‘Hamilton’ in Puerto Rico: An opening night with joy, hope and tears from Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda cried as he grasped the hands of his “Hamilton” costars during curtain call on opening night here, later raising a Puerto Rican flag and waving it high before wrapping it around his shoulders and exiting stage right.
The emotional moment came nearly three hours after Miranda, the musical’s 38-year-old star and creator, first appeared onstage and stated his name as Alexander Hamilton, bringing the 2,000-seat house to its feet for a prolonged standing ovation less than a minute into the show.
This first performance of a planned 17-show run marked a high point for island residents still working through the difficult, often heart-wrenching process of recovering from cataclysmic Hurricane Maria in 2017. The prolonged political and social fallout has included a rise in violent crime that was highlighted the night before the opening of “Hamilton” here with the killing of popular trap singer Kevin Fret.
“Things have not been the same after the hurricane,” said Yolanda Hidalgo, a doctor from Aguadilla who came to “Hamilton” with her mother, Yolanda Hernandez, a nurse. “It has been more than a year, and there are still so many troubles — towns that have not recovered, people still without jobs who lost houses, who lost everything. And there is a lot of sickness.”
Hidalgo said she has no words for how grateful she is for Miranda’s presence in Puerto Rico and for the show’s pledge to give 100% of this run’s profits to the island through the Miranda family’s Flamboyan Foundation, which is dedicated to helping with the recovery process largely through arts and culture.
Opening night drew a giddy audience of island residents mixed with a healthy helping of tourists from the mainland. During the uproarious curtain call, the audience rang out with shouts of “Puerto Rico” and “Vega Alta,” the nearby town where Miranda’s father is from. Pride in the show, and the man behind it, was palpable as fans lined up for “Hamilton” mugs, beanies, hats, tote bags, tees and hoodies.
Miranda was born and raised in New York, but he spent summers on the island as a child and has maintained a bond with island life and culture. Long before his “Hamilton” scored 11 Tony Awards and became Broadway history, Miranda famously pulled the Puerto Rican flag out of his pocket at Radio City Music Hall in 2008 after winning the Tony for original score for “In the Heights.”
“That day, Lin became a Puerto Rican hero because that was the day that he said, ‘We matter and you matter, and I am one of you and we are here together,’ ” said the lead producer of “Hamilton,” Jeffrey Seller, before the show. “And therein lies the seed of why we are here today.”
Miranda’s interest in bringing the production to the island predates Hurricane Maria by a year. His mission changed after the storm, Puerto Rico’s worst natural disaster resulting in what the local government has estimated to be nearly 3,000 deaths.
“Puerto Ricans are the most resilient people on the face of the Earth,” Miranda said in a post-show press conference at the venue, Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré. “Name any other city in the world that would survive this long without power and the resources that any American state would get in the wake of a hurricane.”
He added that people are coming to Puerto Rico because of the show, and he hopes they will spend a lot of money while they are on the island — and see just how much recovery work still needs to be done.
He cited the blue tarps that are one of the most persistent sights on the island. In smaller towns, they form seas of blue visible to cars passing by on the freeway, the plastic coverings protecting homes that have lost all or part of their roofs.
“I lost my job after Maria, so I started driving Uber,” said Julissa Miedes, who attended the opening night party with one of the show’s carpenters, who invited her after she gave him a ride. “It’s been a tough year after the hurricane, but I’m optimistic.”
Earlier in the evening, Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, whose work was the inspiration for Miranda’s musical, noted that the founding father originally was from the Caribbean. “He came to America, and the rest is history,” Chernow said at intermission. “Lin’s parents came from Puerto Rico, so I feel that it’s poetic justice — the idea of the ‘Hamilton’ musical coming back to the Caribbean.”
Chernow was just one of many recognizable faces at opening night, which also was attended by Jimmy Fallon, Questlove, Shonda Rhimes and “Hamilton” cast alumni including Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony Award for playing Aaron Burr.
Luis A. Ferrao, the chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus, where “Hamilton” was originally scheduled to be staged, was there despite the sting of the show’s decision to relocate to Bellas Artes because of the possibility of campus protests.
The Flamboyan Foundation has given $1 million toward the post-Hurricane restoration of the historic 1939 Teatro UPR, so that it would be ready for “Hamilton.” But that wasn’t enough to allay concerns about security and the specter of unrest.
Regardless of the venue change, “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico still is expected to generate $15 million for the island, Seller said, with some of that revenue coming from about 3,000 benefit tickets priced at $5,000 each. (The production said it has kept thousands of seats at $10 for locals.)
“All of our royalty participants — author, director, choreographer, designers, producers — are waiving our royalties, so all of those dollars are going straight to island initiatives,” Seller said.
At a raucous after-party at a massive bank complex, Miranda and the cast mingled with guests sipping Don Hamilton Old Fashioned cocktails and snacking on local braised pork cheeks and blood sausage.
Miranda appeared onstage next to a cover band, once again expressing his profound thanks to those who brought “Hamilton” to Puerto Rico a well as to island citizens for their gracious reception.
“It’s not every day you get to bring everyone you love to the island you love most in the world,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
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