Obviously, those of you who read my reviews have come to expect film reviews mostly, with a few books thrown in the mix. Today, I’m going to shake things up a bit with The People’s Critic’s first review of live theatre: Hamilton!
Since the first cadence of the Hamilton soundtrack for the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, I was obsessed. For those of you who know my wife and me, I am not the one you’d say is the musical-theatre one in the relationship, but that all changed when a bastard, orphan son-of-a-whore and a Scotsman came on the stage.
Hamilton is the musical-spectacular from creator Lin-Manuel Miranda that hit Broadway in 2015 and subsequently won 11 Tonys. It is a sung and rapped through musical about the American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, and while it may be too soon to say definitively, it is one of the most revolutionary musicals to hit the main-stream with its broad musical style and what they call “color-conscious” casting of all non-white actors as many of the historical figures.
Jeanette and I had a trip to Chicago planned with our friends Eric and Pam, and we were able to get tickets to the Chicago production of the show that has been running at the CIBC theatre since 2016. Suffice it to say, it “blew us all away.”
Having high expectations is often a recipe for disaster when it comes to entertainment. That coupled with the pricey ticket cost, the value of time spent as parents of toddlers, and the village of grandparents and babysitters it takes for us to “take a break” without the kids prompts the highest of expectations. That being said, the show is that good.
Hamilton opens on a relatively open stage with some wood scaffolding that remains on stage the entire play. The floor is equipped with a rotating platform that enhances some of the drama involving the duels, the dancing, and several other key points, but overall for a musical so highly regarded, the set is fairly simple.
The casting was also surprisingly minimal. After listening to the soundtrack so many times, I expected quite the ensemble of actors; however, it turns out it is typical for the actors to play several parts, even several main parts, since with the way the play develops some characters do not share scenes (or even acts for that matter). Our Alexander Hamilton was actually the understudy (Philip Johnson-Richardson), who was standing in for Miguel Cervantes who usually plays the role. I will admit, I was nervous to see an understudy and an understudy for the title role at that. Johnson also looked a little nervous at first when he took the stage after the now famous introduction by Aaron Burr (Akron Watson) in the opening number. However, those nerves were fleeting because Johnson came through in spades for our audience. In fact, the cast was truly outstanding. Now that I’ve seen this play live, one of the major revelations I had was that while the play is called Hamilton, the character of Alexander Hamilton is not who carries the show. Aaron Burr is really the power and presence of the show, singularly taking the stage multiple times and demonstrating a much broader range of emotion than any other character. Watson was dynamite as Burr in the production we saw, so much so that I think he would give Leslie Odom Jr. a run for his money on some of these songs. Furthermore, if I had to select a song that I would consider the best in the entire play, I would pick, “Wait for It,” a song which only involves Burr.
While “Wait for It” may be my favorite song to listen to and appreciate, upon seeing the play, my favorite scene to see was definitely the backward/forward combination stunner of “Helpless” and “Satisfied” where we see Angelica Schuyler introduce Alexander Hamilton to her sister Eliza but then rewind the action and lament her reasoning and decision to not pursue him herself. It’s a powerful combo of perspectives and song styles, but also a whimsical staging that surpasses even the imagination.
The play overall, told in two acts, is truly a roller coaster of emotion. Act I takes us along on Hamilton’s rise and subversion of barriers preventing our young country from taking shape and eventually flourishing, and Act II takes us on the emotional journey through his tragic fall from grace, a fall that no knowledge of history can truly prepare us to experience. The play is very much a tragedy. That being said fun, humor, and romance are all critical elements to the play, but like the best of Shakespeare’s works, the tragedy is what Miranda’s masterpiece leaves us pondering. Most importantly, the impact of this tragedy is not just because of our attachment to these characters, but because of the subtexts for how cruel political ideology, racism, and gun violence are damaging and yet also a seemingly permanent thread of the American fabric. It’s hard not to feel “helpless,” and that we may never be “satisfied.” Still we are also left with the inert optimism of the human condition to not throw away our shot when the time comes to act. With that, tragedy begets inspiration, which I believe is the most empowering feeling art can impart on us. #Voting #VoterReg2018 A+
 My apologies to the other ThePeoplesCritic, whom I know is a theatre reviewer. You can rest assured my access to quality theatre is abysmal, so your namesake is secure. This is but a singular overlap of our People’s Criticism.