Hamilton: An American Musical

| September 29, 2015

Hamilton: An American Musical

Richard Rodgers Theatre, NYC, September 20, 2015

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Hamilton-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_318

(L-R) Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette, Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan, Anthony Ramos as John Laurens and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.
Photo: Joan Marcus

New York’s theater scene is all about Hamilton, the fiery rap-driven musical that asks:

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman,                     Dropped in the middle of a forgotten
Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

To many Americans, Alexander Hamilton is most familiar as the man on the $10 bill who was killed in a duel. But there’s more. He was an immigrant, coming here for a new life. While not universally loved, his complicated journey took him from the poverty of the West Indies to eventually become the first Secretary of the Treasury. Sharp, ambitious and inspiring, his narcissistic political prowess and achievement was inspiring enough for composer, lyricist and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), to put the Hamilton story to music. When it opened at the Public Theatre earlier this year, the production was so successful that everyone agreed the next stop had to be Broadway.

Directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton opened this summer at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Miranda based his brawny musical on the 2004 Ron Chernow biography and added a contemporary musical freshness with a mix of rap, hip-hop, soul, jazz, and rhythm-and-blues to trace the struggles of young revolutionaries establishing an independent country. Hamilton joined the young rabble-rousers and eventually caught the eye of George Washington and was caught up in the enticement of politics before a sex scandal brought an end to it all.

Hamilton is fast and rhythmic, like the man himself. Even his marriage to the lovely Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo) and their children could not lure his attention from the center of the new government.

With distinctive rhyming and crisp narrative, rap keeps the energy high and the characters colorful. Street talk mixes with 18th-century declarations just as these rabble-rousers communicated with its multi-generational audience. In the multi-racial cast, Hamilton is performed by Miranda, except Sunday matinees, when the ebullient and talented Javier Munoz steps into the role. With Munoz as Hamilton, I felt him convey the battling feelings of arrogance and remorse in a keenly perceptive interpretation.

Outstanding is also Daveed Diggs, first playing French peacock Marquis de Lafayette as he came to aid the Americans with money and troops. (“Immigrants! We get the job done!”) Diggs also brings laughs with his double-duty portrayal of an American dandy, Thomas Jefferson. George Washington is persuasively fleshed out by Christopher Jackson, singing “One Last Time” in his farewell address. Okieriete Onaodowan adeptly portrays a restrained James Madison.

Largely sung-through, the show is led by Hamilton’s nemesis and killer, a brooding and frustrated Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr. and at this performance, Sydney James Harcourt). With a compelling snide delivery, Harcourt agonizes about being out of the political loop with the outstanding, “(I Want to Be in) The Room Where It Happens.”

The frenetic New World activities occasionally break to allow the comic relief by a snarky King George III, voicing his contempt for his ex-subjects. “You’ll Be Back,” he warns. Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening; HBO’s Looking) hilariously gives him the air of a pampered teen.

There are times you can’t take your eyes off the three Schuyler sisters: Angelica (played with authority by Renee Elise Goldsberry); Soo as Eliza, who marries Hamilton and settles in as the long-suffering wife who loses her son and husband to violence; and Peggy. Peggy is played by Jasmine Cephas Jones who really shows her stuff in a second role as Maria Reynolds whose seduction of Hamilton brings about his fall. The sisters encourage the revolutionary fervor with rousing R&B harmonies and touching characterizations.

Although the second act lacks the propulsion of Act I, Kail meticulously arranged production details, from music direction and orchestration by Alex Lacamoire to David Korins’ spacious raw set with a constantly revolving stage. Paul Tazewell designed period costumes and Blackenbuehler provided graceful and acrobatic choreography, as vigorous as the birth of a new era.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” At the end, the key to Hamilton’s success is Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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Category: Broadway Reviews, Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews

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