His name is Alexander Hamilton, and he is no longer the forgotten founding father.
Much has already been written about Hamilton, the new musical written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights, tick, tick…BOOM!) and inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton. I’ve written about it; Stephen Sondheim and the Roots have written about; and, just a couple of weeks ago, President Barack Obama gave it his seal of approval.
All of it is true. It is a game-changing musical. It is revolutionary. It is an incredible, nearly impossible mix of musical theatre tropes, hip hop references, flipping-the-script casting, history lesson and so much more.
Using mostly hip hop (as well as some R+B and Brit pop) to tell Alexander Hamilton’s story—Alexander Hamilton, a bastard, immigrant son of a whore, who wrote his way to great heights and then fell even farther—an important, integral part of our American history is made vivid and accessible.
Because David Korins’s scenic design is only skeletal, we see that our country is unfinished. Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler have the ensemble move the set pieces, as the revolutionaries endeavor to continue shaping the country. Paul Tazewell’s costumes (for the ensemble) are mostly blank slates, suggesting that the future is yet to be written.
But here’s the most astonishing thing about Hamilton: In addition to its importance in musical theatre and American history, it’s also damn entertaining.
I was speaking about the show with a colleague, who said she enjoyed it from her perspective. She wasn't talking about sight lines. After seeing the show, she continued, she read everything that’s been written about the show and watched every interview. In doing so, she learned that hip hop references abound in Hamilton, none of which, including the rap battles, she got. Even knowing that she missed so much, she couldn’t help but sing the show’s praises. You can miss a quarter of the details and layers and still have a good time and appreciate Hamilton’s brilliance.
A great deal of credit is due to the incredible cast. Everyone from the closing company of the Public Hamilton has made the Broadway transfer, and four additional actors have joined the ensemble. We have the smooth-singing Christopher Jackson (Holler If Ya Hear Me) portraying George Washington. We have Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening, Looking) bringing zeal to the spurned King George III. (I thought Brian d'Arcy James, who's about a decade older than Groff, was better suited for the part, but no complaints.)
Then there’s the Schuyler sisters, Angelica (a fierce, passionate Renee Elise Goldsberry; you'll thrill over the way she sings "Satisfied"), Eliza (Phillipa Soo, strong and full of pathos) and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones, who comes to life in the second act when she’s portraying the temptress Maria Reynolds). These three ladies, particularly Angelica and Eliza, are strikingly modern women, insisting on finding a “mind at work,” and taking control their feelings and actions.
The embarrassment of riches continues with Daveed Diggs, who is making his Broadway debut with the show. In act one, Diggs is loose and playful as our French ally, the Marquis de Lafayette, and he gives a lesson in swagger in act two as Thomas Jefferson, kicking off the act with the lively “What'd I Miss?” An established rapper (he is part of the rap trio clipping.), Diggs shows off an impressive verbal dexterity, one that almost challenges Miranda to write something even faster and denser.
Of course, Alexander Hamilton’s story wouldn’t be complete without Aaron Burr, and aren’t we lucky that Burr is played by Leslie Odom, Jr (Leap of Faith, tick, tick…BOOM!). Miranda wrote Burr not as a villain but as a foil to Hamilton. Burr will wait for it while Hamilton acts quickly, determined to not throw away his shot. Odom brings incredible sensitivity to the role, allowing us to see Burr as a whole person, rather than just the vice president who shot Alexander Hamilton. Odom will tug at your heartstrings when Burr sings to his daughter, Theodosia, and then he’ll make your heart race with excitement during the explosive 11 o'clock number, “The Room Where it Happens,” which begins with these horns heralding something spectacular. (Watch for Howell Binkley's lighting design; it's fantastic throughout, and really shines in that number.)
Hamilton is, as advertised, the story of America then told by America now. It is vital, not just to the musical theatre canon (and it is) but also to our country. It shows off Lin-Manuel Miranda’s once-in-a-generation genius, and shines a light on so many talented, inspiring performers. It is game-changing and entertaining. Believe the hype. Hamilton has arrived.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit hamiltonbroadway.com. While you're there, get to know the cast and creative team (including Javier Munoz, who is the Hamilton alternate; he's fantastic), all of whom are deserving of your attention.
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