COBBLESTONE Heads to Broadway

A note from COBBLESTONE editor Meg Chorlian: When we decided to devote an issue to Alexander Hamilton, I knew that I wanted to try to get an interview with someone connected to Hamilton: An American Musical. I had read a New York Times article about the show’s off-Broadway debut in early 2015. It sounded spectacular. It literally brought history to life and made it entertaining. I wanted our readers to see this story of how history can be dramatic and engaging. I asked long-time author Kathi Kowalski to pursue an interview.


We were hopeful but not absolutely sure it would work out. By 2016, the show had moved to Broadway, and tickets were almost impossible to get. Then, the show’s public relations firm came through in an unexpected way: It not only agreed to help arrange an interview, but it also offered two tickets to see the show! Kathi lives in Ohio, but she drove to New York for the July 14 show. Her interview with Miguel Cervantes, who plays Alexander Hamilton, appears in the October 2016 issue of COBBLESTONE. Kathi’s experience of seeing the show is what follows here.


What went through your mind after you got the news that you had tickets to the show?

It blew me away. A ticket to thte show is harder to get than a World Series ticket this year! The show had been sold out for months. Seeing it was the first thing I got excited about since my husband had died several months earlier. Best of all, my daughter Bethany was able to go with me.


What was the scene like outside the theater?

People were lined up an hour before the doors opened. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation. People weren’t just there to see a play about history, they were there to see a play that is becoming part of Broadway’s history.


Where were your seats?

We were on the aisle in the seventh row of Orchestra seating. Our view was amazing.


Did you know anything about the show before going to see it?

Yes. Bethany told me about the show soon after it opened on Broadway in 2015. She was so enthusiastic about it that I wanted to know more. Then friends started to post stories about the show on Facebook.


What is the basic story line of the show?

The show starts with a recap of Hamilton’s early life. Then it follows him from his arrival in New York as a teenager through the rest of his life.


Would a kid who knows just a little about Hamilton be able to follow the plot?

Kids should definitely be able to follow the story, especially after reading COBBLESTONE’s issue on Hamilton. And anyone who knows about the Revolutionary War and has heard of Hamilton, Washington, and Jefferson should be able to follow what goes on in the play.


What do you think kids would enjoy most about the show?

Kids would enjoy the clever lyrics and music, particularly the hip-hop numbers.


Is there an actual duel scene? What was that like?

Yes, there is an actual duel scene. It’s staged as if time freezes as the scene goes through Hamilton’s final thoughts. Lighting creates an eerie atmosphere as a dancer plays the “bullet.”


Were you familiar with the soundtrack before going to see the show?

Yes, I got Spotify on my phone, and the show’s soundtrack was the first thing I ever downloaded. When the CD set became available, I bought it so we could listen to the soundtrack in the car.


Is there any one song that stuck with you?

A lot of the songs come back to me depending on whether I’m feeling happy or down. “My Shot” is so full of determination and upbeat, it’s a real pick-me-up. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is another song that is very catchy. “It’s Quiet Uptown” was the most moving part of the show. Angelica [Schuyler Church] sings that song after the Hamiltons’ son dies in a duel, and the Hamiltons are trying to rebuild their marriage. The soundtrack is so moving. Seeing it in the theater brought me to tears. It is so powerful.


Were there any noticeable discrepancies between the history and the story that the play told?

For the most part, the play accurately portrayed the politics and the events that took place. It did that while translating them into modern language and rhyme. Obviously, the Founding Fathers were not as racially diverse as they appear in the show, and there were some liberties taken for dramatic effect. For example, Hamilton’s sister-in-law Angelica was not forced to marry against her will, and there were other Schuyler siblings [not just the three Schuyler sisters], things like that.


What was the funniest part of the show?

For me, it was when Thomas Jefferson, played that night by Daveed Diggs, returned from France. He sings a song, “What’d I Miss?” His performance was so over-the-top and flamboyant, you could not help but laugh. And the scene comes after the whole first act has taken place, so he has missed a lot—the whole Revolutionary War!


What was the most surprising thing about the show?

For starters, I had not expected the dancing and staging to be so energetic. Often we think of history as being staid or even scripted, and this was action-packed. But even more, I had not expected to get so emotionally caught up in the performance. It is a story about history, but it is also about people’s relationships with one another, and it is a story about love and loss.


And the show’s overall message?

That it is important to realize that history is not about dead, cookie-cutter people. It is about real people. And these people weren’t perfect. They were ordinary people like us. And it is our story. As the last song [in the show] reminds us, we need to keep telling the story and building on the story for the next chapters.


How did you end up staying after the show and talking with cast members?

We just wanted to stay and soak up the theater experience, so we remained in our seats. We noticed people filling in seats near the stage. It turned out that a group of drama teachers had attended the show that night. So we hung around, too.


I talked with a couple of cast members. Christopher Jackson played George Washington. When I asked him what he enjoyed most about playing Washington, he told me, “I love discovering Washington with every show. Everybody thinks they know him and I don’t think they do. It’s nice to get to present him.” I also spoke with Sasha Hollinger, an ensemble member. She said she loved the diversity of the music in the show because it kept the cast vibrant and involved. She also said that the cast didn’t think about race or ethnicity when they were performing. They just see the person or character being played: George Washington is George Washington. Thomas Jefferson is Thomas Jefferson.


What three words best describe your experience that night?

Amazing, energizing, and inspiring.


Billboard photos: Rebecca Susany
Photo of Kathi Kowalski, cast, and playbill: Bethany Meissner