A Meowth on 46th and 6th almost made me miss a historic night on Broadway, the last performance of Hamilton for star/creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton), and ensemble member Ariana DeBose. I was blocks away from the Richard Rodgers Theatre, with my head down, looking at my Pokémon Go screen, and out of nowhere, one of my favorite Pokémon shows up. I needed to get to the theater, because I knew the scene outside would be a biblical shit-show, but this was Meowth. So I turned and walked the opposite direction from the theater, in an attempt to catch it.
It took seven Pokéballs, one slight stumble off the curb, and dirty looks from a family that thought I was creepily taking pictures of them when in reality they were just standing right behind this beautiful Pokémon, but I got it.
Celebrating with no one but myself, I remembered that Hamilton was happening in 20 minutes. And upon arriving on the block of the show, I realized that my seven-minute detour might have been a mistake. Because it was packed.
The scene outside felt like a red-carpet premiere. “Look who I’m with,” one man said looking into his phone, as a famous woman walked by, briefly crossing his screen. After she left, he stopped shooting video and asked his friend who she was. The friend didn’t know.
It was Mariska Hargitay, which made me want to take his phone and stomp it out for not knowing the Queen.
Before I went in, I saw Jane Fonda, Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee, Rosie O’Donnell, and many people who looked like Adam Levine but weren’t. By the time I made it to my seat, I’d already heard four people say versions of “We’re actually in the room where it’s happening,” a reference to the song “The Room Where It Happens,” in which Aaron Burr describes the envy of not being part of the power circle, in the room where the big decisions are made. Under any other conditions, moments like this would bring out a slight bit of eye-roll but not tonight. The excitement was understood, and it was clear no one was attempting to play it cool, which was oddly refreshing for New York City.
Some people were pajama rich, dressed down like they were going to the movies, others glammed out as though they’d just come from the Met Gala. The spectacle was real, and the lights were still on, with six or seven minutes until the show was set to begin. Apparently Jennifer Lopez was there, which certainly gave her the belt for “most famous person here.” But it made sense—she and Lin-Manuel recently made a song together, “Love Makes the World Go Around,” a tribute to those affected by Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub shooting.
What a weird thing Hamilton became, that it made sense for J. Lo to be in attendance. Unreal.
Sitting there, thinking about J. Lo in the building, and then J. Lo in The Wedding Planner, and then J. Lo and Jane Fonda in Monster-in-Law, and then wondering what Michael Vartan has been up to, I must have missed a crew of men in suits with earpieces enter my area. Snapping out of my analog Wikipedia dive, I cased the room and saw four of these men, two by a doorway, two walking up a staircase. Moments later, Secretary of State John Kerry.
One person started clapping, and then more people started clapping, and then a few people stood up, and then the entire room was giving John Kerry a standing ovation. Sorry, Ms. Lopez, but it looks like there’s a new belt-holder in town. And I don’t know why, but I felt great for Kerry in this moment. He’s not really hurting in any way, but it was nice to see him get some public respect. It’s easy to forget about Yung Swift Boat, so this was great.
I wondered if he’d seen the show before. I wondered if there were parts of this that might get a bit real for him. I mean, he always kind of wanted to be in the room where —
OK, I now understood how painfully easy it was to make that annoying joke. It was embarrassing, but who cares.
A few minutes later, after being thrilled for Secretary of State Kerry, I felt terrible for him, as things turned into a meet and greet, clogging up a staircase. People were talking to him and asking for pictures, and if you weren’t in the actual line, you were standing in front of him, getting that massive head and granite hair of his in your rudely unauthorized selfie.
But then I felt good again, because he bent over to talk to a little kid in a backwards Hamilton hat. This was all so weird, and again, the show hadn’t even begun.
And then things got really good. The Kerry meet and greet picked up steam again, with the long-armed Kerry now taking the selfies himself, again crowding the staircase.
Which made it comically difficult for Aaron Paul to get where he needed to go.
When this happens, you have to break your “no photos of celebrities” rule. Is Aaron trying to talk to Secretary of State John Kerry? Did he sign up for this meet and greet? Is John Kerry a Breaking Bad fan, and if so, will he say something to Aaron? Is Aaron just trying to test his July 2016 swag by walking by Kerry, catching his eye, and seeing what happens?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know, because someone thought this was the moment to dim the lights and start the musical. Moments later, “How does a bastard, orphan …”
* * *
Intermission was wild, mainly because I walked around and finally spotted Jennifer Lopez. It wasn’t hard to figure out where she was, there were throngs of people standing around, near her as well as up on the balcony, just staring at her. The room was buzzing, after being extremely fired up through the whole first act. Miranda received a standing ovation for the first number, “Alexander Hamilton,” and the cheers sounded more like what you’d hear at a sporting event than a Broadway show. It was exciting, and almost everyone behaved perfectly, except for that one lady.
The thing about Hamilton is that it’s a triumph, easily one of the great musicals, an extremely transformative experience. The other thing about Hamilton is that some people like it too much, and these people are terrifying and must be destroyed, because they might challenge you to a duel and shoot you between the ribs if you interrupt them while they’re singing “Wait for It.”
I had one of these people in my section, and not only did she sing along, she repeatedly raised her arms and screamed, and would drum on things that weren’t drums, and any time there was a progressive line about immigrants, slavery, or equal rights, she would either clap, or stand up and then clap.
During “The Schuyler Sisters”—the fifth number—her presence had already been felt. And throughout that song, in her honor, I mentally changed the word “work” to “woke” in the lyrics.
Because she was so woke. The woke god. But it made sense, there were groups in this country that helped build it, groups that were treated unfairly and not properly credited. And she wanted you to know that she knew that. God bless her.
Anyway, after about 20 minutes, the lights dimmed again.
* * *
Hamilton will go on in a powerful, important way—both in New York and on tour—but this was certainly the end of an era.
While the crowd was in a frenzy, what happened on stage was like any other night. There was one moment when Rory O’Malley (King George) blew Odom (Burr) a kiss, making Odom laugh, which delighted the crowd. And both Odom and Christopher Jackson (George Washington) received standing ovations for “The Room Where It Happens” and “One Last Time,” respectively. But when it wrapped up, there wasn’t a 10-minute Lin-Manuel speech, no one rolled out a cake, Barack and Hillary didn’t show up—there was no self-initiated hoopla.
After bows from the full cast, the four actors who were leaving stepped forward, and then Jackson pushed Miranda to the front of the stage for more solo applause from the crowd, which was very much deserved.
But right when it seemed to be over, suddenly the orchestra started playing the theme song from The West Wing, a show Miranda has cited as an inspiration. I expected many things on this night, but getting slightly choked up at watching Lin-Manuel Miranda laugh at the surprise, while thinking about my heroes Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn, wasn’t one of them. But this wasn’t a normal show, and this wasn’t a normal night, so it was a fitting way for it to end, triumphantly abnormal. What a run.