(Seen 2/4/2016 on Broadway)
That voice in my head is super excited to share a review of Hamilton!
There are no words to accurately describe how epic this musical is. It’s like a wonderful musical fanfiction that just happens to be extremely historically accurate. I knew from just listening to the cast album that it was going to be awesome, but ‘awesome’ just doesn’t encompass all that is Hamilton. The first note in my notebook is “living up to every expectation.” By the end of the show, it exceeded those expectations.
I don’t even know where to begin. There’s so much to discuss! I guess let’s start from the beginning: Lin-Manuel Miranda. I remember listening to the cast album thinking that he wasn’t the best singer, but that there was something about his voice telling the story that struck me. Being able to see him act the part brought everything together. A hardworking, non-stop (Hamilton fans: see what I did there?) son of an immigrant, Mr. Miranda’s acting was beautifully nuanced. His transition from an insecure yet strong-willed and stubborn nobody to a cocky and sure-footed politician was so smooth and sincere. Mr. Miranda is Alexander Hamilton.
Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t the only remarkable cast member. Leslie Odom, Jr. opens the show, effectively acting as the guide for our historical journey. He is superb as the inimitable Aaron Burr; his obsession with Hamilton and his competitive nature is apparent in “Wait For It.” Mr. Odom’s Burr is right out of a Greek tragedy, his downfall ultimately resulting from his own tragic flaws. Mr. Miranda’s writing also helps Burr get his chance at redemption by having him narrate Hamilton’s story, which I find very touching.
Okieriete Onaodowan and Anthony Ramos as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison and John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, respectively, were a blast to watch. Mr. Onaodowan’s vocals were awesome: he went from gravelly-voiced, rough-and-tumble revolutionary to raspy, sickly old man like it was nothing! Mr. Ramos’ vocals were almost as impressive; not just anyone can play both a grown man and an adorable nine year old in the same show. (SPOILER: When he died as Laurens, and then again as Philip, I died a little with him.) Seth Stewart made his debut as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson on the night I watched the show, and while he certainly wasn’t bad, he sadly didn’t live up to Daveed Diggs’ looming shadow. “Washington On Your Side,” a number in Act II sung by Burr, Madison, and Jefferson about their efforts to take Hamilton down was splendidly evil; it’s possibly my new favorite evil character anthem.
Christopher Jackson played President George Washington. Mr. Jackson as Washington couldn’t be more perfect. He was truly regal, wise, and presidential. His shining moment was in “One Last Time,” which illustrates how Washington steps down from the presidency, and simultaneously alludes to his passing away. The material of the song is already tear-jerking enough, but add visually stunning lighting designs by Howell Binkley, brilliant staging by director Thomas Kail, and Mr. Jackson’s smooth vocals and emotional delivery, and you’ve got yourself a profoundly moving number. (Side note: Big, fat teardrops cascaded down my face during this song as I watched the show, but I didn’t cry when I had just listened to it on the cast album. That’s a pretty telltale sign that they did something right in that theater!)
King George III, played by Jonathan Groff, was hilariously stalker-y, with a hint of creepy ex-boyfriend thrown in. Mr. Groff’s cameos in “The Reynolds Pamphlet” and many other songs were wonderfully silly. Beyoncé, when she saw the show, had complimented Mr. Groff on his kingly walk- I saw it, and I agree.
Enough about the men of the show, let’s talk about the ladies of Hamilton. Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schulyer), Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton), and Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schulyer/Maria Reynolds) portray some of the most remarkable women in history, and they themselves are quite remarkable. Ms. Goldsberry’s rendition of “Satisfied” was so moving it brought me to tears- the sacrifice, the pain, the love for Hamilton and her sister…it was so sad, but so good! Ms. Soo’s “Burn” was equally gut wrenching with anguish. Mr. Miranda’s brilliance shines through his characterization of Hamilton’s wife; he gives her agency (through the lines “I’m erasing myself from the narrative/I put myself back in the narrative”) in a time when women did not have much. Ms. Soo’s acting and vocal chops just add more substance to the foundation Mr. Miranda has built. Ms. Jones is adorable as young Schulyer sister Peggy, and absolutely riveting as Hamilton’s partner in his extra-marital affair Maria Reynolds.
Let’s delve deeper into that brilliant double casting. By using the same actors to portray one person in Act I and a different person in Act II, the audience experiences a “shadowing effect.” For example, when Mr. Ramos dies as Philip Hamilton in Act II we are suddenly reminded of John Laurens death from Act I because the actor (despite some minor aesthetic changes and major acting style changes) wears the same face. It makes it all the more distressing and impactful for the audience. Brilliant.
And let’s not forget the amazing set, costume, and lighting designs! The simplicity of each element helped tell the story wonderfully. Those turntables: genius! Especially how they ‘rewound’ the set for “Satisfied;” my jaw dropped in awe it was just that cool! I was especially impressed with the lighting designs- what interesting, yet not distracting, colors and shapes!
Once the show was over and I had somewhat come down from the high of seeing it, I sat down at the little desk in my hotel room and scribbled down more notes. The more I wrote and thought about Hamilton, the more I began to ramble (which I hope happens to most writers and not just me). The conclusion I came to at the end of my rant is that Hamilton is about humanity, morality, and the power to change your destiny. Alexander Hamilton, through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s eyes, shows us that humanity is inherently imperfect; but only by embracing the imperfections that make up you can one strive for greatness. Only by being alive and human, can you change your own reality. Hamilton wasn’t a perfect human being, but despite all of his flaws and major mistakes, he was still loved…and now we all love him too.
There’s a line from the show that says, “History is happening in Manhattan…” and I know I witnessed history in that Broadway theater.