Hamilton: The Exhibition – A Spectacular Slice of History

Approaching the Exhibition

The dream of elucidating the powerful experience of building this country and shaping our Democracy was actualized with the opening of Hamilton: The Exhibition on April 27, 2019.  There was a sell-out crowd who formed a long line waiting their turn to enter the immersive exhibit that is housed in a free-standing temporary building on Northerly Island.  In a sense, this once empty space has become an extension of the theatre district and an outreach of Hamilton, the Musical. Excitement was in the air.  Visitors were happily anticipating what they would see once inside.  The people working behind the scenes were checking to see that all was running smoothly, and mostly, it did. I loved this unique multimedia adventure.

Waiting in line

Hamilton: The Exhibition is a collaboration between Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, creative director and set designer David Korins, producer Jeffrey Seller, orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, and Yale University historian Joanne Freeman. Harvard Law Professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed is also providing historical consultation.  IMG is the project manager for the exhibition.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and others heading out to
distribute donuts, Photo: Judy Kipnis

Opening day was especially exciting with Lin-Manuel Miranda greeting the first couple to walk through the door before rushing outdoors to distribute donuts from a pink van. Also exciting was set designer David Korins chatting with visitors as he moved through the exhibition checking to be sure all was working well and that visitors were enjoying themselves.  We were.  

Korins’ creations are incredible. The exhibition is beautiful, dramatic, intimate and meaningful, to begin with. There are three theatres which break up the open displays.  The first introductory talk sets the tone for what follows with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo explaining what to expect from the exhibition and how it differs from the musical.  Their presentation is so personal, I almost felt they were good friends.

The first visitors through the doors
David Korins chats with the first ones in line

The audio narrations were very impactful and even after I removed the earphones, the voices continued in my head, pleasantly and clearly explaining the events that I was viewing.  Narrations were by the musical’s author, Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with Phillipa Soo and Christopher Jackson, who played Eliza Schuyler Hamilton and George Washington in the original Broadway production of Hamilton. Joanne B. Freeman, historical advisor and Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, also narrates. The Spanish language translations are narrated by Olga Merediz, who originated the role of Abuela Claudia in the Broadway production of In The Heights.

Alexander Hamilton arrives in New York
Listening to the story of the attendees at the ball

The dynamic and interactive mix of lighting, sound, multimedia, music and historical artifacts were used effectively to create a feeling of intimacy.  I also felt completely involved in the displays. The most unusual display was George Washington’s war tent in the “Yorktown” gallery where the Revolutionary Army plan that resulted in their shocking victory in the Battle of Yorktown took place.  This completely captured my attention. From the events in St. Croix where teenager Alexander became an indispensable trader, to the hilltop in Weehawken, NJ where Burr fatally shot Hamilton in their infamous duel, Hamilton: The Exhibition brings the visitor into the founding of our country. The ball room’s display in the “Schuyler Mansion” gallery was outstanding.  By directing the “box” attached to the earphones one could learn the story of the statues that depicted in actual people. 

This image shows the specific writings from Hamilton’s time working as Washington’s aide at camp. By taking a detailed look at the writings, we are able to examine and understand the effort that went into building Washington’s Army, Photo: Courtesy of David Korins

Words are very prominent throughout the exhibition.  Visually, the words are used as art and also send powerful messages being very consistent with Hamilton’s use of language that he managed so expertly and which provided him with funds to study in the US and it was Ron Chernow’s many words that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton as a musical and now as an exhibition.

What was freedom like?

As the exhibition drew to a close we traded our auditory devices for three D glasses and finished our experience with a bit of Hamilton, the musical with the performers projected so close, you felt you could hug them.  We stepped out into the gift shop with many choices of tee-shirts, books and many other choices.

She saw the show twice, the exhibition once- what to buy?

One ten-year old girl who had seen Hamilton, the Musical twice thought the best part of the exhibition was seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I asked some fellow journalists how one could measure the impact of this exhibition.  You can easily measure attendance but how do you know what people are taking away.  I was told that measurement of testimonials on social media would be one way.  I do hope this exhibition will fulfill the wishes of those who created it, inspire more reading about the topics explored in the exhibition, and a deeper understanding of the gift we who live in this country received and the importance of protecting what we have.

Ron Chernow’s work and other reading material remain important

Individual tickets for Hamilton:The Exhibition are available on Ticketmaster.com and HamiltonExhibition.com. The timed entry tickets are $39.50 for adults, $32.50 for senior/military and $25 for youth ages 4-14.   For groups of 10 or more, contact Broadway In Chicago at 312-977-1710 or BICgroups.com.   

If Chicago embraces Hamilton: The Exhibition as enthusiastically as it has embraced Hamilton, the Musical, who knows how long it will remain in Chicago before it begins touring.

Hamilton is currently playing at Broadway In Chicago’s CIBC Theatre (18 W Monroe) where it has been in residence since September 2016.

For exhibition hours and more information about Hamilton: The Exhibition, please visit HamiltonExhibition.com.

Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted.

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