Hamilton is entertaining crowds at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through March 18, 2018. There is a ticket lottery available for most shows. Get info here after you read the review below.
It isn’t often that a Broadway musical captures the attention of a country. Indiscriminate of age, ethnicity, or political affiliation, it is even more rare that a musical garners so much attention that it wins a spot among the prestigious (only eight other) winning musicals for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Hamilton is such a show. Mixing the music and dancing of the streets with that of classical theatre, the musical (street opera?) has swept across the nation, and the world, proclaiming its place in musical history. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to one of the Seattle performances, you fully understand why it’s been such a smash hit.
The story follows Alexander Hamilton from his impoverished upbringing to becoming one of the greatest of America’s Founding Fathers. Alexander, the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore”* makes his way to Colonial America in 1772. He meets Aaron Burr, a graduate of Princeton University, and they become “frenemies”. Hamilton also meets Revolutionary members Hercules Mulligan, Marquis de Lafayette, and John Laurens, all who will become important figures in the upcoming War for Independence. At an event one evening, Hamilton is introduced to Eliza Schuyler (by her sister Angelica) whom he marries. During the impending war Hamilton becomes Secretary to General George Washington. After the war, he settles down to raise a family when President Washington asks him to become the first National Treasurer of the newly formed United States of America. Hamilton makes friends (and enemies) among the political elite while assisting in the writing of the U.S. Constitution and The Federalist Papers. While continuing to openly clash with fellow politicians, his friendship with Aaron Burr disintegrates until they become open rivals that culminate in a deadly duel.
The entire cast of this show is incredible! Purposely utilizing color-blind casting, many of the ‘historical figures’ are played by ethnicity other than their origins, adding a new dynamic to the show’s interpretation. The Ensemble is more than just back up for the main leads; they add to the setting by moving around the stage with expert blocking and motion (major kudos to Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and Director Thomas Kail). The Ensemble shifts with the grace of modern dance adding not so subtle nuances to support the main characters. They are like mercury that is dropped onto a flat surface, spreading out into individual facets before rejoining to make the whole stronger. Even the act of strutting across the stage is a pleasure to watch as these perfect human machines move throughout the performance.
Several of the actors take on dual roles depending on where their ‘historical characters’ happen to appear. Kyle Scatliffe plays the French military officer Lafayette in the first act, while in the second act he plays Thomas Jefferson. Either way he is excellent. Mr. Scatliffe plays Lafayette with full fire, and Jefferson with pompous, arrogant behavior that borders on comical but never cliché. In the first act Fergie L. Philippe plays Hercules Mulligan, the revolutionary spy with verve and brimstone. His character screams (or in this case explodes in rap) for revolution and while the rhythms come at breakneck speed, the audience understands each and every cry for action. It is with great talented contrast that Mr. Philippe plays (in the second act) the future President James Madison as a soft-spoken, docile man that stands opposed to Hamilton’s plans for the treasury. Nyla Sostre portrays the third Schuyler sister Peggy, the only sister not to be in love with Hamilton. Later she plays the seductress Maria Reynolds, a woman that is partially responsible for Alexander to become one of the first political, sexual scandals in America (Google “The Reynolds Pamphlet”). Ms. Sostre takes on the duality with great contrast showing her talents in being both a timid kitten, and a salacious vixen.
Angelica and Eliza Schuyler are, respectfully, played by Ta’rea Campbell and Shoba Narayan. Both women attack their roles with such gusto, it is difficult to believe they are anyone else but whom they are portraying. Ms. Campbell as Angelica, the oldest sister that introduces Eliza and Alexander, shows her character’s strength with an immense stage presence. She remains strong, as the character secretly pines for the challenges and intelligence that her sister’s husband possesses. She has a voice that is powerful and direct sharing the character’s wide range of musical emotions. Ms. Narayan is perfect as Eliza. Her optimism for both her husband and budding country are contagious, and she easily takes the audience along with her. In the second act, we feel her ultimate conflict between love for her husband and feeling the brunt of his betrayal when she sings the haunting song, “Burn”. The soft purity of her voice makes the pain cut deeper, and we share her strength while feeling her sorrow.
The two male leads are of course, Nik Walker as Aaron Burr and Joseph Morales as Alexander Hamilton. While the characters are fatedly pitted against each other, the actors work together to create beautiful conflict between them. Mr. Walker’s Burr is a likeable character and it isn’t until the scene of that predestined night in Weehawkin, New Jersey when the audience’s compassion for him turns to pity. Mr. Walker is a strong presence, with a powerful voice not only playing narrator, but also antagonist of the title character. This duality is not easy and yet Mr. Walker’s talent beguiles the audience, getting them to like his character and to share Burr’s frustrations at always feeling excluded from “the room where it happens”*.
The title role of Alexander Hamilton is played by Joseph Morales. Mr. Morales’ voice is strong, and he definitely knows how to use it. He plays the character with ample appeal and charm, but there is something lacking. The passion and the cockiness of Hamilton’s persona are mentioned to the audience more than they are shown. That being said, Mr. Morales’ stage presence was definitely commanding and he used that, too, to his full advantage bringing this distant figure of history to new life.
At its center, Hamilton is a modern opera. The music and lyrics* are written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and they are the true stars of this production. Mr. Miranda is the heir to the Sondheim-type legacy when it comes to sweeping music or explanative lyrics. Listening to the lyrics it is easy to say that Mr. Miranda is a true wordsmith with songs that evoke deep and honest emotions. The music is infectious ranging from rock and rap, to light fluff and beautiful ballads.
It isn’t often that anything lives up to the tempest of hype that has preceded Hamilton on tour. In this case, it is perfectly warranted.
Hamilton opened on Broadway July 13, 2015 and it is still running. Nominated for 16 Tony Awards in 2016, the musical starred Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role, and Leslie Odom, Jr as Aaron Burr. The musical won 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and Best Choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler). Hamilton also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, giving Lin-Manuel Miranda his second Pulitzer Prize nomination; the first was in 2009 for In The Heights.