By Gabe Gutierrez, Jason Calabretta and Nicole Acevedo
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Almost 16 months after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, the island welcomed one of its favorite sons for a series of long-awaited benefit performances of the show that has taken Broadway by storm.
“Thank you Puerto Rico!” “Hamilton” creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda said emotionally, after a three-hour performance in the island where his father grew up and where he spent childhood summers. He waved a Puerto Rican flag from the stage, and said at a press conference following the show that Puerto Ricans were “the most resilient people on the face of the earth.”
“Name any other city in the world that would survive this long without power and without, you know, the resources that any, any other American city would get in the wake of a hurricane,” said Miranda. “I’m in awe of the people of Puerto Rico.”
Miranda got a one-minute standing ovation when he first came out on stage to reprise his lead role as Alexander Hamilton in the iconic musical. This is the first time in more than two years that Miranda plays the Founding Father after stepping down to work on other projects.
After the show concluded, Miranda as well as his father, Luis Miranda —who grew up in the island — spoke to the audience, where they thanked the people of the Mirandas’ town of Vega Alta, a place where the young Miranda spent his summer.
Acclaimed restaurateur and chef José Andrés, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in large part for his work feeding residents of the island after the devastating storm, told NBC News after the performance that the show had special resonance for the island.
“This certainly sends a big message, a big lighthouse to say Puerto Rico is open, Puerto Rico is a place that America needs to keep supporting,” he said.
“You want to help Puerto Rico?”, asked the José Andrés, “then show up.”
Puerto Rican fans like Vanessa Viera and her son Antonio González had been waiting for this day since November. They’re two are one of the many Puerto Ricans who were able to obtain tickets to see Miranda on stage.
“My son plays the songs in the car, so I can learn them too. But I already know most of them,” Viera told NBC News in Spanish.
The award-winning Broadway musical has been shattering expectations since it premiered back in 2015 and this occasion is no different. The show is expected to take Puerto Rico by storm, after people in the island have spent over a year recovering from hurricane damages and a crippling power grid.
“Hamilton” is running for three weeks in San Juan to raise money for the Flamboyant Arts Fund — a grant program created by Miranda and his family to help promote the arts on the island. Some tickets were given out to Puerto Rican residents for $10 as part of a lottery, but the priciest VIP tickets are being sold for $5,000.
The room where it happens?
The cast performed at the Centro De Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Center) in Santurce. The venue was changed just several weeks ago from the University if Puerto Rico (UPR) theater, where there had been concerns about police being able to provide adequate security since it was on a college campus.
The musical’s success is well documented, but as seen on Friday night, this run is an especially emotional performance for Miranda. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton left the Caribbean island of Nevis after it was devastated by a hurricane — referenced in one of the musical’s tracks: “Hurricane.”
Its lyrics are sure to be extra poignant this time: “In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet…I didn’t drown. I couldn’t seem to die.”
Actor Leslie Odom, Jr., the first actor to play the important role of Aaron Burr in the musical — Hamilton died following a duel with Burr — went to the island as an audience member. He said he thought the show would bring “a lot of dough” to Puerto Rico.
“You know Lin and what this island has meant to him and his family’s life,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here to support him.”
Puerto Rico’s resiliency has been tested since Maria. Packing winds of 155 miles per hour, the hurricane sliced through the mountainous island. Its fragile infrastructure was no match for ferocious storm, or the flooding that inundated many communities.
Months later, the Federal Emergency management Agency would admit it was underprepared in an internal report. The storm’s death toll would be a fiercely controversial statistic — used by critics of the Trump administration as evidence of an anemic federal response.
Gabe Gutierrez and Jason Calabretta reported from Puerto Rico and Nicole Acevedo reported from New York.