A mini Hamilton reunion took place at the Kennedy Center last night as actors from Hamilton’s original Broadway cast took part in the 41st Kennedy Center Honors Awards that recognized the co-creators of Hamilton for groundbreaking work.
The Kennedy Center Honor Award for groundbreaking work was shared by Hamilton creators Lin-Manuel Miranda (writer and performer), Alex Lacamoire (music director), Thomas Kail (director), and Andy Blankenbuehler (choreographer).
The red carpet was full of Hamilton sightings, as honorees and performers arrived with spouses and family members. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s parents lingered near the end of the carpet waiting for their son to work his way down the line of photographers.
Philipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Jasmine Cephas Jones, Hamilton’s original Schuyler Sisters, arrived together and walked the red carpet with Anthony Ramos, who played John Laurens/Philip Schuyler in the original production. Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington, arrived with his wife.
The Hamilton segment of the awards ceremony came just before intermission. Ramos began by recalling his involvement in Hamilton’s earliest days. “The music and the concept were unlike anything I had ever heard,” he said, describing the project that was then being developed as an album entitled the Hamilton Mixtape. In a line that drew applause and laughter, Ramos recalled that Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton’s rise from orphan to the architect of our nation’s financial system. “I mean, hashtag starting from the bottom and now we’re here.”
Ramos concluded by noting that Hamilton used race-inclusive casting in which actors of different races played the founders of our nation. “Now that is revolutionary,” he told the audience to more applause.
Two short video compilations summarized Hamilton’s development from idea to cultural phenomenon, including clips of Miranda, Lacamoire, Kail, and Blankenbuehler working around a modest kitchen table, and Miranda likening their collaboration to George Washington assembling his cabinet after the revolution and asking “Who can do these jobs? Who do I know?”
The videos included Miranda’s appearance at the White House to sing an early draft of the song “Alexander Hamilton,” as well as parody versions of Hamilton, including Amy Schumer singing “I’m not throwing away my mop,” to illustrate how deeply Hamilton has infiltrated American culture.
Soo, Goldsberry, and Jones performed an unusual version of “The Schuyler Sisters,” to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar and percussion with Alex Lacamoire on the keyboard.
Lin-Manuel Miranda next took to the stage with Christopher Jackson. The duo performed “One Last Time,” Hamilton’s song about Washington’s resignation and Farewell Address. Lacamoire again accompanied on piano with singers from the New Works Voices of America Youth Choir.
Gloria Estefan, the evening’s host and a 2017 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, recalled that Hamilton was on Broadway at the same time as On Your Feet!, the musical written about her life and career. “Our casts used to make Cuban coffee for each other and hang out,” Estefan told the audience. “Whenever I wanted to talk to my cast, I knew I could find them right across the alley” at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Hamilton, the 2015 musical about Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and the founding of the US government is based on Ron Chernow’s best-selling 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton. The musical won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, earned 16 Tony nominations and 11 wins, and a Grammy Award for best musical theater album.
Awarding the Kennedy Center Honors to the creators of Hamilton was an unusual move for the Kennedy Center. The organization typically recognizes lifetime achievement. This year’s lifetime achievement awards went to Cher, Philip Glass, Reba McIntire, and Wayne Shorter.
The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on the CBS Television Network on Wednesday, December 26 at 8 p.m. EST.