Theatergoers are excited and hopeful as St. Louis gets shot at ‘Hamilton’ | St. Louis Public Radio

Theatergoers are excited and hopeful as St. Louis gets shot at ‘Hamilton’

Apr 3, 2018

After standing in line, waiting in online queues and forking out big bucks, St. Louisans will be able see “Hamilton” in their hometown.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blend of musical theater, hip-hop, blues, jazz and rap begins Tuesday night and runs through April 22 at The Fox Theatre. The musical turns traditional casting on its head, with actors of color playing the men who shaped the nation, including the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr.

The chance to see the blockbuster made Chelsea Whitaker of St. Louis do something she’s never done before: pay $150 to see a show.

“Oh, my gosh, my friends and I have dinner reservations, we are ready, we’re taking work off a little early,” Whitaker said. “We’re very excited.”

Something for everyone

Chelsea Whitaker has been waiting for years to see 'Hamilton' for the first time.
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Whitaker and her friends know all the words to every song. But for her, “Hamilton” is much more than a pop-culture phenomenon. Whitaker, who is black, holds degrees in theater and African-American studies, and she has a keen understanding of the ways in which the musical attracts people across a wide spectrum.

“It’s not a black story but it’s meant to invite black and brown people in,” Whitaker said. “It’s like you’re seeing hip-hop audiences listen to musical theater and you’re also having all these musical theater audiences listening to hip-hop influences.”

It was hip-hop that first drew 16-year-old Annie Rhoades of University City, into “Hamilton.” She asked her parents for a CD of the music for her birthday. After the family saw it in Chicago last year, they all began performing the songs at home using a well-worn lyrics sheet.

Greg Rhoades was hesitant about the musical at first but was drawn in by his wife and daughters’ enthusiasm, and eventually, aspects of the show, itself.

Greg Rhoades took this photo of his wife, Sam, and their daughters, Lucy and Annie, when they saw 'Hamilton' for the first time in Chicago in January 2016.
Credit Greg Rhoades

“I liked the cussing and the humor,” he said.

The family plans to see it again at The Fox. For Annie Rhoades and her 13-year-old sister, Lucy, “Hamilton” provides a meaningful connection to the past.

“In school, history is so boring. It’s like the same old thing every year,” Lucy Rhoades said.

“But [‘Hamilton’] is relatable for teens and people who like rap and stuff,” Annie Rhoades agreed.

Their mom, Sam Rhoades, also appreciates how history will likely view “Hamilton” and its inclusive casting.

“What is riveting, as a white family, is — I mean our country is so diverse and so beautiful — and so to see that represented on stage, that’s really, really exciting,” she said.

‘You can’t argue with money’

For Christina Rios of Webster Groves, being represented on stage is life-changing. She cried all the way through “Hamilton” when she saw it in New York two years ago.

Christina Rios took this selfie as she began to get emotional even before the curtain went up for 'Hamilton' in New York City in 2016. She saw the musical with its original cast, including Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Alexander Hamilton.
Credit Christina Rios

“The stars of the show, they looked just like me and my friends and my family,” Rios said. “And the key, of course, is that it’s not about people who were brown and tan, and that makes it so much more universal.”

But Rios, who is Mexican-American, won’t be going to “Hamilton” in St. Louis. She gave her ticket to her mom, who’ll see it with Rios’ husband and teenage daughter. Rios hopes there will be more “Hamiltons” in the future. She hopes the sheer financial success of “Hamilton” — it broke its own record of grossing $3.4 million in one week last year — along with the movie “Black Panther” will pave the way for more opportunities for people of color.

“I think you can’t argue with money,” Rios said. “It might be hard to count on people to make the right choice but you can typically count on them to make the fiscally responsible one.”

The Schuyler sisters in “Hamilton” come from a wealthy family but seek to live beyond their comfortable existence.
Credit Joan Marcus

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This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. Please click here, to see responses from others who shared their "Hamilton" stories. This report was prepared with the help of our Public Insight Network. Learn more about the network and how you can become a source for St. Louis Public Radio here.

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