Hearing Yiddish at a ‘Hamilton’ Hip Hop Musical
I never expected to hear Yiddish in the lobby of the Richard Rodgers Theatre for “Hamilton, the hip hop mega hit musical.
“Do you know how to get to your seat?” asked the feisty petite, blonde senior veteran usher who had just told a theatergoer “We’re all mamelige,” a reference to corn meal mush and a dish made famous in the Yiddish song “Rumania! Rumania!”
When I told Frances Eppy I was with the Forward, she exclaimed: “I’m on East Broadway!” [a few blocks from the paper’s historic 175 East Broadway address] and rattled off a roster of landmarks — “The Amalgamated, Educational Alliance” — then introduced me to house manager Mr. Tim noting, “He’s a gute neshome [a good soul].” Alluding to the number of adults with children in tow, Eppy said: “They should teach American history like this.” As she directed us to our aisle, I spotted “Star Trek”’s “Sulu,” George Takai, with whom I reminisced about his co-star and my cousin the late Leonard Nimoy.
To borrow a quote from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” This is without doubt an extraordinarily exhilarating production with book, music, and lyrics by (and starring as Hamilton) Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Sitting in the second row and able to see the sweat on the brows of the athletically energetic cast, I felt as though watching the reshuffling of the Founding Father’s deck and the Ace that rightfully lands on top is Alexander Hamilton — an illegitimate son and poor immigrant, who was born on the Island of Nevis and who as a child on the island was taught by a Jewish woman and could recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew!
The multi-ethnic ensemble is superb! The costuming is lavish and the hip hop patter is clear as a bell. Though familiar with the Aaron Burr character — brilliantly portrayed by Leslie Odom Jr. — thanks to Anya Seton’s novel “My Theodosia,” about his love for his daughter, Odom’s envy and distaste for Hamilton simmers with acid. Lafayette and Jefferson — as portrayed by Daveed Diggs — add both elegant swagger and comedic content to the production. And then there are the women in Hamilton’s life: his wife Eliza, portrayed with emotional heft by the beautiful Phillipa Soo, and his emotion-charged sister in-law Angelica, played by Renee Elise Goldsberry.
But when it comes to out and out tongue-in-cheek comic relief there’s Jonathan Groff’s delightful impersonation of ermine-caped, bejeweled, crowned, scepter-in-hand King George III, which had the audience roaring.
Yet the heart and soul of this groundbreaking, stellar production is that of Miranda, who inhabits Hamilton with a passion and level and energy that leaves you breathless. By the end of this musical gem, you thank Providence, for gutsy, persistent genius Hamilton. Good luck getting tickets. And let’s hear it for keeping Alexander Hamilton on U.S. ten dollar bill!