Just south of Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, in what looks like an airplane hangar the size of a football field, is Chicago’s newest museum.
“Hamilton: The Exhibition” is scheduled to open Saturday on Northerly Island, making its world premiere. The creative forces behind it include Jeffrey Seller, producer of Hamilton the musical, and David Korins, a designer for plays on Broadway and the exhibition’s creative director.
WBEZ visited the exhibition on Thursday for a sneak preview.
“Hamilton: The Exhibition” is not about fans re-living the play, according to Seller. Instead, he called it “a museum of how we created the United States of America, all through the eyes of Alexander Hamilton.” This is in contrast to the musical, where Hamilton’s creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda had to do a lot of editing of Alexander Hamilton’s story, according to Korins. The exhibition, then, was an opportunity to go “deeper and wider” into Hamilton’s life story.
The creators describe the show as a “fully immersive, 360-degree, fully curated” exhibition. Visitors travel through 19 galleries that tell Hamilton’s story chronologically. Miranda narrates the audio guide, an hour-and-a-half visit through Hamilton’s life.
The exhibition team brought in U.S. historian Joanne Freeman, a Hamilton expert, to help write the script for the audio tour. But Korins said visitors shouldn’t expect to see the musical for the first or 50th time. “You’re not going to see live characters, you’re not going hear any songs sung by anyone,” Korins noted. But, he explained, every room has a “completely new, remastered, re-orchestrated score.” And, as an extra draw to superfans, Korins described the score as the “sickest mash-ups you can ever imagine of the show.”
Seller said creating the exhibition was a bigger undertaking than anything he’s done in his many years producing Broadway plays. “When you do a show you build one set,” Seller said. “For ‘Hamilton: The Exhibition,’ we have to built 19 sets.” The creative team behind the exhibition said Chicago was the ideal site for its world premiere because more people have seen the show here than on Broadway. Seller said the exhibit team first approached Mayor Rahm Emanuel two years ago with the idea of doing it in Chicago.
Each room should feel like a unique experience, Korins said. “When you touch the brick, it feels like brick. When you touch the wood, it feels like wood,” the designer said. “It is gritty … it is as historically accurate in the places where we want to be. It is at times wildly hyper realistic and at times wildly abstract.”
Construction on the exhibition building began by throwing down a “1,400 cubic yard slab of concrete” and then installing all the amenities any museum requires, Korins said. With Lake Michigan as the backdrop, Seller said spring was the perfect time for the opening. (It was previously scheduled to open last fall, but Seller said they realized they would not be ready.)
Asked where the exhibition travels after Chicago, Korins would only reveal “an undisclosed city in North America … but it will probably be a place where the show has also played.” A spokeswoman for the exhibition would not say how much the exhibition cost to build, calling it “proprietary information.” Tickets to “Hamilton: The Exhibition” start at $39.50 ($25 for children).