act 2 shooting scene depicting an actual pistol duel that occurred between Burr and Hamilton on July 11, 1804, ending a long and bitter rivalry between the two men.
Tower said that both the duel and the issue of immigrants and the positive contributions they can make to the country have prompted conversations drawing comparisons between Colonial America and society today because of “Hamilton.”
“I hope that people see themselves up there (on stage) and realize it didn’t have to come to a duel,” he said. “Burr and Hamilton could have talked about their differences. They were friends; it didn’t have to end this way. My hope is that people understand that nothing has to end in violence.”
He said one of his favorite songs in the show written by Miranda, “Dear Theodosia,” delivers a powerful message for parents, including himself, about their hopes for the future and how “despite how hard you mess up, everything will be OK.” He and his wife are parents to two children, ages 4 and 6. A portion of the lyrics of “Dear Theodosia”:
“You will come of age with our young nation We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you If we lay a strong enough foundation We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you And you’ll blow us all away.”
Tower, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Ambler and studied theater at Temple University (BFA) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (MFA), previously performed in Pittsburgh CLO productions of “Miss Saigon” in 2010 and as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 2011.
His Broadway credits include “School of Rock – the Musical,” “Motown the Musical,” “Ragtime” and “The Lion King.”
“Hamilton” also features Austin Scott as Alexander Hamilton, Anna Cruz as Eliza Hamilton, Paul Oakley Stovall as George Washington, Stephanie Umoh as Angelica Schuyler, Bryson Bruce as Marquis de Lafayette and Peter Matthew Smith – a Sewickley native who attended Quaker Valley High School and Point Park University – as King George.
How to enter the digital lottery
The lottery will open at 11 a.m. Dec. 30 for tickets to the Jan. 1 performance. Subsequent digital lotteries will begin two days prior to each succeeding performance.
Forty tickets will be sold for every performance for $10 each. Winners may purchase up to two tickets. Visit hamiltonmusical.com/lottery to register.
More about the show
A signed, interpreted and closed captioned performance will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 27. An Audio Described performance will take place at 2 p.m. Jan. 26.
“Hamilton” is appropriate for ages 10 and up. The show contains some strong language and non-graphic adult situations. Every patron, regardless of age, must have a ticket. No child under age 3 will be admitted.
For answers to questions about “Hamilton” at the Benedum, visit trustarts.org/HamiltonFAQ/
“Hamilton” Education Program
Pittsburgh is among the tour cities participating in the Hamilton Education Program, an outreach partnership between the producers of “Hamilton” and the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s mission to improve the teaching and learning of American history. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation and other donors, high school students in Title I schools pay a nominal fee to see a performance of the show and interact with actors.
“It’s a magical experience for students,” says Tower. “Teenagers really hook into this musical.”
“Hamilton: The Exhibition”
The excitement over “Hamilton” will continue into the spring with the April launch in Chicago of “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” which will take visitors deeper into the life and times of Alexander Hamilton through an immersive exhibit featuring an interactive mix of in-depth scenography, lighting, sound, multimedia, music and an audio tour narrated by Miranda.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.