Miranda brings ‘Hamilton’ to beleaguered Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Lin-Manuel Miranda only had to speak his character’s name — Alexander Hamilton — to bring the crowd to its feet.
It was Friday night here — the first performance, and the opening night, of a 17-day run of “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico — and as soon as the crowd caught sight of the show’s 38year-old creator and star, it drenched him in applause, forcing a momentary pause, the actors frozen mid-scene while the patrons unleashed a storm of appreciation born, of course, of fandom but also of something deeper.
“Today Puerto Rico gave me more energy than ever in my life in that moment,” Miranda, speaking in Spanish, told reporters after the show. “I’ve never felt anything like that.”
“Hamilton” arrived in San Juan at a time when Puerto Rico is struggling — still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, facing chronic economic challenges and political turmoil, and now confronting an outbreak of violence that claimed the life of a well-known trap singer Thursday.
Miranda, born and raised in New York City to parents from Puerto Rico, is devoted to the island; he is hoping that the run of “Hamilton” here will call attention to both its needs and its riches. Multiple members of Congress are expected to come to see the show while it’s here.
“People are going to come to Puerto Rico because of ‘Hamilton’ and hopefully spend a lot of money here,” he said. “But they’re also going to see blue tarps, and they’re also going to see how much work there is to be done.”
The San Juan run is being staged at Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré, a local performing arts venue, after the show’s producers decided at the last minute to relocate it from the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus, citing concern about security in the event of protests.
There was one small rally outside the show’s opening Friday night: About a dozen advocates of statehood for Puerto Rico gathered behind a banner, holding signs and shouting slogans. The protesters said they had no issues with “Hamilton” but were using the occasion to call attention to their concerns.
The production, a fundraiser, is expected to generate about $15 million for the Flamboyan Arts Fund, a Miranda family effort to support Puerto Rican artists. The money is being raised in part through the sale of several thousand tickets for $5,000 each; about a quarter of all the tickets are being sold for $10 each.
At the Friday night opening, there were a few boldfaced names from the mainland, including television producer Shonda Rhimes, musician Questlove and television host Jimmy Fallon; a number of Puerto Rican celebrities, including singer Lucecita Benítez, comedian Raymond Arrieta and former Miss Universe Denise Quiñones; and Spanish chef José Andrés, who was active in relief efforts here after the 2017 hurricane.
There were also “Hamilton” alumni, including Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony as the original Aaron Burr, and a lot of people who played some part in the creation of the show, including Ron Chernow, the historian whose biography inspired it.
There were also a lot of people who just wanted to see “Hamilton.”
“The fact that Lin-Manuel is Puerto Rican makes us all here so proud,” said Melissa González, a lawyer who got tickets a few days ago. She attended with her husband, Carlos Surillo, also a lawyer, who cited the importance of celebrities to Puerto Rico’s cause. “Figures like Roberto Clemente, Raul Juliá and now Lin-Manuel have moved Puerto Rico forward,” he said.
Some patrons came from considerably farther away. Paul McQue, who is from Scotland, said he had already seen “Hamilton” once on Broadway, three times in Chicago and nine times in London. But he had not yet seen Miranda play the lead role, so he came to San Juan.
After the show there was a party at Popular Center, a banking tower in San Juan’s financial district. There were typical Puerto Rican foods — gandules (pigeon peas), morcilla (blood sausage), trifongo (a mash of fried green and yellow plantain with yuca) and tembleque (coconut pudding) — and a covers band (“Despacito,” of course, as well as “Billie Jean”).
Behind the dance floor: a giant illuminated version of the bespoke icon of this brief run — a red-white-and-blue Puerto Rican flag with the silhouette of Alexander Hamilton, hand raised in the air, replacing one point of the flag’s star.
“Hamilton” is currently the biggest hit on Broadway, grossing about $3 million a week. Since beginning performances in the summer of 2015, it has brought in $466 million there.
But Broadway is just one element of the “Hamilton” empire. The tour that starts in San Juan is the sixth simultaneous production of the show, which is also running in New York, Chicago, London and in two other touring productions. This new production will move from Puerto Rico to San Francisco for an extended run there.
The Puerto Rico production is the first to feature Miranda in the title role since he wrapped up his run on Broadway in July 2016. He is performing only in Puerto Rico; when the show moves to California, another actor will step into the role.
Lin-Manuel Miranda lifts the Puerto Rican flag as he plays the title role in “Hamilton” on the opening night of a 17-day run in San Juan on Friday. Miranda’s parents are from the island.
Paul McQue of Scotland wears a Puerto Rican hat with a Hamilton pin in San Juan.