‘Hamilton’: from stage to Chicago


Courtesy of David Korins

The Washington Army Desk in “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” a new museum open on Northerly Island.

Fans of the smash-hit, Emmy award- winning epic musical “Hamilton” have a brand new attraction to seek out in Chicago. This past week, The Hamilton Exhibition opened at the Museum Campus on Northerly Island and it will be there the entire summer until September 7.

The exhibit is a grand-scale, 360-degree immersive experience detailing Alexander Hamilton’s life story. Beginning with his childhood in St. Croix, it focuses at length on his trying economical status with his heritage. Then it moves on to focus on the American Revolution, the coming-of- age of American politics and the story of how Hamilton worked his way through the ranks and proved his worth not only to the Founding Fathers but ultimately to himself.

Courtesy of David Korins
The Legacy display at the museum.

It is a big, bombastic history lesson told through beautiful, detailed sets, historic artifacts, some ingenious interactive multimedia shorts and a grand final 3D musical number. The exhibit is not so much just the story of Alexander Hamilton, but a truly invigorating ode to the power of simply preserving history and the power in writing your own story. It’s a stunning work of inspiration that, much like the musical, manages to make history lessons actually fun.

Fans of the musical will not at all be disappointed as the whole exhibit is narrated by the show’s author, Lin Manuel Miranda, along with special guest appearances by Tony-nominated actors Phillipa Soo (who played Eliza Schuyler) and Christopher Jackson (who played George Washington) and Yale History and American Studies Professor Joanne B. Freeman. Their narrations lend a fresh sense of character to the exhibition, telling a wide variety of stories that cover not only the big tentpole moments of the revolution, but also choose to focus on the lives and stories of the women and people of color in the era. It’s a spectacularly human and grounded lesson thanks to all of this.

Courtesy of David Korins
Uniforms from Great Britain.

Without a doubt, the biggest draw with this exhibit has got to be the spectacle that the exhibit has to offer. Absolutely no expense was spared in terms of building the most fantastical and immersive sets as humanly possible. The sets are chocked full of dynamic, expressive and tantalizing arrangements, such as a huge carnival setup made to mimic the failing early economics of the United States.

“It’s extravagant,” DePaul student Symphony Kleba said. “There’s absolutely no lack of production value here.”

Courtesy of David Korins
The Schuyler Mansion Winter’s Ball.

The creative director of the exhibition, David Korins, has spoken at length about wanting to make this exhibit the perfect mixture of being something safe and familiar with the musical, but also making it a totally singular experience that can offer something fresh and new. Those ambitious goals are more than met at The Hamilton Exhibition.

This is a rare experience that balances out being equal parts fun, enthralling, unique, interesting and genuinely inspiring to the core. There is a keen focus on process throughout the entirety of the exhibit. Process within the founding of a country. Process within building a name for yourself. Process within preserving our own story and image. And then the process within creating art that can serve as a meaningful ode. It is layers and points like this that will make The Hamilton Exhibition a refreshing and poignant attraction for Chicago this summer.