Heads up. HAMILTON is a great show.
OK OK. You knew that– but I finally saw it for myself. I left the theater with my jaw on the floor and the score vibrating through my bones. The theatrical shot heard round the world has taken three years to get to Boston’s Opera House– as if Boston had nothing to do with the American Revolution. Alexander Hamilton’s signature tune “My shot” has burrowed into my brain and has been ringing in my head ever since.
Here’s why HAMILTON blew my mind, captured my heart, and stirred my soul. It begins with creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda who was invited to Obama’s White House to perform something from his show which was still in workshop. There, he declares that the first Secretary of the Treasury is “the embodiment of hip hop”and proceeds to perform the show’s opening song” as Aaron Burr rapping about the immigrant orphan genius “Alexander Hamilton” whom Burr shot in a duel after decades of a fraught relationship mirroring the beginnings of these United States. A standing “O” ensues and the rest is theatrical history.
Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 818 page tome on Hamilton, Miranda envisions an immigrant story, places it front and center, casts a racially diverse ensemble and we suddenly see our colonial history ironically through a contemporary prism. Boom! The principles which ignited the American Revolution are all at once viscerally alive and crucially relevant to the battles presently in progress. Miranda re-imagines Hamilton’s well-known linguistic virtuosity in the lingua franca of the moment and we are fired up by the bite and perspicacity of rap, pumped up and sung through with the grandeur of opera, plotted up with the detail and nuance of a novel, and caught up in the sweep of history public and private. Lin-Manuel Miranda has created a serious work of art and a theatrical tour de f—ing force.
Thomas Kail directs this consummate ensemble, non-stop and precisely choreographed (Andy Blankenbuehler) to within an inch of its life to conjure up everything from the slo-mo’ed Caribbean hurricane of Hamilton’s origins, to a hip hop, be-bop gavotte of Colonial collusion. These performers hold us in the groove of a wildly witty score (riffing on Gilbert and Sullivan, and Shakespeare among many others along the way) and keep us tethered to the loop of history. We are reminded that heroes have flaws, and that truth is stranger and more prophetic than fiction: Hamilton dies in the same spot, in the same way, as his 19 year-old son before him.
But first there is Aaron Burr who takes center stage as the man doomed to be “the villain in (our) history.” Nicholas Christopher underplays the sly opportunistic Burr who cooly appraises his upstart Princeton schoolmate Hamilton (Austin Scott) who will surpass him, and sings his jealousy and regret with an ache in his voice. When the tall lanky Scott takes the stage there’s no mistaking him and his character’s noble outspokenness for anyone but the titular hero on the 10 dollar bill. As Washington’s right hand man, his Hamilton oozes integrity. When Burr and Hamilton square off onstage, it’s a potent rap battle of wits, their ultimate fate to be decided later on a field in Weehawken, N.J.
Hamilton’s female counterpart is the wise and generous Angelica Schuyler, Sabrina Sloan, whose vocal warmth matches her generosity of spirit. She watches from afar the dissolution of a union she stepped aside to enable: her sister Eliza’s (Hannah Cruz) marriage to Hamilton; Angelica knew he would never be satisfied. On the other hand, George Washington played by the towering Paul Oakley Stovall sings with a voice steadfast and powerful enough to hold these newly united states together.
The best voice may belong to Bryson Bruce, who puts a hilarious spin on Thomas Jefferson. As he and James Madison (Chaundra Hall-Broomfield) swagger into the fray, the musical finds an express lane to character, plot, and resonance. Miranda’s deft lyrics channel American resentment as Jefferson returns from swanning around in France and cavalierly sings, “What did I miss?” We howl; but soon we squirm as he queasily parries the attention called to the slaves who work his land. The bitter irony of a black actor impersonating a slave-owning founding father is lost on no one, and instantly propels us into its present day ramifications. In the midst of this battle royal, steps Peter Matthew Smith as the foppish King George and the only one wearing a powdered wig; Smith looks to be having as much fun playing the highhanded, soon to be dumped white-haired royal as we are.
Miranda has amplified this tale of rebellion, personal and political intrigue, triumph and defeat beyond all imagining, capturing the grand excitement of history and the intimate personal dramas of the individuals whose lives animated it. He spent 6 years writing the music, lyrics, and book, here inhabited by an extraordinary cast, and layered with masterful movement, sets, lighting, and direction. The result is an exhilarating allegory of identity and legacy for modern America– NOW IN BOSTON!!!!
Presented by Broadway in Boston, HAMILTON is at the Boston Opera House until November 18! A number of tickets are released daily for upcoming performances. For availability, please visit the Boston Opera House, BroadwayInBoston.com or call Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787. Details of the #HAM4HAM Lottery have been announced and can be found below. Please visit broadwayinboston.com/HamiltonInformation for details.