As of 8 o'clock last night, I had spent a total of about 35 hours outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre since I got home from Rome: 11 in various lottery and Ham4Ham lines throughout Lin Manuel Miranda's final weeks, and 24 in the cancelation line on two separate days in what I hoped would be a final successful attempt at getting tickets.
When my sister and I first tried the cancelation line it was in the first stages of morphing into an event only for those who were truly desperate. Like the other cancelation lines on Broadway, it is meant as a means of getting tickets the day of a show, either from people who actually cancelled their tickets or from the theatre's supply of perfectly placed seats saved for last minute VIPs. On most nights, the average was between five and fifteen, sometimes twenty. The number had begun to linger closer to the former since the show's creator, Lin Manuel Miranda, announced he was leaving. People had begun sleeping outside the theater earlier in the week we decided to try the line, when Leslie Odom Jr. and Phillipa Soo announced they would be leaving the show with Lin on July 9th. Still, I had heard that if we were able to get to the theatre before 6 a.m., especially on a two show day, you had a chance of being one of those tickets. My sister and I arrived at the theater at 6:15 a.m. and found 45 people ahead of us in a line that stretched to the stage door of the Imperial Theatre next door. Needless to say, we did not make it into the theatre that night.
In the following weeks, the line stretched into a four day wait. People slept on the sidewalk, fights broke out from disagreements over places in line, and the theatre staff began to lose control of the crowds. Yet, in the three days after Lin, Leslie, and Phillipa left, I watched the line shorten from a four day wait to barely one. I passed the line on a Tuesday morning and found just two girls outside, waiting for the 7 p.m. show. It was still an eight-hour wait, but considering I had spent 14 hours there just a few weeks before was baffling to me.
So we tried again. We got to the theatre on Friday at 10 a.m. and found just five girls ahead of us. Ten hours later, my sister and I saw Hamilton. Our tickets were released at 7:57 p.m., three minutes before showtime. Our seats were eighth row, center orchestra. AKA seats that are currently selling for over $1100 on Ticketmaster right now, and we got them for less than $200.
Obviously, the show blew me away completely, but I don't need to tell you how phenomenal it was. I will say that it somehow manages to exceed the high expectations and the extreme hype surrounding it, that the way the songs flow from one to the next to the next, each with such extreme energy from the lighting design to the ensemble and choreography that it's a completely unique experience, but it's all been said at this point. What is most important to know right now is that the show still absolutely shines without its original Hamilton, Burr, Eliza, and Lafayette, and it will continue to after every member of that original cast leaves. Phillipa Soo's replacement, Lexi Lawson, and the original Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Oak Onaodowan, were out that night, meaning the majority of the cast we saw was made up of understudies and standbys.
As I watched the show unfold, I realized that, as it is now in the months before its roles are recast, it functions as a love letter to its ensemble, its swings and alternates, its understudies and standbys, almost like its own version of 'A Chorus Line.' Alysha Deslorieux's Eliza was impossibly sweet and heartbreaking, Austin Smith's Burr intense yet undeniably tired, Ephraim Sykes' Hercules Mulligan/James Madison each so well crafted it was easy to forget they were played by the same person, and Seth Stewarts Lafayette/Jefferson, especially his Jefferson, endless fun. Javier Muñoz, previously Lin's alternate, as Hamilton is completely captivating, endearing from the start but able to relay Hamilton's reckless, verging on dangerous ambition and hunger in a moment's look or posture.
Of course, those still doing the show from the original cast were phenomenal. Chris Jackson, Renee Elise Goldsberg, Anthony Ramos, and Jasmine Cephas Jones and much of the ensemble have been there since the beginning and left the audience more than a bit starstruck, but the understudies, many of them normally ensemble members, owned the spotlight. I can't imagine 'Hamilton' has suffered at all since its original leads left, and if it has, the show and its cast have still proven it is perfectly capable of continuing to astound its audiences in their absence. And yet, the fact that the current cast is completely underestimated is clear in the very fact that I was able to get into that theatre, in the fact that the cancelation line didn't even begin to really grow until after noon and hasn't been any longer since July 9th. Though the show is going on tour and settling in Chicago and Los Angeles soon, the unique experience of seeing an entire cast of understudies owning the biggest show on Broadway is worth the wait. Considering the entire show is about rising through the ranks and taking your place at the top, it only makes sense that its current leading roles are littered with those who've done just that.