Making History Dance
Hamilton, which had its first run at NYC’s Public Theater earlier this year, is an unlikely success story. Who would’ve guessed that a musical based on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton would be such a hit? But thanks to the show’s creative dream team, which includes writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (who worked together on In the Heights), Hamilton has become the definition of total theater domination.
The musical, which opens on Broadway this July, isn’t a stuffy historical account. It’s driven by hip-hop music—and Miranda’s signature raps. Here, Blankenbuehler and original cast member Sasha Hutchings discuss what makes Hamilton so special.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) and the cast of Hamilton (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Sam Rudy Media Relations)
Dance Spirit: What do you love most about this show?
: It looks like the 1700s and 1800s—the characters wear period clothing—but the language is totally contemporary. Thomas Jefferson even raps against Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. There’s a level of honesty that hits people hard. And the history is relevant to today.
: You’ll leave the theater emotionally exhausted! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to jump out of your seat. People come into the show thinking they won’t relate to it—we’re used to seeing old men in white wigs telling the story of our founding fathers. But this show makes them human. The people onstage look like the people you go to school or ride the subway with.
DS: Andy, how did you develop the choreography?
: I wanted to make the movement realistic, and I felt I couldn’t begin with normal dance vocabulary. Instead, I started with larger ideas and went from there. For example, early on in the war, the American forces were a mess, a really ragtag group. To represent that, I never put them in unison. They’re trying to fight this war, but it isn’t coming together. The British, on the other hand, are the opposite—always in unison, never funky.
DS: What’s most challenging about Hamilton, Sasha?
: The ensemble’s onstage through the entire show. Sometimes we’re interacting with the characters in a scene, other times we’re directing the audience’s focus. It took a few weeks of performing to understand the stamina required.
DS: Has working on this show made you more of a history buff, or more patriotic?
: I definitely think I’m more patriotic. I’m admittedly a bit ignorant when it comes to politics. But now, I have more of an appreciation of our country’s building blocks.
: As an African-American woman, looking at old history books didn’t make me eager to take ownership of the foundation of my country. It’s such a complex history. But after Hamilton, I’ve realized that the men in those books are a lot like us. We’re all still fighting for the right to be happy and live a full life.