Exclusive: Lin-Manuel Miranda and audience moved to tears during closing weekend of 'Hamilton' in Puerto Rico

“Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton.” The entire crowd inside Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré in San Juan erupted into what can only be described as an absolute storm of noise, screams, sobs and pure, unadulterated emotion.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda walked onto the stage on January 25, reprising his role as the titular character for the industry-disrupting musical that he created, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears (the dress-soaking kind) by the sheer significance of what it meant to be there, on that island, watching history.

The show paused for what felt like five long minutes as Miranda soaked it all in, a look of simultaneous gratitude and pride upon his face. The audience, filled with people from Puerto Rico and beyond, came face-to-stage with the physical embodiment of both a character and person who represents everything that the island needs right now: Hope.

To say Puerto Rico has fallen on hard times in recent years would be a vast understatement — the devastation of Hurricane Maria still rings far and wide, and has left the country in absolute economic turmoil with a seemingly inconsolable hit to the island’s tourism industry.

In an attempt to raise money, increase tourism and restore the island to its former glory, Miranda brought the musical back for a three-week run which raised roughly $15 million through sold-out performances, per the Chicago Tribune, to benefit the Flamboyan Arts Fund -- an organization founded by Miranda and his family in 2018 to help restore and reinvigorate the arts in Puerto Rico.

Miranda has also partnered with big-name sponsors in his efforts, one major company being JetBlue (the largest operating airline on the island) which carried out its Duel Seats contest to fly winners to and from the island to see the show throughout the duration of the 'Hamilton' Puerto Rico run.

Excitement amongst Puerto Ricans before, during and after the show was rampant, but not all residents welcomed Miranda and 'Hamilton' with open arms.

Earlier in 2018, Miranda publicly expressed support for a debt restructuring plan to be be overseen by a highly contentious federal oversight board, something that has caused tension and uproar at the University of Puerto Rico (where the show was originally supposed to run.)

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Lin-Manuel Miranda brings Hamilton to San Juan, Puerto Rico
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Lin-Manuel Miranda brings Hamilton to San Juan, Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' say goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance during the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' say goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance during the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' say goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance during the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' say goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance during the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' at the end of their performance during the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' at the end of their performance during the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda says goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance at the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda says goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance at the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda says goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance at the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 27: Lin-Manuel Miranda says goodbye to the audience at the end of the performance at the closing night of 'Hamilton' at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 27, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 12: Lin-Manuel Miranda attends a meet and greet as American Express Celebrates The Opening Weekend Of Hamilton on January 12, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for American Express)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 12: Lin-Manuel Miranda attends a meet and greet as American Express Celebrates The Opening Weekend Of Hamilton on January 12, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for American Express)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 994 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Jimmy Fallon during an interview with 'Hamilton' composer Lin-Manuel Miranda on January 15, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photobank))
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 994 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Jimmy Fallon, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, and actor Rubén J. Carbajal during a performance from 'Hamilton' on January 15, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photobank)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 994 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Jimmy Fallon, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, and actor Rubén J. Carbajal during a performance from 'Hamilton' on January 15, 2019 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photobank)
SAN JUAN, PR - January 11: Lin Manuel Miranda thanks the audience after his performance of the award-winning Broadway musical, Hamilton, in Puerto Rico. Miranda, brings up his theater masterpiece to Puerto Rico in an effort to donate money for the Island. San Juan, Puerto Rico (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin-Manuel Miranda at the press conference following the 'Hamilton' opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin-Manuel Miranda at the press conference following the 'Hamilton' opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin-Manuel Miranda at the press conference following the 'Hamilton' opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin- Manuel Miranda with the cast of Hamilton speaks to the audience at the end of the play as part of the opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin- Manuel Miranda with the cast of Hamilton speaks to the audience at the end of the play as part of the opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin- Manuel Miranda with the cast of Hamilton speaks to the audience at the end of the play as part of the opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin- Manuel Miranda with the cast of Hamilton speaks to the audience at the end of the play as part of the opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JANUARY 11: Lin- Manuel Miranda with the cast of Hamilton speaks to the audience at the end of the play as part of the opening night at Centro de Bellas Artes on January 11, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images for 'Hamilton')
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But the scene outside and around the later-selected Bellas Artes venue showed no signs of a nation in the midst of problematic protests or economic hardships -- only a setting as lively, vibrant and grand as the stage inside.

As we took our seats, the family behind me chattered about which number they were most excited for. And as an older man in their aisle passed by them to take his seat further inward, the mother (in perfect tone) turned to her daughter as she half-sang, half-spoke "Rise up!” (a repeating lyric in the musical’s most well-known song, “My Shot”) in an effort to get the young girl to stand for the man who was walking passing through. I turned and and offered a knowing smile as she winked back. 

Because that’s the magic of Miranda's 'Hamilton' — it has the ability to connect people across cultures, stages of life and beyond. 

'Hamilton' has become an unparalleled and incontrovertible agent of positive change and steadfast hope and revelation for so many as the seek to explore and understand their own narratives.

It’s the underlying messages in the story of 'Hamilton' that resonate with so many — is it better to shoot my shot or to wait until the moment is right? Who will remember me when I’m gone? What will my legacy be? 

But perhaps one of the largest concepts at play is the notion of not only what the musical portrays as what would later become the 'American dream', but the idea that anyone, anywhere can make something of themselves in pursuit of a better life.

And it was on this concept that the most powerful moment of the entire show happened, during “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” when Hamilton and Lafayette (played by Simon Longnight) turn to each other and rap the lyric, “Immigrants, we get the job done."

At that moment, people from all over the world -- immigrants and children of immigrants -- stood up and cheered, cried and applauded as Miranda looked out tearfully at the audience in solidarity with their sentiments and the power of that moment and the movement that 'Hamilton' in Puerto Rico represented.

Miranda, whose parents came to the United States from Puerto Rico, is the musical boy-genius from Washington Heights, New York who made it big time — and now he gets to give back to the island that made him who he is, his parents who they are and what they fought to provide him with.

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend Hamilton
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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend Hamilton
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pictured arriving for a gala performance of the musical HAMILTON in support of Sentebale at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London, Britain August 29, 2018. Dan Charity/Pool via REUTERS
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pictured arriving for a gala performance of the musical HAMILTON in support of Sentebale at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London, Britain August 29, 2018. Dan Charity/Pool via REUTERS
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pictured arriving for a gala performance of the musical HAMILTON in support of Sentebale at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London, Britain August 29, 2018. Dan Charity/Pool via REUTERS
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pictured arriving for a gala performance of the musical HAMILTON in support of Sentebale at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London, Britain August 29, 2018. Dan Charity/Pool via REUTERS
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, before attending a gala performance of the musical Hamilton, in support of Sentebale.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, before attending a gala performance of the musical Hamilton, in support of Sentebale.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, before attending a gala performance of the musical Hamilton, in support of Sentebale.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, before attending a gala performance of the musical Hamilton, in support of Sentebale.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, before attending a gala performance of the musical Hamilton, in support of Sentebale.
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Miranda returning to Puerto Rico to reprise his role for the first time since 2015 was more than just an way to raise money and refuel the tourism industry. It was a message to the people of Puerto Rico: I did it, and so can you; look around at what we as a nation and what our people are capable of, look how we can change our world.

To watch that message play out in real-time through a song-to-audience connection was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing.

This sentiment continued throughout the entire show -- it goes without saying that most musicals become more enchanting and transformative while watching them live in comparison to simply listening to the soundtrack. 

But in 'Hamilton', a show with little-to-no dialogue between songs to carry the story forward, there is a heavy reliance on the actors’ performances and subtle expressions and movements to tell the audience all they need to know without having to say it.

This rang especially true with the character of Aaron Burr (played by Donald Webber Jr.)

Burr and Hamilton’s feud and tension is something that is clearly explained and expressed throughout the soundtrack and the story, right down to the duel that ends Hamilton’s life. But it’s watching the tension bubble on stage that makes the bitter ending so much more powerful. The anger that swells on Burr’s face, the jealousy that is shown through his eyes — particularly in “The Room Where It Happens” in which Burr’s dance moves, furrowed brows and swift influx of tenseness that arises when he starts realizing he’s not, in fact, in that metaphorical seat that he would be willing to do anything to sit in.

Miranda's solo performance of the second-act song, "Hurricane", was perhaps the only time the audience grew completely still -- the seriousness and pain of Hurricane Maria replaying, many watching the stage with solemn reflection and quiet, involuntary tears.

Having entered the 'Hamilton' lottery in New York 174 times before finally winning (but really, who’s counting?), the opportunity to see the show a second time with Lin-Manuel as lead, performing the soundtrack that I had devoured for the past four years was something as exciting as it was nerve-wracking — when you dream about something for so long, much like the hundreds of other super-fans in the audience, there comes a nervousness with reality matching your imagination.

But seeing Miranda perform brought a stranger feeling I had not anticipated — one of familiarity. 

As I had ruminated over every effervescent word and lyric and plot line for the past four years, while imagining Miranda as the one acting it all out, it was as if seeing him perform in real-life was something I had already seen, already known. 

It soothed and comforted me like an old friend, just as much as it moved me.

And that's the true legacy of Miranda and 'Hamilton'' -- when reflecting upon the show's final question of "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?", the whole world will be echoing back how 'Hamilton' changed them, as if the musical were a loved one they've known their entire lives. 

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