1. Stage

'Hamilton' 101: What you need to know for the big show in Tampa

Everyone wants to be in the room where it happens. Here are some tips for first-timers.
Published Feb. 5, 2019

Lin-Manuel Miranda gave us a gift when he decided to make Hamilton almost entirely sung. Nearly all of his 11-time Tony-winning 2016 musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is on the soundtrack, ready and waiting for Hamilfans to belt it in our cars and blast it through our earbuds.

I don't think it's an accident that Miranda, whose formative musicals include the sung-through Rent, created something we could all participate in, something that could be enjoyed whether or not you can afford a $300 ticket to his massively popular show. This is the guy who performed dozens of Ham4Hams, free minishows on the sidewalk outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre, to entertain the New York City crowds vying for a ticket to see the original Broadway cast.

Such is the power of Hamilton that everyone wants to be in the room where it's happening. I've seen it twice on Broadway, once with Miranda and the original cast and once last month with an entirely new set of actors. I can vouch for the transformative experience no matter who is performing it, the bopping music you will be singing all the way home, the tears you will cry when Eliza Hamilton delivers the show's final line.

Even if you know all 20,000 words of Miranda's musical, seeing it performed live is a whole other beast. Everything is heightened: King George is funnier, Hamilton is angrier, the Sons of Liberty are raunchier. You may be surprised by how laugh-out-loud funny it is.

Seeing Broadway vets interpret the material, putting a different spin on that cast recording you have memorized, is a treat. (The touring cast includes Joseph Morales, who was in the ensemble of Miranda's first musical In the Heights,as Alexander Hamilton.) One of my favorite details is that the actors who play Marquis de Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan and John Laurens switch roles in Act 2 and play Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Philip Hamilton, respectively. The turn from braggadocious Mulligan to timid, sickly Madison is particularly sublime.

Hamilton comes to Tampa on Feb. 12 and runs through March 10 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, part of a national tour that started in 2017. Hundreds of people lined up at the Straz when tickets went on sale in November, with thousands more trying to buy tickets online.

If you managed to snag a ticket for the monthlong run, here are three things to keep in mind while you're watching the show.

Dance in your seat if you have to.

Hamilton deals with life's biggest questions: Who will tell your story when you're gone? Should we all strive to leave a lasting legacy? Why did anyone think duels were a good way to settle an argument? Those themes seem even bigger on stage, the heartbreaking parts truly unbearable and the life-affirming parts especially rousing. And you might be surprised at how easily it all goes down. There is not a moment of this production in which the energy isn't building, the tension crackling. If the performers don't draw you in (unlikely), the hip-hip score, which spans everything from R&B (Helpless) to banjo-inflected jazz (The Room Where It Happened), certainly will. This is not your grandmother's musical — don't be afraid to wiggle your shoulders to the beat.

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It will all make more sense.

If you happen to find yourself in a Reddit hole about the show's best lines, it can get real nerdy real fast — "That's an elevenfold rhyme scheme!"And yes, attention must be paid to the way Miranda conveys plot within intricate internal rhymes and complicated raps. (My current favorite: "Lock up your daughters and horses, of course it's / Hard to have intercourse over four sets of corsets.") But things can get pretty dense, and even the most studious Hamilton-philes have trouble grasping every lyric. There is a lot of American history plot to get through, words flying in every direction, a handful of main characters to keep track of. It can be overwhelming. Miranda's genius phrasing is made much more clear in person, when actors are spitting the show's fast-paced lyrics (the show contains more words per minute than any other musical) in real time and using body language and smart staging to convey the meaning behind them.

Look at what the background actors are doing.

At some point during the show, take a minute to focus on one of the background dancers. Notice the detailed hand movements, the slight bend in their backs as they swirl around the stage during Act 2 soliloquy Hurricane. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, which won a Tony award, is stunning, full of urgent movements that manage to convey a legitimate sexiness not often found in the musical theater world. The ensemble is clad in period clothing, the dancers wearing body suits and boots that simultaneously allow them to blend in and accentuate their every move. There are no big dance numbers, and yet the dancers are ever present, an energetic force urging along this already compelling story.

Contact Michelle Stark at Follow @mstark17.


Runs Feb. 12 through March 10 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827.

Don't have a ticket? There will be a digital lottery for each performance, with 40 $10 tickets available for every show. Digital lotteries will open two days before each show; the first one opens Sunday for the Feb. 12 performance. To enter, download the Hamilton app or visit


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