I assume you’ve heard Hamilton is in town. Specifically, the Angelica Tour has been performing at Arnoff Center and will be through March 10. Whether you, like me, are currently listening to the soundtrack while wearing a Hamilton shirt or you’re just wondering what the hype is about, here’s what I have to say about the show.
For a quick history, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the musical after reading Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton on a whim in an airport bookstore. After coming to Broadway in 2015, the musical has been massively successful, winning 11 Tony’s, a Grammy for the musical album, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The cast did a very good job balancing showcasing both their own creative styles and the characters Miranda created. Because this cast is different than the original Broadway cast, it’s only natural their voices and acting styles are a bit different. My personal favorite performer was Bryson Bruce, who played Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. As someone who has read quite a bit about early American history (and a student of Dr. Tyrrell’s), I rather despise Thomas Jefferson. But Bruce almost made it impossible to dislike his character. His voice and acting were spot-on. I was amazed how much he sounded like Daveed Diggs (the original Thomas Jefferson) yet he was still showcasing his own style. He was so into every bit of choreography as the egotistical, funny, antagonistic character Miranda paints him as. Paul Oakley Stovall, who played George Washington, was likewise amazing. He perfectly portrayed the stately, presidential, classic image of Washington (even though the lady behind me didn’t like that the actor was 6’5 since she was certain the real Washington was 5’2). Stovall had a superb voice and stage presence, something that must be hard to do when trying to play a legendary character like Washington. His voice and style differed from Christopher Jackson (the original Washington), but it was better that way: he didn’t try to replicate Jackson’s stage presence or voice, but portrayed Washington with his own style. I really enjoyed his performance. Of course I must discuss the actor who played Alexander Hamilton, Edred Utomi. Utomi had huge shoes to fill. Not only is he the lead, but his role was originally played by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself. No one could outdo Miranda in his own role in the show that he wrote. But like Stovall, Edred Utomi did not try to replicate the original actor of the character he was playing but played to his own strengths. This made for an incredible performance. Although no one could play Hamilton better than Miranda (especially in my mind), Utomi’s youthful, persistent, enthusiastic persona—much like the personality Miranda gives Hamilton—made the show very well done. Lastly, I must discuss Eliza and Philip Hamilton (Alexander’s wife and son), played by Hannah Cruz and Jon Viktor Corpuz. I can’t imagine anyone singing a more touching Burn than Phillipa Soo. But Cruz sang very well. She and Corpuz definitely made me and half the audience cry in Stay Alive (Reprise) and It’s Quiet Uptown (and also The World Was Wide Enough, and also Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. It was an emotional journey). I have so many good things to say about this musical.
Hamilton lives up to the hype not just because it is a superb musical (and it is), but also because it has so many layers to it. Miranda has incorporated political statements, philosophies around life, family struggles and lessons, and complex characters all into a hip-hop biographical musical sprinkled with meticulously strategized connections between music, words, and characters throughout. While Burr is painted as the typical antagonist that Hamilton attacks for having no morals and no strong beliefs, we see him as complex when he comes onto the stage to sing a song about how much he loves his daughter (Dear Theodosia). We understand his hesitant approach to life and hatred of Hamilton in Wait for It. Miranda comments on our one-sided approach to history in The World Was Wide Enough and Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. The infamous line, “Immigrants—we get the job done,” has affected and excited audiences everywhere. This line, as well as Hamilton and Jefferson debating how committed we are in defending democratic ideals worldwide in Cabinet Battle #2, are Miranda’s challenge to the world today: why are we still struggling with the same issues in politics? Are too many politicians remaining indecisive like Burr, who waits to see “which way the wind will blow?” Hamilton not only is full of complexity and bold statements but encapsulates audiences from a diverse group. Hamilton fans extend beyond theatre kids and wealthy old folks. History fans are drawn to it while musical fans are interested in history. There’s something about a musical that’s based on all true events and people that is fascinating and more emotionally involved to me. Hamilton is a great way to learn. I loved listening to the soundtrack every few days studying early America in APUSH! It’s also full of hip-hop, which is uncommon in musical theatre. This brings in more people who otherwise might not have been interested. Miranda himself was drawn to musical writing because he couldn’t see himself in existing Broadway shows. He has also brought tons of attention to Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria. He has raised funds for arts programs in Puerto Rico and even returned to his role to play Hamilton himself when the show traveled there on tour. The effect of this musical has been massive. If you’re wondering why there’s such a hype around Hamilton, that’s why it all matters.
Hamilton is a fabulous show—I highly recommend it. Though tickets are very hard to come by, and very expensive when available, I absolutely think they’re worth it. Seeing it and hearing the soundtrack are two very different things. The effectiveness of the choreography and acting cannot be understated, and the Angelica Tour actors have their own style differing from what you hear on the original Broadway soundtrack that is just fabulous when put into action.