My wife recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and so I thought it would be nice to mark the occasion with a special event. Because she’s been dying to see Hamilton for years, I figured that would be something special for us to do.
However, tickets for Hamilton are always in demand, so I had to plan ahead if I wanted this to work out. Way back in January, I bought tickets for the May 19th matinee. (You can do the same by clicking HERE.) Be prepared, the tickets range from ridiculously expensive to fairly overpriced. Unless you buy at the very last minute, you’re going to spend a pretty penny. But our loved ones are worth it, right? Absolutely.
We originally planned to take the Amtrak train from Normal to Chicago. We’ve done this in the past and it’s always been a simple endeavor. Shockingly, Amtrak cancelled our train the week before departure. Again, I scheduled these tickets back in January, so this proved unwelcome news. I discovered when I called to find out what caused the cancellation that they had transferred our train tickets to bus tickets without telling us, so I immediately cancelled those and told them we’d be driving ourselves. Oh, by the way — the reason for the train cancellation? Line work.
I don’t mind driving into Chicago, but it does introduce a new set of challenges — primarily the issue of parking. Fortunately, this turned out to be easy. I found a website called iParkit which allows you to reserve a spot. This particular spot could be found in a parking garage near the theater. I just had to mark the date, the arrival time, and the departure time. They then sent me a QR code via email. When I got to the garage, I simply scanned my code and drove in. When it was time to leave, I scanned my code again and left. We reserved our spot for ten hours and it only cost $13, which I prepaid. It could not have been less complicated. (If you want to reserve a space at the garage we used, click HERE.)
We took I-55 literally from Normal to downtown Chicago. I think we only actually had to make three turns from the time we got on the interstate to the time we reached our garage. Driving into Chicago from two plus hours away can be an unpredictable adventure. The show began at 2:00 and we knew we wanted to grab lunch, so we left at 8:00 a.m. We reached the garage in just over two hours. I’ve never reached downtown Chicago so quickly!
After parking the car, we walked around a bit and got our bearings. We specifically made sure we were clear on where to find the CIBC Theater — home of Hamilton. We took a look at a few restaurants before settling on Miller’s Pub. It had great reviews online and rightly so — we loved our meals. If you have a chance to eat there, I recommend it. It’s got a great atmosphere with a diverse menu.
By the time we were done eating, we had about an hour before we wanted to enter the CIBC Theater. We shopped around a bit, then made our way to the show.
We arrived about twenty minutes before showtime. A large crowd blocked the entire front of the theater. We walked around them and made our way through the doors. I’m still not sure if they didn’t realize they could go on in, if they were trying to buy tickets, if they were just gawking — not sure. Once we got into an actual line, we moved indoors at a good pace.
Security checked my wife’s bag. We noticed they were confiscating drinks and snacks. Signs were posted clearly prohibiting such things, but it still caught us by surprise when we saw them throwing away people’s drinks. Be aware — don’t try to sneak in any food or drink!
We climbed a few flights to the mezzanine. Upon entering the actual stage area of the theater, a few things struck me. First of all, I’m not sure there’s a bad seat in the house. The theater is a relatively small space, but when one considers that it was built in 1906, this may not come as much of a surprise. We were high up, yet we were still fairly close to the stage. No need for binoculars, that’s for sure. Also, the seats are very close together, both in terms of width and leg room. Don’t plan on stretching out. Luckily, I had my wife on one side of me and an average sized woman on the other, which afforded me plenty of shoulder and elbow room. Had a man similar to my size or bigger sat next to me, it may have been uncomfortable.
My wife loved the actual show itself. Miguel Cervantes starred as Hamilton. He performed magnificently with a charismatic voice and fun comedic timing. Cervantes aptly pulled off both song and rap, and could also deliver more sentimental moments. His blend of charm, intelligence, and street toughness felt authentic. I won’t run though the whole cast, but no one stuck out as performing poorly. Everything seemed top-notch. The voices, the dancing, the costumes, the choreography — perfect. (If you want to learn more about the cast, click HERE.)
Theater is always hit or miss with me. I’ve loved things I thought I would hate and hated things I thought I would love. Hamilton fell somewhere in the middle for me. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it. My wife described it as a musical history lesson, and she did so affectionately. However, in my view, that’s an apt description, but for a different reason than my wife’s. Hamilton is a lot of standing around explaining. There are few scene changes, few costume changes, few moments of actual action. Dancing is happening all of the time by the background dancers, but Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson — they are all mostly standing still while singing to us about things that are happening. As a writer, I believe firmly in the old adage: “Show, don’t tell.” I found all the explanation a little boring, to be honest. Show me what’s happened and happening, don’t just tell me about it.
Even with that being said, though, I want to be sure to voice my appreciation at the genius of the writing. The musical unfolded in complete song. To deliver so much exposition in perfect rhythm and rhyme — it felt Shakespearean. Seriously.
Speaking of Shakespeare, I’d like to make a few comparisons … if I may. First of all, I love Shakespeare, yet I’m the first to admit that he also could lean heavily into explanation. I feel that the more I study Hamilton, the more I’ll probably grow to love it. Also, some are very troubled by the fact that Hamilton is not entirely historically accurate. All dramatist are known for fudging facts a bit for effect. Shakespeare also played fast and loose with historical fact if it meant a good payoff for the audience. Let’s not get too bogged down with historical accuracy when seeing a musical, okay, folks? Take a history class at your local university or community college if you want textbook precision.
On a related note, I found the cast diversity thrilling. I noticed it, but it did not bother me in the least. I’m glad this musical is more than willing to give people of color their shot. Talent should be the driving factor in doling out these roles, and let me tell you, the talent shined. Again, for those crying foul, for those concerned that every major historical role in the play was filled by a person of color — relax. I don’t think anyone but the severely uneducated are going to walk out of Hamilton believing that George Washington was black. This is not a big deal.
Speaking of “shot,” I personally found the themes of seizing the moment and working against time interesting. I think we can all probably relate to these themes, which may explain the musical’s popularity. Knowing Hamilton’s ultimate fate, we could forgive his burning desire to achieve at the cost of his personal and family life, even as his friends and family couldn’t. That’s called “dramatic irony,” by the way — when the audience knows things about the plot that the characters don’t.
For the financially minded — are the tickets worth almost $200 at the minimum? Frankly, no. It astounds me that the floor prices were over $500. I saw some near the $1000 mark. However, we are a economy that thrives on supply and demand. I’m not going to begrudge the artists, management, or the theater itself for taking advantage of the musical’s fame. It’s hard to make money in the art business — go for the profits while you can!
Including the intermission, the musical concluded at just under three hours. My wife and I did not use the bathrooms, but from what I understand, there are not many of them in the theater and they are not very big. Again, considering the venue’s time of origin, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Leaving the parking garage offered no problems. I scanned out as easily as I scanned in. Google Maps took us on kind of an odd route out of the city, but I think that was due to construction. We still made it back home in just over two hours.
All in all, it was a wonderful time. We had a ton of fun, my wife loved Hamilton, and it was nice to spend the day together as husband and wife.
If you’re thinking of attending the show, I hope this serves as a helpful guide. Thanks for reading.
(Did you enjoy this review? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)