Lin-Manuel Miranda (as Hamilton) and the ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Hamilton.
On Broadway, there’s a certain excitement that comes with old shows (or not so old shows) closing. A closed show means a newly empty theater, a space for a newer, fresher, hopefully dancier show. Yesterday, I was reminded of the Broadway circle of life with the official opening of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical Hamilton, and the announcement that On the Town will close at the end of Misty Copeland’s run as Ivy Smith on September 6th.
I love what Joshua Bergasse’s interpretation of Jerome Robbins’ classic dance musical has meant for Broadway this year. Along with Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris, On the Town has granted dance immense storytelling power and brought dancers of impeccable technique and artistry to Broadway stages. Both shows have demonstrated that musicals benefit from incorporating dance early on in their processes, and that the very impetus for a musical can be dance. That being said, I’m not surprised by On the Town’s closing. Though I love that Bergasse tells the show’s story through dance, it isn’t a particularly interesting story.
Hamilton, which opened on Broadway last night after a sold-out run at The Public Theater, wasn’t conceived as a “dance musical,” and still probably won’t be categorized as such. Dance had an early presence in its conception, however – choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and writer Miranda are long-time collaborators, and Blankenbuehler is known for for his lengthy, tireless process. It shows. Dance feels essential to the world of Hamilton, and like Miranda’s quick, clever rhymes, it becomes a part of how these characters inhabit their story.
Blankenbuehler’s choreography pushes the genre of the dance musical. Pulling from hip-hop, contemporary and jazz, it is endlessly inventive and musical. The most important moments of the show are conveyed through movement. Dance expresses emotional climaxes and clarifies confusing political plot points. But it is also a constant, subtle presence – the heartbeat of the show.
Dance deserves to be used as a storytelling tool, but it deserves to be used to tell important, engaging and unique stories. I’m ready to say goodbye to On the Town, though of course with the warmest “merde” wishes to Georgina Pazcoguin and Misty Copeland who will finish out its run. I’m more than ready to welcome Hamilton to Broadway. And I’m hoping that whatever’s set to replace On the Town at the Lyric Theater will continue to push for more and better uses of dance.