Take a Roadtrip to Chicago’s Immersive ‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’

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Despite a three-week run at the Aronoff Center back in February and March, it was a big challenge to get tickets to see Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway megahit about one of America’s Founding Fathers. Virtually every seat at the Aronoff was sold; a few people slipped in via a daily lottery, but if you did not score early, chances to see the show were slim. The Chicago production will end on Jan. 5, 2020 (after more than three years, 171 weeks and 1,341 performances) and become another touring production in addition to the one that came to Cincinnati. Seats for the Broadway production remain scarce (and astonishingly expensive) in New York City. But without question, Hamiltonwill be back in Cincinnati for a future season.

If you want a taste of what it’s all about — or even if you’ve seen it — you should consider a trip to Chicago for Hamilton: The Exhibition, a 360-degree immersive experience. Miranda, who created the musical and initially starred as Alexander Hamilton, is the entrepreneur behind this new spectacle. While it’s not quite the show, it’s dazzling in its own way. It is, in fact, a deeper dive into American history, using state-of-the-art museum technology to make a sensational, walk-through exhibit in the world of 18th-century America and through the milieu of Hamilton’s life in New York City.

It’s on Chicago’s Northerly Island in Lake Michigan near the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. The cavernous, hangar-like building constructed for the exhibition has 18 galleries that took several months and thousands of hours to complete. Before you begin to walk through the galleries, you’re greeted by a 3D video of Miranda and Phillipa Soo (Eliza Schuyler on Broadway). From there, you move through an interactive mix of in-depth scenography, lighting, sound, multimedia projections, artifacts, drawings, paintings and lavish décor. You’re guided by an audio tour narrated by Miranda and other original cast members. The tour is set to melodies, hooks and beats re-orchestrated from the show.

Each gallery portrays a moment in the life of Hamilton, from his childhood on the Caribbean island of Saint Croix to his tragic death after a duel with political rival Aaron Burr. David Korins, creative director and set designer for the show and this exhibition, told the Chicago Sun-Times that his goal was to represent Hamilton’s life “realistically rendered and as detailed as (they) possibly could.”

Experiences include a swirling “Hurricane Room” and Washington’s war room, a canvas tent where the Battle of Yorktown is brought to life on a map using tiny animated military figures, ships and more. (Korins called it “a giant Risk board.”) You can visit the Schuyler Mansion ballroom with life-size golden statues of historical figures. There’s also a 70-foot parchment map of 1772 Manhattan with scale models of landmarks.

The exhibition — which opened April 27 of this year — delves deeply into issues and events the musical could not fully explore: race, women, immigrants and more.

Hamilton is a musical,” Miranda says in a press release. “It’s as much of Alexander’s life as we could wrestle into two and a half hours of musical theater, and it’s been incredible to see the renewed interest this has sparked in Alexander Hamilton’s life and times.”

But it could not include many fine details. He calls the exhibition “an immersive companion piece for Hamilton, and a deep dive into the details and experiences of Hamilton’s story.”

There’s a special treat at the end — another 3D experience, this time of the opening scene of the musical, featuring the full cast performing the song that introduces the key characters and anticipates the full story of Hamilton’s tumultuous life.

The exhibition cost $1 million more to launch than the Broadway production. Though it was originally slated to close Sept. 8, the date has now been moved up to Aug. 25; according to the Chicago Tribune, representatives of the exhibition cited avoiding conflict with the North Coast Music Festival and the start of the Chicago Bears’ oncoming home season as reasons for the early closure. If you’re a diehard “Hamfam,”  there are only a few weeks to catch it in Chicago. Tickets are $25 to $40; not inexpensive but a lot more reasonable than the sky-high ticket prices for the show.

Hamilton: The Exhibition is on view in Chicago until Aug. 25. Check out the video at hamiltonexhibition.com.