Lin-Manuel Miranda’s return to the stage in his musical, Hamilton, was brought to a dramatic standstill on Friday night – not by protests in his parents’ homeland of Puerto Rico, as some had feared, but by a spontaneous eruption of cheers, whoops and applause.
The brightest spotlight shone on Miranda as, reprising the title role for the first time since Broadway in July 2016, he sang his introductory line:“Alexander Hamilton”. He got no further. The audience of nearly 2,000 rose to its feet and generated a wall of joyous noise for half a minute. The music stopped and Miranda remained motionless, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead, then finally allowing them to dart about the stage.
“I have never felt anything like that,” he said at a post-show press conference in which he toggled rapidly between English and Spanish. “It’s like performing to outer space. ‘Alexander Hamilton’ – pwhaaaaaah! I didn’t see anyone standing; I just felt it. It was the first time I felt a cheer. I felt my hair move because of a cheer and I will never forget it.”
The show resumed and continued to thrill the audience, who again delivered a standing ovation at the curtain call. Wiping away tears, Miranda told the audience: “Miracles happened to make this night happen.” He was joined on stage by his father, Luis Miranda, who was 18 when he moved from Puerto Rico to New York, where Miranda was born and raised. Luis praised his “genius son” and the pair embraced.
Miranda then produced a Puerto Rican flag, waved it above his head and wrapped himself in it as he left the stage, earning more whistles and cheers. He told reporters: “I just love this island so much and I just want it to be proud of me.”
Hamilton was starting a two-week run expected to raise thousands of dollars for artists and cultural groups struggling in the wake of Hurricane Maria,which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people, knocking out power for months and causing widespread devastation.
Alexander Hamilton – whose 262nd birthday fell on Friday – himself fled a Caribbean island after a hurricane and went on to become one of America’s founding fathers and first treasury secretary. The musical includes a song, Hurricane, which contains the lyrics: “When I was 17 a hurricane/ Destroyed my town/ I didn’t drown/ I couldn’t seem to die.”
Miranda told reporters: “It was very hard to sing that here in Puerto Ricobecause you know better than I what it is to survive a hurricane. I feel like I’m going back to Maria a little bit every time I sing it. I’ve never felt that doing the show before. That’s unexpectedly emotional. I didn’t get through it the first time I did it on stage.”
The composer and lyricist was also asked about reports that Donald Trump is exploring the possibility of diverting money from disaster funds, including that assigned to Puerto Rico’s recovery, to border wall construction. “I think that’s absolutely monstrous,” Miranda replied.
Hamilton was initially going to be staged at the University of Puerto Rico but producers announced in December that it was moving to the Luis A Ferré Performing Arts Center after university staff and students threatened to hold protests over budget cuts to coincide with the show. Miranda explained that his conscience would not allow “the slightest chance that anything would go wrong”. Audience members went through airport-style metal detectors on a night that went smoothly except for long toilet queues.
Ticket-holders ranged from VIPs and those who had forked out $5,000 to winners of a lottery that offers 275 tickets for every performance at $10 each.
Liz Mari, 30, an optician, had wanted a Hamilton ticket for her 30th birthday on Thursday. Her husband tried and failed, but then they got lucky in the lottery. “I wanted to cry,” she said of the moment she found out. “We’ve been to New York to try and see it and couldn’t get a ticket, so to see it now on our island is amazing. This is the first time we can actually see a Broadway show in Puerto Rico.”
Doris Pellicier, 61, a bank manager, was similarly euphoric: “I called my husband: ‘Wow! Wow! I won, I can’t believe it!’” Her husband, Eric Perez, 65, a vice-president of a hospital group, added: “We wanted to see it because it’s a great musical and Lin-Manuel Miranda is Puerto Rican. People here are very proud of what he’s done.”
Another audience member, Kari Hernandez, 32, admitted: “I’ve never been happier in my life than at this moment! It is super-inspiring to see this here in this environment and at this time. It feels a little bit extra special: a lot of the messaging resonates. Puerto Rico is struggling in a lot of ways and it’s a good time for inspiration.”
A British Hamilton fan was in attendance, too. Matthew Lumby, 46, a civil servant from Islington, north London, had seen the show six times already but paid $300 for a ticket plus air fare. “I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda do it in the early days on Broadway,” he said. “I never thought I’d get the chance again. He brings his own idiosyncrasies to the role; he does his own little dances. It’s funny to see him deliver the words he wrote. He can do it like no one else.”
At an after-show party, where musicians played and the Hamilton logo was combined with the Puerto Rican flag on a giant screen, Miranda was trailed by an eager crowd snapping photos on their phones. He climbed on stage and said: “My heart is so full. It is not every day you get to bring everyone you love to the island you most love in the world.”