So You’re About To See Hamilton …

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Christopher Jackson as George Washington in "Hamilton". Photo Joan Marcus.

Christopher Jackson as George Washington in “Hamilton”. Photo Joan Marcus.

In the five seconds it takes Baby June to sing out Gypsy’s

“Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile,”

Lafayette in Hamilton’s “Guns and Ships” will have sung “I’m takin’ this horse by the reins makin’ redcoats redder with bloodstains. Lafayette. And I’m never gonna stop until I make ‘em drip, burn ‘em up and scatter their remains, I’m Lafayette”

That’s 9 words for Gypsy versus 32 words for Hamilton, nearly four times as many. Granted, “Guns and Ships” is one of the faster songs, but know this: there are about 24,000 words in Hamilton according to the book,  Hamilton The Revolution. That’s more than The Merchant of Venice! So if you think you’re going catch all the words when you see the show without a bit of study, think again. Even with headphones or sitting right under a speaker (where I sat), you will miss a lot. With Hamilton, you won’t want to miss a thing.

Unlike the wonderful Gypsy, Hamilton isn’t a sit back and let-them-entertain-you show. Hamilton requires a lot of its audience—hard, involved attention that you will be happy to pay. The more you prepare, the more you will get out of the show.

When I saw the show early after its move to Broadway, there was no cast album; there was no book; there was no way to study the libretto. I missed a lot of what was being performed. You can be luckier.

If you’re among the millions who will see Hamilton as it rolls out to Chicago this fall and other cities nationally as well as to London in 2017, heed this word: prepare.

Beg, borrow or buy the album and listen to the songs along with the libretto that is included. You don’t have to listen to it all at once. Not only is it dense. It is intense. (A rhyme worthy of the show, Mr. Miranda?)

If you want the font of the libretto to be larger, obtain the gorgeous book as well. You’ll learn a lot of fascinating background about Hamilton. Miranda’s footnotes also help.

Hamilton isn’t just a musical. It is a national treasure. It is itself history about history. You will get out of it what you put into it. And it is the most enjoyable preparation you may ever undertake.

About Nancy Salz

Nancy Salz is a freelance performing arts journalist and the author of Nanny: A Memoir of Love and Secrets (Richard Books, 2014). She lives in New York City and Stockbridge, Massachusetts.