–by Shannon Clark
The first time I heard that there was a musical about Alexander Hamilton, I imagined stuffy white-haired men and all the dates and facts I was supposed to have memorized back in high school but never did. At the urging of a friend I listened to the soundtrack and realized that my expectations were completely wrong! The music alone is brilliant. Lin Manuel-Miranda’s score incorporates rap, hip hop, R&B, pop, soul and classical Broadway elements, as well as witty and creative lyrics. However, the telling of the story is fully realized when you experience the live production.
Aaron Burr narrates the story of the life, death and relationships of the Founding Father found on the ten-dollar bill, Alexander Hamilton. The show opens on a deceptively simple set depicting a colonial-era building under construction. Ropes and pulleys adorn the rails off the catwalks and stairs. A staircase will double as a gangplank for Hamilton to arrive. The first song, “Alexander Hamilton” summarizes the first twenty years of the main character. It introduces us to an intentionally diverse cast of lead and supporting actors/actresses as well as giving the audience a glimpse of those characters’ relationships to Hamilton. Wednesday night’s audience is jubilant when Alexander Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) appears! The energy and excitement are palpable, and the cast carries that energy from start to finish.
The choreography, lighting, and set design do their job successfully – they are perfectly supportive and unobtrusive in allowing the audience to stay focused on the characters onstage and their struggles and triumphs. The choreography is a literal interpretation of a phrase one moment, and abstracted atmospheric support the next. The dancing often seems perfect for a lyric or moment in the production. The lighting is not overly complicated but exact in its comedic timing and central to the most heartfelt parts of the show.
I had several favorite moments in this evening’s performance:
Neil Haskel sparkles with haughty snark as he portrays King George and is wonderful every time he is on stage. The staging and voices of Alexander Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and Aaron Burr (Jared Dixon) during “Dear Theodosia” are especially sweet as the two new fathers are seated side by side to sing to their newborns.
Angelica Schulyer (Ta’rea Campbell) is a powerhouse. In giving her perspective of introducing Eliza and Alexander, she deftly raps and sings “Satisfied”. The dynamic set design of two rotating platforms in the floor allows us to “rewind” those events from the previous song “Helpless”. Later her soulful voice pulls at our heartstrings in “Quiet Uptown”.
The Cabinet Battles are a delight. Lin Manuel-Miranda pits Thomas Jefferson (Warren Egypt Franklin) against Alexander Hamilton and it is so good! Warren Eygpt Franklin is an amazing physical actor and portrays Jefferson with flamboyant excellence.
Marcus Choi (George Washington) is a standout. He is an authoritative presence on the stage and commands your attention. He explains to Hamilton that he is stepping down as president so the country can move on and delivers an expressive goodbye in “One Last Time”.
Aaron Burr (Jared Dixon) is captivating in his performance of “The Room Where It Happened” The audience feels his jealousy and bitterness threatening to simmer out of control as he once again is shut out from Hamilton’s ability to sway government and his own lack of power. Eliza Hamilton (Stephanie Jae Park) betrayed by her husband, appeals to all of us when her anger is expressed in “Burn” and later brings us to tears when she has chosen to forgive Alexander and tell his story.
I fell in love with the music of this show, but I will remember the story for far longer and how I felt watching it play out in front of me. History has its eyes on Hamilton and the hype for this show is well deserved! Hamilton plays at the Fabulous Fox thru May 15, 2022. Find tickets HERE