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The Two-Minute Guide to Hamilton: The Exhibition

For those who can’t get enough Hamilton, the creators of the blockbuster musical open an exhibit this month on the history that inspired it.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru
Illustration: Lars Leetaru

What it is

A 34,000-square-foot climate-controlled tent on Northerly Island housing a deep dive into all things Alexander Hamilton, from April 27 to September 8. Think actual-size dioramas — filling some 18 rooms in all — of the Founding Father’s crucial moments and pivotal policies.

What’s the point?

Hamilton inspired interest in American history, but a play can only do so much. The exhibition widens the lens, showing details from the Revolutionary War and touching on Hamilton’s now-controversial views on issues like women’s rights and slavery.

Why here?

“It just felt like a natural progression,” says David Korins, Hamilton’s set designer and creative director of the exhibition. Chicago was the first city outside New York to host a run of the musical, plus its central location can draw visitors from around the Midwest.

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Photo: Bruce Gilkas/FilmMagic

The narration

A video of Lin-Manuel Miranda — the musical’s creator and star also cocreated the exhibition — greets visitors, who get headphones that automatically activate Miranda’s narration. In the galleries, visitors can prompt their headsets for more specific information. The playwright even fesses up to where he took dramatic license.

The soundtrack

Yes, the exhibit features tunes from Hamilton, but there’s a twist: The entire score has been reorchestrated, with different songs in each room. “It’s one of the great artistic aspects of the exhibit,” Korins says.

The dioramas

Tracing a chronological path through Hamilton’s life, visitors travel from his childhood stretch in the Caribbean isle of St. Croix to the fateful day he threw away his shot.

Some highlights:
• The 1772 hurricane that obliterated St. Croix is shown in a room filled with debris (books, desks, furniture) spinning in midair as you walk along a Guggenheim-like spiral.

The famed Hamilton-Burr duel of 1804 in Weehawken, New Jersey, gets staged on a topographically and historically accurate scoop of land floating in the center of one of the rooms.

The interactive elements

• A Plinko-style game has visitors assume the role of a former soldier or a farmer who must hold on to near-worthless Continental dollars and resist selling out to speculators. Beat the odds and get repaid in full when Hamilton establishes a national bank!

• About that bank: Visitors can turn a crank to purchase stock in the Bank of the United States and see that cash then circulate through the economy. Easiest economic stimulation ever?

Tickets

Admission is $40 for adults and $25 for children; CPS students (grades 4 and up) on a school trip can attend for free. hamiltonexhibition.com

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