Yep, it’s all true! “Hamilton”, the much-exalted, much-awarded landmark musical by Lin Manual Miranda, lives up to expectations. Often when you see a show that has entered the zeitgeist with rapturous reviews and multiple prizes, you are left disappointed when you see the actual product. Not the case with “Hamilton”, Miranda’s brilliant and often astonishing take on the historical figure and victim of Aaron Burr via rap, hip-hop and Ron Chernow’s extensive, 800-page Hamilton memoir. This simply should not work. By some miracle (and more) it does. Gloriously.
Currently on a national tour and playing through July 10 at Hartford’s Bushnell Theatre, this production looks as far from a “bus and truck” show as one can imagine. I can bet the set (by David Korins), alone, is larger than the current Broadway version and there has been no scrimping on the casting with over 35 vastly talented performers in the company. With book, music and lyrics by the Pulitzer Prize winning Miranda, non-stop choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and breathless direction by Thomas Kail, “Hamilton”, like “Oklahoma”, “Hair”, “A Chorus Line” and other legends, is a milestone musical that has already influenced countless other projects including Hartford Stage’s recent “Kiss My Aztec” and the Boston-based revival of “1776” set for Broadway’s Roundabout in September.
In the brisk opening number, “Alexander Hamilton”, we are introduced not only to the brilliant and brash young Caribbean immigrant, but also several other key figures including Aaron Burr, George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette and the Schuyler sisters one of whom, Eliza, becomes Hamilton’s bride. The genius of the production lies in Miranda’s careful construction of characters and history and Kail’s masterful direction where the entire cast is almost always in motion recreating this particular time in history with precision and vast invention.
There are so many highlights here and outstanding performances that it is easy to overlook some. Suffice it to say that the role of Hamilton is in the excellent hands of Pierre Jean Gonzalez while Jared Dixon is every bit his equal as Aaron Burr. Their respective, now iconic songs, “My Shot” for Hamilton and “The Room Where it Happened” for Burr, are right on the money. While known as a “rap musical”, some of the best music in the show are the ballads including “Burn”, sung with passion by an embittered Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park) or the graceful elegy, “It’s Quiet Uptown”, a moving song about loss and redemption. The showstoppers also include Marcus Choi’s Washington singing the hell out of “One Last Time” or Warren Egypt Franklin’s Thomas Jefferson practically exploding onstage singing “What’d I Miss” or Ta’Rea Campbell, as Angelica Schuler, giving background to her sister’s courtship and marriage with the potent duo, “Helpless” and “Satisfied”.
The technical elements throughout are state-of-the-art and awe-inspiring. What more is there to say? “Hamilton” is a masterpiece and one should quickly beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket.
“Hamilton”, which is still on Broadway, continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capital Avenue in Hartford through July 10. For further information, call the box office at: 860.987.5900 or visit: www.bushnell.org
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.