It has been almost four years since Hamilton, the 11-time Tony-winning musical, debuted on Broadway. For the Hamilheads out there wondering “what comes next,” we have good news to keep your fandom “satisfied.” The creators of the play have done it again: they’ve revitalized the museum experience in the same way that they brought an innovative twist to theater and history. This weekend, “Hamilton: The Exhibition” opened its doors in Chicago. It’s an immersive, deep dive into American history, key revolutionary characters, and the making of the play. And it’s all anyone is talking about in this city!
The exhibit is like Disney World for the revolutionary era. It’s visually stunning, 3D, and interactive. 25 Broadway sets worth of scenery are woven together in an intertwining maze, sprinkled with historic documents and writings, neon lights, statues, and games. The whole experience is underscored by a symphonic arrangement of the play’s iconic music. Visitors wear headsets through which Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo (the original Alexander and Eliza Hamilton) narrate the experience. Both actors were in attendance at this weekend’s opening.
Chicago was lucky enough to be the premiere city for this exhibit for a couple of reasons. First and most practically, the city had the space. The exhibit lives in an airplane hanger on Northerly Island. Hamilton’s Chicago fan base is another reason the city was chosen. Believe it or not, more people have seen the play in Chicago than in New York! But if a trip to Chicago is not in the cards, don’t worry! According to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the exhibit fits into 80 trucks and is built to eventually tour.
To tide you over until you can visit – or until the 80 trucks head your way – here are some of our favorite things we learned in the exhibit.
You punched the bursar?
As a super fan myself, I probably had the most fun reading the behind-the-scenes facts about the play. Framed signs hang throughout the historic sets with text explaining the play’s storytelling decisions. My favorite? “The real Hamilton didn’t punch the bursar at Princeton. Rhyming it with ‘Burr, sir’ and establishing Hamilton’s impulsiveness was too good to resist.”
One section of the exhibit welcomes you into a winter’s ball in the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. You can hear stories of each character by walking up to their statues, which are set throughout a neon blue ballroom. A visit to Eliza’s statue will tell you that she did indeed burn her correspondence with Alexander, but not in the dramatic fashion that was portrayed in the play. The exhibit explains that burning personal letters was a common act at the time, especially if a woman was married to a prominent man.
The real Angelica Schuyler was actually already married when she met Alexander Hamilton, but they did exchange flirtatious letters. Surprisingly, that type of behavior wasn’t unusual for the time. Beyond that, there is no historical evidence suggesting romantic involvement.
The Battle of Yorktown
One portion of the exhibit begins with a lifelike cannon room that leads into a tent. The tent houses a huge interactive map showing battle geography. Eight inch tall figurines move across the map magnetically – or seemingly magically – like something out of “Jumanji.” It’s one of many imaginative exhibits showing another aspect – in this case, geography – of the play’s scenes.
There are so many more details, but you will simply have to go yourself! You can get through the museum in a little over an hour but can certainly spend much more time. There is so much to read, watch, and experience, culminating in a 3D movie theater experience of the opening number with the original cast. Whether you’re local or flying in for the exhibition, you will not be disappointed. Tickets can be ordered online.
Hamilton: The Exhibition, 1535 S Linn White Dr. (312) 977 – 1710