I’ll let you in on a secret: I watched three plays on Broadway last year, including “Hamilton: An American Musical,” but after initial fangirling I decided to keep quiet and lay low on my love of musical theater.
Blasphemy!, I can hear fellow “Hamiltrash” saying. Alexander Hamilton himself would probably be ashamed of my hesitance.
Those close to me know about my bottomless adoration for all things musical theater (and especially all things “Hamilton” and Lin Manuel Miranda). But it was beyond scary at the time to share something so personal, so integral to who I am, to a world that has more often than not dismissed musicals as too “cheesy,” too “childish” and, on the other side of the spectrum, too “elitist” for the ordinary person to understand.
But oh, have the tides changed in the months since.
There was Rachelle Ann Go excelling as Eliza Hamilton in the musical’s West End production. And then there was “Ang Larawan,” whose success at the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival started yet again the conversation that hey, movie musicals deserve to be on the big screen despite the stigma that they’re not “pang masa.”
It’s even more heartening to know that this awareness isn’t growing on just our side of the pond. Musical plays geared toward younger, modern audiences are raking it in. Last year’s best musical at the Tony Awards, “Dear Evan Hansen,” was a social commentary on mental health and perceived image on social media.
All these finally gave me the confidence to share my own experience flying halfway across the globe to Broadway, the mecca of all things musical theater.
Because more than my obvious, selfish giddiness at seeing it all live, what really made it all special was the beautiful, accepting reception of my family and others in the audience to what I long felt was an oftentimes misunderstood art form.
Musicals, I want to argue, are for everyone. And if others can now better shout out their love of musicals without shame, so can I.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My first serious glimpse of Broadway began way back in 2016, when on Sept. 27 that year, in the middle of work, I got an e-mail that the usually sold-out “Hamilton” had tickets up for grabs.
It was as if my heart couldn’t decide whether to race or to stop, partly because of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and especially because of the exorbitant prices. And by exorbitant, I mean way more than one month’s worth of take-home pay at the time.
But of the million things I haven’t done, something told me that I should not miss this, that this was the time to throw caution to the wind and think about the aftermath, well, after.
Before any more doubt crept in, I pressed, “buy,” for the show and bid bye to savings.
And that was it. On Sept. 27 that year, I scored “Hamilton” orchestra tickets for myself and my family for June 27, 2017.
And they were more than just tickets.
Everything, even our luck, only escalated from there. All of a sudden, these tickets became more than just entrance to a musical.
We scored real cheap airfare to New York two days after, and a nice deal for our hotel in the heart of the city. Our US visa application even went much better than expected.
(At the embassy, all the official could say was, “WOW,” when we said we were going to the US to watch “Hamilton,” and promptly accepted our passports without further questions.)
In late February, we even scooped up cheaper (much cheaper) tickets to the hyped “Anastasia: The New Broadway Musical,” a love song to scores of millennials (me included) who grew up watching the 1997 animated movie by Fox Animations Studios.
Is this the real life? It was as if “Hamilton” unlocked a discount coupon to all things United States.
As I counted down the days to June 2017, I saved screenshots of my Broadway tickets on my phone as a pick-me-up for dreary work days. My family had to endure my (very, very) off-key singing and giddy chatter like troopers, but I promised them that, wait for it, they would understand once they watched these shows.
More than anything, I wanted to share the joy, my joy, to help them appreciate how much power, how magnificent it would really be to watch showmen leave everything on the stage, to watch them maneuver from one end of the stage to another, sing and dance in harmony and with purpose. Always with purpose.
Ah! All the things they’d discover! Just you wait, I thought, just you wait.
My family and I arrived in NYC two days before “Hamilton,” but ask me about those first two days and I’d really only be able to focus on visiting the actual grave of Alexander Hamilton at Trinity Church… and scooping up inexpensive but much-coveted balcony seats to “The Book of Mormon” right outside our hotel. (See our Super guide to Broadway for more tips!)
City tours and famed street eats whirled and whizzed around me until June 27 came and there, in the eye of the hurricane, was the illuminated billboard for “Hamilton” beckoning us toward the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
There I was, in the midst of a mix of people from what seemed like all corners of the world. There were the theater aficionados dressed to the nines, and the more casual sort with cameras on hand. In my head, I was thankful that theaters were no longer as strict on the dress code, which only contributed to the snooty stigma musicals had.
But back to “Hamilton.” Practically a year of planning and decades more of admiration from afar was all about to culminate in what would be the most life-changing three hours of my musical-loving life.
I was about to watch the musical critics touted as the best damn show of the century. Best of all, the titular role of Alexander Hamilton would be played by Miranda’s anointed successor, Javier Muñoz.
This was it, my first Broadway musical. The first of three—THREE—shows I’d be watching.
Again, is this the real life?
A blur of an entrance later, the moment had come. The lights dimmed, the whispers stopped, and then entered the familiar beat of songs I had listened to nonstop months prior.
I could have cried on the spot. I could have also cried a hundred other times during the show (don’t worry, I won’t spoil). But without revealing too much, let me tell you: It’s everything the critics and fans are saying and more—so, so much more. If I said anything else, I’d merely be parroting the praise.
I stayed behind in the theater well after the show ended and majority of the audience had left. And I wasn’t the only one.
To my right, a teenage boy was crying on his father’s shoulder. Up front, people of all races took turns taking photos with the stage even as crewmen tried to usher them away. In those moments, I saw with my own eyes why Americans—even the world beyond theater junkies—celebrated the success, reminiscent of how Filipinos celebrated “Heneral Luna” when it graced the big screen.
My family, while music lovers, weren’t the “Hamiltrash” that I admitted to being, but after the show they told me that oh, they finally understood the hype, the love, the passion behind it. “Gets ko na,” my brother even said.
Full disclaimer: I had bawled my eyes out without shame at the end of the show while giving a standing ovation, but it were these words that stayed with me until I slept that night.
The show still goes on, and on, and on.
But wait, the show’s not over.
To watch “Hamilton,” without a doubt, was already a dream come true. But to watch two other highly acclaimed musicals right after? The Broadway gods were really more than generous.
The next night was dedicated to “The Book of Mormon,” which was nothing short of groundbreaking, just like when it first debuted in 2011 and won the Tonys for Best Musical the same year. The show was six years old by the time we watched it, but the Eugene O’Neill Theatre was damn near full when we went in and found our seats up at the balcony.
In the end, “The Book of Mormon” may have been a little too much for my more conservative mother. (My dad, who had watched it on the West End, and my brother found it hilarious in its earnest digs at religion.) There were mixed reactions, too, in our audience, but most seemed to have had a blast.
Me? My favorite songs were, unsurprisingly, also the show’s most scandalous and entertaining.
The night after that, third time’s the charm, was for “Anastasia,” with all new songs by the same guy who wrote the original songs for the movie. It should have been the most traditional of the three shows. But where it stuck to more classic instrumentals and show-tune ballads, it more than dazzled with the refreshing fusion of projectors and large set pieces.
(Tip: If you get to watch “Anastasia,” look out for the train scene. I’d say it even tops the “OMG” moment when Christy Altomare, as the titular Anastasia, ends the first act with “Journey to the Past.”)
In hindsight, I associate it most with the combined nostalgia and widespread appeal of “Ang Larawan.”
And, lest we forget: In between bingeing on musicals, I blew practically half of my entire shopping budget by Day 5 of our 20-day trip. Among my memorabilia were a “Hamilton” shot glass—yes, they went there—socks with dancing Mormons printed on them and a $25 plastic tiara from “Anastasia” meant for little girls.
(Buy and goodbye to my 13th month bonus.)
‘Can I get a hug?’
The merch, I still keep in my room, always in my line of sight. But let me get sappy one last time: The best souvenir I brought home was actually intangible.
The moment started like this: I lined up outside the staff entrance of the Broadhurst Theatre like any fan would, and dutifully waited for the stars to come out. Play pamphlet in one hand and my smartphone in the other, I honestly thought the best thing I could get out of that moment were the photographs and signed autographs.
When Christy Altomare, who plays Anastasia, finally reached me, I had yet to recover from the deluge of electricity coursing through my body. Stand your ground, this was it.
I handed my pamphlet to her and said a bunch of things I really don’t remember—except this one line: “Can I get a hug?”
And yes, I did get one.
The hug, while short-lived, was quite literally the end of a journey to my past. Everything about that moment felt like the culmination of years of watching animated movies on tape and singing along to my favorite Disney songs on the way to school.
Best of all, I knew it wasn’t just happening to me. Girls and boys and men and women had the exact same reaction. You could feel the warmth and acceptance of everyone in that line—no, even way beyond the line where behind me, other members of the audience hung a little farther back, grins on their faces as they watched us.
I could only hope that they, like my family, understood.
Let me repeat, it’s that memory, on top of so many others, that compels me to finally share with confidence my journey to Broadway. More than a fangirl’s wish come true, it was my family’s and the audiences’ reactions to these musicals that really made the trip worth my while.
What a time to be alive, to share with many something I truly love and feel is important. No shame, no stigma, no anything negative.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, should try and catch a musical on Broadway when given the chance. If you can’t, support and binge and enjoy whatever local or international musical and movie musical you can get your hands on.
I guarantee it will be nothing short of magical.
Or, better yet, I guarantee it will be downright theatrical—in all the best ways.
(Whoops. Maybe musicals, and the people who love them, are cheesy, after all.)