Hamilton Playbill
28 Apr 2018
Tuneful TravelTuneful Travel

Orchestra and Cast at “Hamilton” Blew Us All Away

The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis provided the opulent setting for my unexpected chance to experience the award-winning musical, “Hamilton,” on Saturday, April 21, 2018 at the 2:00 pm matinee show.

Exterior of the Fox Theater on Grand Ave. St Louis
Crowds gather outside the Fox Theatre

I had discovered the free Hamilton app last year which allows users to register once then quickly enter a daily lottery to “win” the chance to purchase 2 tickets for $10 each to the next day’s show. I had entered the Chicago lottery for many months with no success (tickets were selling for $300 and up at that time). When the touring show opened in St. Louis this Spring, I began entering for tickets to performances in that city, too. My daughter is a special fan of this musical, so when I got the email last Friday that I had received the opportunity to buy tickets for the next day’s matinee performance, it took no persuasion to convince her to come with me on the 300 mile road trip to St. Louis.

The Fox Theatre was easy to find on Grand Avenue in St. Louis, near St. Louis University.  I was happy to see a great-looking dog park just a few blocks away from the theater.  We parked in the parking garage ($15) right across from the theater complex, and I learned two important things about parking in a garage: (1) pick a parking place on one of the higher levels since it’s easier to enter the flow of cars near the beginning of the line, and (2) back into the parking spot to enable quick entry into the line of cars. Naturally, I violated both of these “rules” by parking on a low level and pulling forward–not backing–in, so when the show ended we had to wait 20 minutes or so to get out (not a big deal as we were in no hurry).

I was expecting tickets on the back row, perhaps, so imagine how excited I was to discover that our tickets were on the first row of the orchestra section near the center of the row!  We were separated from the stage only by the orchestra pit, which itself provided an close-up look at the musicians. I never would have imagined sitting just 10 feet from the stage!  An usher told me that all of the “lottery winners” were seated on this front row.

Orchestra pit
Orchestra pit

 St. Louis residents are quite fortunate to have this beautiful venue for Broadway shows and other performances. The Fox Theatre was built on the site of a former church and opened in 1929, when movies were just beginning their heyday. It was shuttered in 1978, then restored and reopened in 1982. In 1994 the stage underwent a $2 million expansion, and the lobby was restored in 2004. Today the 4,500 audience members can enjoy the brilliance and opulence of the original “Siamese Byzantine” style which incorporates Egyptian, Far Eastern, Moorish, and Indian decor such as this gilded Indian god statue.

Indian god along the side inside the theatre
Indian god statue graces one of the side walls inside the theatre

Some facts about the “Hamilton” musical:

  • The music and lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda who was inspired by his reading of the biography Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow (PBS aired a great program on the making of the musical);
  • The musical opened off-Broadway at The Public Theater in February 2015;
  • It moved to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in August 2015;
  • In 2016 it received 16 Tony nominations and 11 awards, including Best Musical;
  • It received the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album;
  • It received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama;
  • Performances began in Chicago in October 2016 and in London in December 2017;
  • The first US national tour began in March 2017 and the second tour in February 2018.

The original cast recording was released in the Fall of 2015, and I have listened to this recording many times. This familiarity made the live experience that much better. The main actors and the ensemble cast were amazing as they sang and danced, and the goosebumps I felt during the opening number remained with me during the performance.

The orchestra was smaller than some other productions, with just nine musicians. There were no brass instruments, only two keyboards, drums, percussion, double bass, two violins, one viola, and one cello. The conductor, Julian Reeve, also played keyboards and was seated slightly raised above the other musicians. I enjoyed glancing over to watch him conduct and play some of the keyboard melodies. The musicians were, of course, top notch and their playing certainly added to the live performance.

The Warner Music Group has provided official audio recordings of the show tunes on youtube, and I’ll share just two of my favorites. The first, “Alexander Hamilton”, dramatically opens the show:

The second video is from near the end of Act Two. “It’s Quiet Uptown” describes Alexander and his wife Eliza’s grief after their son’s death; it showcases the orchestra, and as a parent I’m usually shedding a few tears at this point.

I’ve read that experiences, rather than possessions, provide lasting happiness, and in the case of live musical experiences, I certainly agree. This was a truly memorable experience that I can relive over and over in my mind. If you’re at all interested in seeing this musical, check out the official Hamilton app on either the Google Play Store or the iPhone App Store. I just checked and they are running lotteries for $10 tickets in these cities (which will change as the tour moves): New York, Chicago, London, Salt Lake City, Houston, and Costa Mesa, California.  Of course, you can purchase regularly-priced tickets to performances as well, but to my frugal heart there is something special about having a wonderful experience without spending a lot of cash.

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