We all know history is important. We all know we should know things about people like our country's Founding Fathers. We all dutifully go to history class, and read our textbooks, and take our tests.
But it's hard to get legitimately EXCITED about events that happened hundreds of years ago.
Unless you're watching those events unfold on a Broadway stage. Unless you're seeing the Founding Fathers' stories as told through Lin-Manuel Miranda's inimitable blend of rap and old-school musical theater goodness. Unless you're inhabiting a world in which 18th-century characters do amazing 21st-century choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler.
Unless, in other words, you're at a performance of Hamilton—the most exciting history lesson in the history of history lessons.
The problem is that, because the show is so stupid good, Hamilton tickets are really, really hard to come by, especially for students. But the show's producers have teamed up with The Rockefeller Foundation to create a brilliant program: They're bringing 20,000 NYC high school juniors to see Hamilton, beginning in the spring of 2016.
Best. History class. Ever.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (center), world's coolest history teacher. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
The program will also include a classroom-based curriculum, featuring copies of the primary documents on which Hamilton's book and lyrics are based. At some schools, students will also get to create their own artistic interpretations of Alexander Hamilton's life. (An all-dance version, anyone?)
And non-NYC people: No need to start yelling about New Yorkers getting All the Things. There are plans to expand the Hamilton school program all over the country once the show begins touring. Yay!
Need a little pick-me-up? Our personal Broadway hero Lin-Manuel Miranda made a Spotify playlist that's just the thing to get you through tough times. With artists and songs spanning multiple genres, like "The Hamilton Mixtape," Bob Dylan, Regina Spektor and Talib Kweli, it has something for everyone. After listening, you'll feel like you can take on the world.
Happy, happy, happy! (Photo via Rolling Stone)
Happy hump day!
OK, there wasn’t as much dance as we would have liked to see at this year’s Grammy Awards. But the night still included a few awesome dance-y moments.
One word, guys: Hamilton! It’s always great when Broadway gets some love and recognition outside of the musical theater scene, so when the folks from Hamilton appeared via satellite to perform the opening number from the show, we did our own little happy dance. And then sat transfixed. Minutes later, to pretty much no one's surprise, the show scored the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.
Then there was Kendrick Lamar’s amazingly poetic performance of “Alright” and “The Blacker the Berry,” featuring glow-in-the-dark costumes, a giant bonfire and virtuosic dancers. Choreographed by Fatima Robinson with Charmaine Jordan and Adrian Wiltshire, it was one of the night's most powerful—and beautiful—moments.
Target and Gwen Stefani made history with the first-ever live music video, in which Stefani channeled Marilyn Monroe as she gamely lip-synced along to her single “Make Me Like You” throughout various sets and costume changes. The dancing was fabulous and full of fun moments—choreo on salon chairs and Vespas, a chorus of cheerleaders decked out in Gwen masks, even a roller-rink scene complete with impressive moves on skates.
Lady Gaga’s David Bowie tribute was, naturally, epic, and complete with jumpsuit-clad dancers (we see you, Marquis Cunningham!) who pulled out everything from perfect pirouettes to sassy struts and flawless tilts.
And last but not least was Pitbull's finale performance, which featured a surprise appearance from "Modern Family" star Sofia Vergara during his song "Taxi." We loved Rhapsody James' fierce, Latin-inspired choreography, and dancers Sophia Aguiar and Amandy Fernandez slayed as per usual.
Thank you, musical theater gods, for (newly-crowned MacArthur genius) Lin-Manuel Miranda. He brought us In the Heights. He brought us Bring It On. And then he went and brought us Hamilton—that most unlikely and yet, somehow, most fantabulous rap musical about America's Founding Fathers.
As if that weren't enough, he also instituted the daily #Ham4Ham lottery, which gives 21 lucky Broadway fans last-minute $10 tickets to the indefinitely sold-out Hamilton. And as if THAT weren't enough, he then decided to entertain the crowds of lottery hopefuls with daily #Ham4Ham performances at the stage door—impromptu appearances that have become events in themselves.
Why? Oh, because they tend to feature guest stars who may or may not be the biggest names on Broadway. Some of them are from the cast of Hamilton itself—like Jonathan Groff, who rapped it out with Miranda. Some of them are Great White Way legends—like Kelli O'Hara, who did her best LL Cool J. Some of them are adorable precocious children—like our friend Iain Loves Theatre, who gave us a preview of what the next Hamilton generation will look like.
But while generally rich in singing and rap-battling, the #Ham4Ham performances haven't featured much dancing. Until yesterday.
Realizing that critical oversight, Miranda invited master tapper Jared Grimes to do a little something with Broadway and TV actress Laura Benanti at last night's #Ham4Ham show. The result—which involved a tap board and a My Fair Lady classic—was, unsurprisingly, totally delightful.
Happy Thursday, everyone.
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?
Andy Blankenbuehler: 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.
Sasha Hutchings: 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?
AB: 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?
SH: 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?
AB: 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.
SH: 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.
Soooo have you all heard about the new Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, Hamilton? It's possibly the least likely show of all time: It tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the United States' founding fathers, through, um, rap and R&B. Here's the thing, though: Apparently it's incredible.
Hamilton is currently playing off-Broadway at NYC's Public Theater. But it was just announced that the unstoppable hit, which has been getting big ol' raves left and right, will be moving to the Great White Way's Richard Rodgers Theatre this July. The Richard Rodgers, btw, is where Miranda's last stroke of genius, In the Heights, played for three years.
"That's nice and all," you say, "but is there any dancing in this 18th-century rap musical?" OH HECK YES THERE IS. Because guess what else Hamilton has in common with In the Heights? Mr. Andy Blankenbuehler, whose signature high-octane choreo brings even more crazy energy to the show. The cast also features a slew of talented dancers, including Ariana DeBose, Thayne Jasperson and Ephraim Sykes. You know artists of that caliber aren't just step-touching in the back. So, yeah: Get excited, y'all.
(L to R) Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos and Lin-Manuel Miranda break it down in Hamilton (photo by Joan Marcus)
If you're having a hard time picturing what all this out-of-the-box amazingness looks like, watch this montage of some of Hamilton's best moments:
Then listen to Miranda blaze through the musical's incredible opening rap, which he first performed at the White House Poetry Jam back in 2009:
I'll admit it: I'm addicted to the radio show "This American Life." I've listened to almost every one of its hour-long episodes (that's a little under 530 hours of my life); I've read countless books written by its contributors; I've watched its short-lived TV series on Showtime; and I've attended live events related to the show. I literally can't get enough.
(L to R) Anna Bass, Ira Glass and Monica Bill Barnes in Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host.
(photo David Bazemore)
And much to my delight, the show has been getting even more satisfying in recent years—"TAL" is getting its dance on.
Back in 2012, host Ira Glass teamed up with downtown choreographer Monica Bill Barnes. She performed on a live episode of the show (which was then broadcast on air), and she choreographed one of the most touching dance-with-text works I've ever seen for the late author David Rakoff. (Grab a tissue before you press play.) Glass and Barnes have been collaborating ever since; the two are currently touring a stage show called Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host.
Fast-forward to 2014, and "TAL" decided to try something completely new. On June 7, the radio show took to the Brooklyn Academy of Music stage to perform a live show, complete with dance, opera, musical theater and vocal performances. Spoiler alert: The musical section was AMAZING. With help from Broadway choreographer Lorin Latarro, In the Heights' Tony winning lyricist and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda and Wicked star Lindsay Mendez, the "TAL" 2012 radio piece "21 Chump Street" came to life as a full-fledged musical theater extravaganza.
Anthony Ramos (center) and the cast of 21 Chump Street: The Musical
(photo Adrianne Mathiowetz)
21 Chump Street: The Musical follows a Florida-based high school honors student who gets into trouble with the law after he falls for an undercover cop (posing as a kid), who was stationed at the school to catch students selling drugs. You just gotta watch it. Take a look at the beginning of the musical section below: