For several years, even some of the most diehard Hamilton fans had never been able to see the show live. For the most part, that wasn't a huge issue, since the hit musical's soundtrack chronicles the show's entire story, but there is one important moment that you can't hear on the soundtrack. Now that a filmed version of the musical is available on Disney+, fans are discovering just how important Eliza's gasp at the end of Hamilton is, and every superfan has a different interpretation of the show's final moment.
The closing song in Hamilton is "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story," a mournful ballad in which Eliza Hamilton recounts how she spent the rest of her life keeping the memory of her late husband alive. At the very end of the song, Alexander Hamilton reappears on stage and walks with Eliza toward the audience. Once she reaches the top of the stage, Eliza looks into the unknown and lets out a heart-shattering gasp. Then, curtains.
There are tons of different theories about what Eliza was seeing that caused her to gasp. Some fans think the moment signified her own death, and she was seeing the face of God or reuniting with Alexander in the afterlife. Another popular theory is that Eliza broke the fourth wall in that moment and saw the theater full of people hearing the story of her husband's life, and gasped realizing she succeeded in telling his story. Still others think the moment sees both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo leaving their roles as Alexander and Eliza and reacting to the sheer force of the show and its fandom, using the final moment as a sign of appreciation.
So, which idea is correct? Apparently, the only people who know the truth about that moment are Eliza's original actress Phillipa Soo, Hamilton's director Thomas Kail, and the show's creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. All three have spoken about the gasp, and here's what they revealed:
As the person who brought the moment to life night after night, Soo revealed in a 2016 BUILD interview that there is something meta about the gasp, and that she's not just playing Eliza at the moment: "To me, the moment always belongs to all of us in the entire room. It's a culmination of the entire experience we just had as the audience as the cast as the characters."
Soo went on to explain how the gasp encompasses all the fan theories, and that it really all boils down to a transcendent moment for both Eliza the character and herself as an actor. "People are like, ‘Is it Eliza going into heaven? Is she seeing Alexander? Is she seeing God? What is it?’ And it’s kind of all of those things," Soo explained. "Sometimes, it's literally, I look out and I see the audience, and that's what it is, but I think that idea of transcendence is present in all of that. Whether it’s in Eliza’s mind or Phillipa’s mind, they’re both one and the same, which is beautiful about that moment."
The show's director was much more mysterious about the gasp. In a recent Wired interview, Kail noted the importance of the ending was its ambiguity: "I'm happy that there's a dot dot dot at the end of our show as opposed to some sort of definitive statement."
In the same Wired interview, Miranda echoed Soo's sentiment about transcendence but got a bit more specific about what he believed Eliza was seeing in that moment. "I think it's different for each Eliza," Miranda said. "It's heart-stopping isn't it? I do think that it traverses time, in some way, whether that thing she's seeing is Hamilton, whether that thing she's seeing is heaven, whether that thing she's seeing is the world now. I think those are all valid and all fair. I do think she is seeing across a span of time in that moment."
Although Miranda does not want to reveal the specific truth about the gasp, he did dispel one fan theory. After Hamilton's premiere on Disney+, a TikTok went viral theorizing Alexander transformed into Miranda in the final song and it was the show creator, not Alexander, who showed Eliza the audience, causing her to gasp. Miranda saw the video and pointed out that interpretation does not hold up, since other actors stepped in to play Alexander after Miranda's run as the show's star.
So, that theory may be out, but there are still so many different ways fans can interpret that final gasp. The truth is, the beauty of the gasp comes from all the various things it could mean, so it will always be striking no matter how you see it.