Chris Jones, author of ‘Rise Up!,’ says ‘Hamilton’ musical ‘entered the zeitgeist of a nation’


Zoe Malin/The Daily Northwestern

Chris Jones poses with his book “Rise Up!” at a Bookends & Beginnings event. Jones’ book charts works of American theatre that have influenced present-day society like “Hamilton.”

Zoe Malin, Reporter

“Hamilton” may be the most successful work of theatre he has ever known, said Chris Jones, the Chicago Tribune chief theater critic. In his opinion, no other Broadway show has “entered the zeitgeist of a nation” like the hit created by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“People are hungry for substantial engagement these days,” Jones said. “And ‘Hamilton’ is just that.”

Jones discussed the making of his newest book, titled “Rise Up!,” which chronicles the impact of Broadway shows on American society, at a Bookends & Beginnings event Tuesday. He shared profound moments he has witnessed in theatre throughout his career. Jones said he was inspired to write “Rise Up!” because he wanted to explore how the musical reached its level of fame.

Jones told the audience of about 20 people that, in terms of its impact and ability to captivate, the musical will “never be topped.”

Nina Barrett (Medill ’87), the owner of Bookends and Beginnings, said she was excited to have Jones speak at the bookstore because he offers “ongoing theatre discussion all the time.” Jones is also an Evanston resident, and Barrett said she loves having local authors speak about their work.

“My aunt took me to see Broadway shows in New York City as a child, and it was an important part of how I grew up,” Barrett said. “But I had never thought about how theatre and society influence one another until reading Chris’ book.”

Jones traveled to Puerto Rico last month for the musical premiere in Miranda’s father’s home country. There, Miranda returned to the role of Alexander Hamilton for three weeks of sold-out performances, an effort to raise money for Hurricane Maria relief.

Jones said his trip was “pulsating.” The scene in Puerto Rico was proof that the musical’s reach extends beyond the world of Broadway, Jones said. He said “Hamilton” blends politics and the heart, a point he makes in his book.

“If ever you doubted the arts could change the world, you just had to be with me that night in San Juan,” Jones said. “Miranda’s presence was celebrated all across the island, and he managed to raise $50 million.”

Jones read two excerpts from his book at the Tuesday event, one recalling Vice President Mike Pence’s controversial appearance at “Hamilton” in New York City days after the 2016 election.

The other excerpt detailed the 2016 Tony Awards, where “Hamilton” won 11 awards. Miranda’s acceptance speech responded to the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., which happened the same night. Later known as the “Love is love” speech, Miranda’s speech united America, Jones said.

“It was a defiant assertion of what the arts are supposed to be,” Jones read from his book. “Love is love is love is love.”

“Rise Up!” also charts other works of American theatre that have influenced present-day society. Jones’ book starts by analyzing “Angels in America,” a 1991 play he said was “radical theatre.” It was also one of many shows that responded to the AIDS epidemic in America during the time. The book then runs through “seminal” works Jones sees as fundamental to the progression of American theatre, including “Rent,” “A Chorus Line” and “American Idiot.”

Evanston resident Lesley Williams said she attended the event because she always admired Jones’ theatre reviews. Though she has never seen “Hamilton,” Williams said she enjoyed the event because she’s a “huge theatre fan.”

“Theatre is extremely important to me,” Williams said. “I am so thrilled that I had the opportunity to hear Chris Jones speak live tonight.”

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