Award-Winning ‘Hamilton’ Comes to Alaska
The ‘Hamilton’ craze has reignited like it’s 2015 as the record-breaking, award-winning musical made Anchorage, Alaska an official stop on its North American tour. Facilitated by the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts (the PAC), this transformative hip-hop opera crams as much American history as possible into 3 hours - albeit missing some very critical blemishes - and tells the story of the relentlessly idealistic ‘underdog’ of the original American colonizers, Alexander Hamilton. First and foremost, the fact that we had a touring Broadway show of this caliber and hype in Alaska is a promising stride for our community, and undoubtedly good for our economy. Hamilton is a big show, it’s important to have more conscious representation of Latinos and BIPOC communities, and Anchorage deserves more big shows like this.
‘Hamilton’ presents some obvious challenges because it takes place in two very different realities. While I have genuine reservations about over-celebrating a show that perpetuates a sort of revisionist history that earnestly tries to sell a story of “bootstrapping” and simply glosses over the devastating reality of colonization and slavery, I can appreciate the artistic license in telling this story of our flawed ‘Founding Fathers’ through Black, Indigenous, Latin American, and other actors of color whose very portrayal would send some of these ‘Fathers’ into cardiac arrest. I dislike the idea of romanticizing characters that were complicit in generations worth of trauma to the communities represented on stage with no voice to the actual trauma itself, but I can appreciate the silent artistic middle finger by reclaiming the narrative for people of color, and I don’t feel like it was lost on Lin-Manuel Miranda when he wrote it. It’s challenging to sit with both, and I can’t rationalize telling the story of America without being deliberately honest about slavery and colonization.
From an artistic standpoint, the creatives behind this production have serious talent and the diverse casting was something to behold. It was both a beautiful breath of fresh air and a solemn reminder that Broadway at large - outside of intentionally diverse productions - has a serious diversity problem. This musical does a good job of playing in the face of that fact. The ‘Hamilton’ performers are so deserving of all the hype and celebration. Jared Howelton (Marquis De Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Candace Quarrels (Eliza Schuyler/Hamilton), Lencia Kebede (Angelica Schuyler), and De’onte Goodman (Aaron Burr) were notably the standout stars in this run. Their vocal agility and soulful expression were in a class all their own.
I have tremendous gratitude for the logistical lift it must have been to get so many elements of the ‘Hamilton’ set up to our Arctic community. The lighting design of this musical, credited to Howell Binkley, was masterfully done with intricate attention to every granular detail, elevating the set in a way that transported the viewer and adjusted our perception to the tone of each scene. Lighting design can oftentimes be regarded as an afterthought in many shows, but the intentionality of the lighting design in ‘Hamilton’ was obvious and deserves praise. The music and lyrics were of course strong, and while Miranda may have the energy of a goofy history teacher, I question his handling of this story, he really is a musical genius in his own right and his signature storytelling swagger catapulted him to a spot in pop culture that he undoubtedly deserves.
I applaud the PAC for this effort, and for bringing an experience like this to the Anchorage community. Getting a show of this magnitude all the way up to Alaska is no simple task, and the logistical accomplishments of this production made possible by the successful partnership between the PAC and Broadway giant, The Nederlander Organization, shows that it can be done and it’s worth the hard work. Art is incredibly valuable to society, to our economy, and to our growth as a city, and we must be the kind of community that upholds that value. Alaska has a thriving arts community, and by producing and attending more big-ticket shows like this in our city, we all help put Alaska on the map as a worthy destination for touring artists and productions.