SALT LAKE CITY — When “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda spoke at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City last month, he told the crowd, “We live our life, we do what we can … but we don’t get really a say in what people say about us when we die.”
Thanks to Miranda, people will have a lot of good things to say about Alexander Hamilton for the foreseeable future.
Miranda’s Tony Award-winning Broadway phenomenon makes its Utah debut Wednesday night at the Eccles Theater, where it will run through May 6. But before “Hamilton” ever came to Utah, it seems Utah came to “Hamilton” — and quite quickly. The show has a few notable ties to the Beehive State. If there’s ever been a time for “Hamilton” to come here, it’s now.
An unlikely hit
Eric Hinderaker, a history professor at the University of Utah, spoke with the Deseret News about “Hamilton” and how it has impacted his curriculum. (Additional comments from Hinderaker and other local professors will be included in a story being published by the Deseret News next week.)
“It’s always great just to see early American history break through to a popular audience like this,” Hinderaker said. “There’s something so amazing about having a character like Alexander Hamilton, who I teach about year after year and nobody much cares about, to see him suddenly become this kind of pop culture icon is really something.”
Joseph Morales plays that icon in one of “Hamilton’s” two touring casts. Speaking to the Deseret News for a story on how “Hamilton” was created, Morales said, “I think (audiences) think, ‘Oh, this is going to be an upbeat show about history and rap and it’s going to be really fun,’ which it is, and at the same time, it really hits you with the true things in life and I don’t think that people really expect that.”
Actor Thayne Jasperson, who was born and raised in Utah, has been involved with “Hamilton” from practically the very beginning. In the show’s initial auditions, Jasperson landed a part in the ensemble, stayed with “Hamilton” from its initial workshop in 2014 through its official Broadway debut the following year, and still performs in the show's New York cast.
When he first heard the show’s pitch — a rap musical about America’s first Secretary of the Treasury — Jasperson said he was skeptical. But he quickly changed his tune.
“It’s crazy because right from the get-go, hearing the music and going through the whole story in our first workshop, … I thought, ‘This is incredible. This is going to be a huge hit,’” Jasperson told the Deseret News. “I don’t think anybody knew the way that it would become this outlandish show that everyone is dying over now.”
Loved in London
After its 2015 Broadway debut, “Hamilton” went on to win 11 Tony Awards. It has since gone overseas, making its London debut last November. That London production was nominated for 13 Olivier Awards (Britain’s equivalent of the Tonys), winning seven.
A few of Britain’s well-known theater critics spoke with the Deseret News in March about the show’s warm reception overseas.
“It was the most feverishly anticipated show of the last decade — riding a bigger wave of hype than anything else I can recall,” said Henry Hitchings, who covers theater for The Standard.
Hitchings gave the London production five stars, saying it made 18th-century politics “seem as explosively immediate as a rap battle.”
Theater critic Ann Treneman, who writes for The Times, told the Deseret News that British theater critics loved the show’s line, “immigrants do all the work,” and its accompanying sentiment.
While her fellow critics didn’t necessarily know every single reference (this is American history, after all), “the key to ‘getting’ ‘Hamilton,’” she said, “really is the music and the sense of an outsider trying to make his mark.”
A musical education
Tickets for the Utah production sold out within the first four hours of being made available. Like Hamilton himself, hopeful Utah audiences may, too, have felt like outsiders while trying to secure their tickets.
In early February, the Deseret News reported on a local program aimed at getting Utah’s high school students tickets to the in-demand show. The program, titled the New Nation Project, was run by Utah’s Department of Heritage and Arts. Nearly 250 tickets were available to Utah students via a raffle, which students could enter once they wrote a letter to one of their legislators describing an issue and proposing a solution.
“We didn’t want to make this a competition,” Josh Loftin, public information officer for Utah's Department of Heritage and Arts, told the Deseret News. “It’s a random drawing. … Our goal is not to reward the best person — we just want everybody to have a chance to win because we want to reward civic engagement generally.”
The Hamilton Education Program, also known as EduHam, launched in the Salt Lake area in October with a visit from Miranda's father, Luis A. Miranda Jr. The program, which has previously been used in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, has been incorporated into the U.S. history curriculum for more than 2,000 Utah students and teachers. Students in the program study the lives of Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers and gain admittance into a matinee performance of “Hamilton,” where they can participate in a post-show Q&A with the cast.
Luis A. Miranda Jr. was on hand at the Eccles Theater in October for a press conference announcing EduHam’s Utah launch, along with Utah native Tim Bailey, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History's director of education who helped create the program.
“For me personally, it’s incredibly exciting when I saw that I got to come home, and to see a program that I got to write come to my home state,” Bailey told the Deseret News.
‘A perfect storm’Comment on this story
When “Hamilton” performer Joseph Morales spoke with the Deseret News, he praised the production’s creative team, saying it was “a perfect storm of all these brilliant people coming together.”
“It takes the history off the books and off the page,” he said, “and it turns it into something that people can relate to.”
Now, those in the Beehive State are getting ready to see that history come to life, taking to social media to express their excitement for the highly anticipated production.
Contributor: Lottie Peterson Johnson