June 3, 2016, was a big day for Justice Moore: It was her 19th birthday, high school graduation and the day she found out she'd been cast in the ensemble of Hamilton's Chicago production. Her controlled, versatile approach to movement, honed on the competition circuit, has only brought her more opportunities since then. Last summer, Andy Blankenbuehler chose Moore for a workshop for his new musical, Only Gold, and this March, she transferred her much-loved "bullet" track to Hamilton on Broadway.
We're willing to admit that Only Gold, a Broadway musical that Andy Blankenbuehler has had in the works since 2013, had somewhat slipped our mind. (In all fairness, Blankenbuehler got rather busy choreographing a moderately successful musical about American history, and then directing and choreographing Bandstand.)
Yep, that's ballet legend Alessandra Ferri. And yep, that means the pair of ballerinas are in rehearsals with Blankenbuehler for Only Gold. Excited doesn't even begin to cover it. Here's what we know so far:
The news that Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andy Blankenbuehler and Thomas Kail are working together on a new project is almost too wonderful to handle. But the creative team behind Hamilton isn't reuniting for just any old thing: They're teaming up for a dance-centric television series about Broadway legends Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, and we cannot contain our excitement.
She had a varied, flourishing career that included dancing for Lar Lubovitch, touring with the Bad Boys of Dance, and performing at Radio City Musical Hall and in Broadway shows. But Kamille Upshaw really wanted to make Mean Girls happen.
Not because she'd known Reginas or Plastics in high school—at Baltimore School for the Arts, her classmates were too busy pursuing dance, music, or other "artsy things" to form the obnoxious cliques that Lindsay Lohan experiences in the movie. But when the teen comedy by "Saturday Night Live" giants came out in 2004, Upshaw and her friends watched Mean Girls over and over and over. It was "an obsession," she says.
It's been a while since we checked in on Lin-Manuel Miranda, who at this point really needs no introduction. Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Broadway debut of In the Heights, Miranda's first big hit that laid the groundwork for him to revolutionize the Great White Way with Hamilton.
But aside from that, he's had a pretty insane couple of weeks, even by Miranda standards. Here's what you might have missed.
For many performers, dancing in the original cast of the phenomenally popular Hamilton is the epitome of "making it." For film and history buffs, contributing a documentary to the Smithsonian's collection might be a bucket-list item. And for those with a heart for giving back, creating an organization that leads arts workshops for youth is a powerful accomplishment.
Morgan Marcell has done all those things, proving that dancers needn't limit themselves to one passion. We caught up with the former swing and co-dance captain of Hamilton to chat about The Eliza Project, her budding film career and her next Broadway-bound show.
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
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While directing and choreographing the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the musical Bandstand, Andy Blankenbuehler found himself tied into knots. After the wild success of the juggernaut Broadway musical Hamilton, for which he would win the 2016 Tony Award for Best Choreography, he began comparing his unsatisfactory rehearsal rut to what he called "the best work of my career."
"I was really struggling," he says. "I knew I wasn't reaching the same bar as I had with Hamilton." Seeing his frustration, his wife reminded him that there would never be another Hamilton—but that didn't mean his other work couldn't be great, too. "She saw how I was beating myself up trying to accomplish a similar thing." Happy ending detour: Blankenbuehler regained his footing and won his third Tony Award for choreography for the Broadway production of Bandstand.
The 2017–18 Broadway season is just getting underway! But before we look ahead to new productions, let's recall what came before. Here are a few of the sparkliest shows that opened on the Great White Way in previous Augusts.
42nd Street (1980)
The cast of the 2001 revival of 42nd Street performing at the Tony Awards
If you need an example of traditional Broadway-style tap, this couldn't be any closer. The original production of 42nd Street ran for over eight years. That's a lot of time steps.
As those of you on Twitter are no doubt aware, this weekend marked the second #Hamilversary, AKA the two-year anniversary of the opening of Hamilton on Broadway. And unless you've been living under a rock, you know that our resident Broadway columnist Sylviane Gold was downright prophetic when she wrote in our July 2015 issue, "the runaway off-Broadway hit of last season [is] now likely to repeat history on Broadway—and maybe make it."
Hamilton set a new record for Tony nominations (16), garnered Lin-Manuel Miranda a Pulitzer Prize and gained an unprecedented level of pop-culture recognition. Today, the show continues to dominate on Broadway and has opened a dual production in Chicago, while its first national tour just wrapped up its San Francisco performances. Meanwhile, a West End opening is expected this fall and a film adaptation is in the works. And along the way, Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography has set new standards for dance on Broadway.
Oh, and we're all just a little bit obsessed with it.
So to celebrate, here's a look back on a (very small) selection of our favorite Hamilton moments.
Living the #dancerlife is no easy feat. Between daily technique classes, late night rehearsals and numerous side gigs to get the bills paid, dancers often don't prioritize self care. It may seem like the least important item on your never-ending to-do list, but it's vital to make time for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Ignoring basic needs can ultimately damage your technique and performance. We could all use some tips from these 10 professional dancers who know how to practice self love.
It doesn't look like your great-grandfather's jitterbug. Yes, the year is 1945, and yes, the setting is a jazz club. But these swing dancers are in the new musical Bandstand, directed and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The number, "Nobody," is a paean to determination—"You know who tells me, 'Stop'? Nobody."
The choreography begins as metaphor and then becomes literal as the band members, revved up by the song, perform it for the dancers at the club. It's complicated and entirely fresh, avoiding familiar jitterbug tropes without ever abandoning the period feel.
Little wonder: Blankenbuehler, whose first director/choreographer outing was Bring It On: The Musical, says his influences included Judy Garland's "Get Happy" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal." ("I'm imitating Michael Jackson imitating Fred Astaire.")
Photo by Rachel Papo
If you still don't know what you're going to be for Halloween, don't panic just yet. Dance Magazine has your back. Whether you're heading to a party, dressing up for technique class or doing some good ol' trick-or-treating, there are countless costume options that take inspiration from modern, ballet and Broadway. (Chances are you already have the basic pieces in your closet!) Snag one of these ideas, or riff off one to create a unique look. Happy Halloween!
Cartoon by Jessica Love in The Juilliard Journal via juilliard.edu
Go Modern: Want to transform into Martha Graham? Purple fabric can do wonders. You're sure to get some confused looks from your non-dance friends. Bonus points if you do an excerpt from Lamentation and give a mini dance-history lesson.
If you're even nerdier, you can create your own version of one of Alwin Nikolais' imaginative costumes. Back in college, I showed up to a party for dance majors in this gem, based on "Mantis" from Imago. Peruse the racks at Goodwill for colorblock clothing, paint your face white and fashion a hat out of a Styrofoam cup and elastic.
Left: "Mantis" from Imago. At right: Madeline Schrock's take on the original.
Cat costumes also require meowing. The cast of Broadway's CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M.
Broadway Bound: Characters from the Great White Way provide endless costume ideas. If you're looking for French flair, try these dreamy pieces inspired by An American in Paris. Flouncy skirts and wrap sweaters in pastel shades evoke the fashion of late-'40s Paris.
If you've ever wanted to be a Jellicle cat, now's the time to make use of that unitard at the back of your closet. Add some fur trim, ears and creative makeup based on your favorite feline from CATS.
Dressing up as a founding father doesn't have to be stuffy. Borrow a look from the cast of Hamilton, by pairing a ruffled blouse with a military jacket and boots.
Graceful Ballet Looks: Take a page from American Ballet Theatre principals James Whiteside and Daniil Simkin and dress up as your favorite ballet legend. Last year, the two transformed into Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
If you are addicted to "The Walking Dead" and ballet, this costume is for you. "One year as a last-minute costume, I was a zombie ballerina," says DM assistant editor Lauren Wingenroth. "It's a super-easy one if you need something in a pinch—use an old ballet costume that you don't care about getting dirty, and paint your face white with dark eyes. Fake blood optional."
Escoyne as Terpsichore (far left), next to Nijinsky's faun
A Balanchine look is timeless and doesn't require too much planning. "When I was getting my BFA, we all got really into Halloween and would have themed days for an entire week," says DM assistant editor Courtney Escoyne. "For 'Mythical Monday,' I decided to pull some inspiration from Mr. B and go as Terpsichore from Apollo: classic white leo, white ballet skirt, pink tights. It was easy to put together, plus I got to pretend to be an NYCB ballerina for a day."
Last but not least, Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up anyone's baby who may be crawling around the studio. Suzannah Friscia, an assistant editor at DM, says, "My very first Halloween costume as a baby was dance inspired: I was a purple Sugar Plum Fairy with a sparkly tutu and a little wand."
We're not saying that we called it, but...okay we did. The 2016 Tony Awards were last night, and Hamilton swept up 11 of 13 possible awards, including Best Musical and Best Choreography for Andy Blankenbuehler. The smash hit was nominated for 16 awards, but with multiple nods in some categories.
However, even though it was inarguably Hamilton's night, other dance-heavy shows got to have their say in performances throughout the evening. Here are some of our favorite moments.
The infectious energy brought by On Your Feet! Choreographer Sergio Trujillo had the ensemble moving nonstop to a medley of Gloria Estafan's pop hits that feature in the musical. The dancers were fantastic in the high-speed, Cuban inspired partnering, but a pair of young boys absolutely stole the show with huge smiles that were not at all affected by their absurdly quick footwork. They even managed to get Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda on his feet down in the first row.
Fiddler on the Roof reminding us of why Hofesh Shechter was nominated. If anyone still had doubts about the contemporary choreographer taking on a Broadway show, they were erased last night. The dancing in the wedding celebrations is fantastic—rhythmically surprising, beautifully detailed, exciting to watch and seamlessly fitting into the world of Fiddler.
The entire cast of Shuffle Along showing off their tap skills. Honestly, how can you pick just one favorite moment from this performance? Savion Glover took home a Drama Desk Award for his choreography, and any other year he probably would have snagged the Tony as well. From a line of chorus girls to a series of jaw-dropping soloists to the rest of the ensemble, every single person onstage brought fantastic energy and technical chops to the floor. Do yourself a favor and watch the entire performance.
The cast of Spring Awakening making us wonder why Spencer Liff wasn't nominated for Best Choreography. It takes a considerable amount of skill to sign a song using American Sign Language in a way that reflects not just the words but the meaning and emotion behind them (while being musical, to boot), and the hearing and deaf actors in the cast of Spring Awakening have talent in spades. Major kudos to Liff for integrating choreography and sign language in such a way that the signing was perfectly legible while feeling like a natural extension of the choreography and music.
Hamilton. Really, what else is there to say? It's no secret that we—and pretty much everyone we know—love this musical, even though this live broadcast is probably the closest most of us will get to seeing it. The cast is phenomenal, doing battle with invisible bayonets (they nixed the usual prop guns in light of the events that took place in Orlando yesterday) or falling into formation, changing qualities at the drop of a hat without losing an ounce of the determined conviction that characterizes the show.
If you want to hear from the fantastic ensemble of Hamilton about how they pull it off, grab our June issue!
It's anyone's guess as to what shape next year's biggest Broadway hits will take, but with works as stylistically different and undeniably innovative as these currently calling the Great White Way home, it seems like absolutely anything is possible.
We all know why this year could very well be the most watched Tony Awards of all time. Not only has Hamilton converted the unlikeliest of people into musical theater lovers, but its tickets are so hard to come by that a live television performance may be the closest most of us get to seeing the revolutionary show. Though the Tonys, hosted by James Corden of "The Late Late Show," will likely be a Hamilton love-fest, there's still lots more to look out for this Sunday when the show airs—including one of the strongest, most diverse choreography line-ups in recent years.
Five shows are nominated for the Best Choreography award, each of them featuring completely different styles:
Audra McDonald and the cast of Shuffle Along in rehearsal. Photo by Devin Alberda, Courtesy Shuffle Along.
The legendary hoofer has another show on Broadway, and, as to be expected, the tapping is out of this world. What's unique about this show is that it isn't only the ensemble that's shuffling away—all the leads tap just as much and with just as much confidence. Though it seems like Shuffle Along isn't going to be as big as Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, which won Glover a Tony, it's still a strong contender. Plus, the choreographer will be joining the cast soon!
Hofesh Shechter teaching choreography at a Fiddler rehearsal. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Who would have thought that modern dance giant Hofesh Shechter would choreograph a Broadway show—and be really good at it?! The Israeli-born choreographer's reinvention of Jerome Robbins' dances references and upholds the "Traditions" so integral to the show, and innovates them in exciting ways. Any other year, this would be my pick for Best Choreography.
Dames at Sea—Randy Skinner
Skinner's choreography for Dames at Sea (which closed in November) is classic show tap. It's fun and serves the show well, but among the other standout nominees, it lacks that sense of innovation and excitement. (Go "Behind the Curtain" with Mara Davi to get a peek at the moves.) This feels especially true when you consider who wasn't nominated for this category—notably the revival of Spring Awakening, which featured Spencer Liff's breathtaking fusion of sign language and dance.
Sergio Trujillo tapped into authentic Cuban rhythms to tell the story of pop sensation Gloria Estefan, and the result is a high-energy, nonstop dance party. It's a style we haven't seen much of on the Great White Way, and Trujillo seamlessly integrates it into the plot.
Hamilton ensemble members Sasha Hutchings, Voltaire Wade-Greene and Ariana DeBose at our June cover shoot. Photo by Jayme Thornton.
Surprise, surprise. Blankenbuehler's hip-hop driven, style-bending magnum opus is the strongest contender for the Best Choreography prize—and the likely winner. No, Hamilton doesn't need to win in all the 13 categories it's nominated in. But the choreography—along with Lin-Manuel Miranda's book and score—are definitely aspects of the show that deserve extra recognition.
This brings me to only disappointing part of the Tony Awards—the fact that the Best Choreography award usually isn't aired on the live broadcast. How is it that the Tonys uses dances from various shows (including all those mentioned above except for Dames at Sea) to pump up viewers, but the choreographers who made the moves don't get to be recognized in front of the television audience? Come on, Tonys.
On the bright side, it seems like the dance lineup on Broadway just keeps getting better. Tune in to CBS at 8pm on Sunday for 10 exciting performances.
"How to account for his rise to the top? Maaaaan, the man is non-stop." Lin-Manuel Miranda that is. Even though the Tony Awards are coming up on June 12 (and Hamilton has a record-breaking 16 nominations), Miranda, the show's creator, isn't resting on his laurels. As he continues starring in the Broadway megahit Hamilton through July 9, he's already getting his feet wet with another major project: a film adaptation of In the Heights.
Miranda (center) from his In the Heights days. Photo by Joan Marcus.
If you're not familiar with his earlier hit, In the Heights, which Miranda began writing during undergrad, had a nearly three-year Broadway run from 2008 to 2011. The show depicts life in NYC's Washington Heights neighborhood, and in Hamilton fashion, it employed various genres like rap and salsa. It took home five Tonys including Best Musical, Best Original Score (written by Miranda) and Best Choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler). Now that we're all up to speed, can we agree that we're sold on a movie version produced by Miranda? (I believe that's called a #HamilWin.)
According to The Hollywood Reporter, discussions about an In the Heights movie began several years ago when Kenny Ortega (of High School Musical fame) was championing it. The plans were nixed for budgetary reasons. Now, Miranda, who's working with Harvey Weinstein on the adaptation, thinks he can pull it off with just $15 million. While we have our fingers crossed that Miranda will reprise the lead role of bodega owner Usnavi, casting decisions have yet to be announced.
Even if he doesn't end up appearing as Usnavi, Miranda will still be on the big screen in the near future. Catch him in Disney's Mary Poppins Returns, due in theaters Christmas 2018. What did we tell you? He's nonstop!
But this morning brought something even better than Hamilton tickets: A chance to learn some of the show's choreography.
Hamilton's dance mastermind Andy Blankenbuehler broke down two of the show's iconic phrases for The Wall Street Journal (in what looks like the dance studio inside his townhouse up in Harlem—talk about a dancer's dream home!).
In the first clip, the choreographer explains how he matched up his movement to Lin-Manuel Miranda's lyrics by showing the vocabulary he created to go with the words "I'm not throwing away my shot":
He not only demonstrates the steps themselves (with help from associate choreographer/dance captain Stephanie Klemons), but he takes us inside his process, explaining how he came up with each gesture. As you can see, he doesn't let a single moment in the choreography go to waste: Every detail serves a storytelling purpose—developing the characters, establishing the mood, foreshadowing the plot.
Blankenbuehler also teaches a phrase where the ensemble embodies what's going on inside Hamilton's head as the title character imagines his own death:
It's like taking a mini-master class in the show's style, with unparalleled insight into how Blankenbuehler created his Tony-nominated choreography.
Want more? Cast members Karla Garcia and Jon Rua teach back-to-back theater dance classes at Broadway Dance Center on Monday afternoons. (Their classes technically overlap, but you won't be the only Hamilton fan running from one to the next.)
And don't forget to nab a copy of Dance Magazine's June issue, highlighting the cast's amazing ensemble members—and exploring how the show's runaway success might create new possibilities for dance on Broadway.
Not many dancers have a stage presence strong enough to earn its own Twitter hashtag. But Ariana DeBose has reached that level. In the ensemble of Broadway's Hamilton, she embodies the bullet in the show's climactic duel scene—a moment she's become so well-known for that it's simply called #thebullet. Even when she's playing more human characters, DeBose's personality is so electric and her technique so precise that her every movement crackles with infectious energy.
DeBose is currently hitting the Broadway boards for the fourth time. Photo by Curtis & Cort Photography, courtesy DeBose.
Broadway shows: Currently in Hamilton. Past include Pippin, Motown: The Musical, Bring It On: The Musical
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Training: Dance Theatre, Pierrette Sadler Danceurs and CC & Co. Dance Complex (all in North Carolina)
Accolades: Top 20, “So You Think You Can Dance" Season 6
Breakout moment: DeBose originated the role of dance crew diva Nautica in Broadway's Bring It On in 2012. It was her first time working with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. “He helped me find my comedy and what my strengths are," she says.
Quick change: In Hamilton, DeBose plays everything from a lady in a corseted ball gown to a soldier fighting in the Revolution to, yes, a bullet. “It's always a challenge to know who you are in every moment," she says. “In the Battle of Yorktown, I could choose to be a man that evening, or a woman who has disguised herself as a man fighting for our country. There's a little leeway."
Technical chameleon: Having taken class with choreographers like Sonya Tayeh, Jason Parsons and Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo during her time on the convention circuit, DeBose is at home in a variety of styles and able to excel in wildly different shows. “Bring It On was a cheerleading hip-hop musical, and I was learning how to stunt," she says, “and then I went right into Motown and was step-touching."
What Andy Blankenbuehler says: “She fills each style with a sense of life, honesty and charisma that instantly catapults her into her characters."
Finding herself: DeBose has also given several solo concerts in New York City, which showcase both her dance and singing skills. “It's important as an artist to find the confidence to do that," she says. “I would rather people know me for who I am, as opposed to them labeling what it is that I have to offer."
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.
Patti LuPone in Shows for Days. Photo by Joan Marcus via BroadwayWorld.
Early this week a man climbed onstage before the Broadway play Hand to God and attempted to charge his phone in the fake set outlet, and the Internet exploded with disbelief and outrage. On Wednesday, Patti LuPone endured what she called a “cacophony of noise” when four cell phones went off during the matinee of Shows for Days, and was inspired to take a texting audience member’s device away during her evening performance. A few months back, Madonna (who should know better as a fellow performer and former modern dancer!) was pointedly not invited backstage at Hamilton because she texted through Act 2.
Though rudeness during dance performances hasn’t made any headlines lately, I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of ringing phones and distracting bright screens at various venues throughout New York City. The way that everyone openly disregards requests to turn off their cell phones (not silence! not put on airplane mode! turn off!) is near humorous. Almost as disturbing as these blatant offenses is the rush to put face to screen at every intermission or pause. Instead of processing, discussing and arguing about what we’ve seen, we Instagram our programs, tweet about our days and check our emails.
As a millennial, I’m nostalgic for a time that I never experienced, and that may have never really existed. Was there a time when the reverence for live performance went beyond merely showing respect for the performers by staying engaged and quiet, but involved total absorption in the experience from start to finish and a short hiatus from acknowledging the outside world? I wish that I could experience performances this way, but I spend my intermission looking up information about the piece I’m seeing, or planning what I’m going to do afterwards. Even though I consider myself an engaged audience member, I know I would have a different experience if I powered off from the time I stepped into the theater until I left. Maybe next time.
Hamilton may pave the way for hip hop in musicals
A rap breaks out. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Hamilton.
Given the Revolutionary War battles, pistol duels, political rivalries, sex scandals and explosive cabinet meetings taking place during Alexander Hamilton’s short, busy whoosh through American history, his life hardly seems to have the makings of a typical Broadway musical. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know that Lin-Manuel Miranda is telling the story through rap and other genres and Andy Blankenbuehler is choreographing the battles, duels and romantic entanglements through hip hop and other moves. This unlikely show is Hamilton, the runaway off-Broadway hit of last season now likely to repeat history on Broadway—and maybe make it.
Phillipa Soo plays Hamilton's wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Hamilton.
Broadway has not been particularly welcoming to hip hop, although Miranda and Blankenbuehler, along with Hamilton’s director, Thomas Kail, cracked the door open in 2008 with their Tony-winning In the Heights. But there hasn’t been a rush to follow them through that door. Despite its gold-plated Tupac Shakur score and vibrant performances, Holler If Ya Hear Me garnered tepid reviews and ran only a month last season. Bring It On, with music cowritten by Miranda and direction and choreography by Blankenbuehler, lasted for all of five in 2012. But given its critical kudos and sold-out performances at The Public Theater in the spring, Hamilton could be the show that establishes hip hop once and for all as a viable vocabulary for musical theater, in the way that Hair allowed Broadway to accept rock.
Miranda’s Hamilton score is not confined to hip hop—he’s included elements of R&B, jazz and standard Broadway show tunes. But Miranda, who also stars in the title role, tells much of Hamilton’s story in rap, for two reasons. “One, the incredible unlikeliness of his arc, from penniless orphan in the Caribbean to architect of our financial system at the birth of our country,” says Miranda. “That’s a hip-hop story to me. This is a guy who consistently, against insane odds, wrote his way out of his circumstances. Hip hop was created out of the ashes of something else, and Alexander Hamilton created an incredible life out of the ashes of a very traumatic early one.”
Daveed Diggs plays Thomas Jefferson. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Hamiton.
The other reason rap seemed a natural fit, Miranda says, is that “Alexander Hamilton produced over 27 volumes of written work. He’s always bursting at the seams with language.” Hip hop, he notes, offers “more words per capita” than other song forms. “Our country was created from indelible words, from ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ all the way through Thomas Paine and all the way through our Constitution.”
Like Miranda, Blankenbuehler admires Hamilton’s restless need to “constantly reinvent himself,” allowing the choreographer the flexibility to draw on a variety of dance forms. “There’s a little bit of everything,” he says. “There’s a Fosse-esque number. There’s a social-dance sequence where we do a contemporary take on formal social dances of the period.” There’s even a smattering of jitterbug and tap.
In conversation, Blankenbuehler and Miranda regularly applaud each other. The choreographer loves the nonstop music; the composer loves the nonstop movement. And they both love the idea that this show about America’s rebellious youth is being told in the language of America’s rebellious youth. But when Miranda praises a particular choreographic moment, Blankenbuehler credits Jerome Robbins for having invented it. “We really idolize the people who made great work before us,” he says. “It’s so important for us to always look back and forward at the same time.” And Miranda echoes the idea in his own terms. “To me a verse by Rakim is every bit as compelling as a verse by Sondheim,” he says. Together, Miranda and Blankenbuehler could turn out to be the Founding Fathers of a new kind of musical.