“Hamilton” Lives Up to All the Hype

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HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus - smaller.jpg
Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

 What can you say about a cultural phenomenon?  It instantly became that the moment it first opened off-Broadway and then on Broadway. Very few shows have been as difficult to get tickets to, have brought in the revenue that Hamilton has. When it opened, My Fair Lady certainly was in that class but only handful of shows have done that since.

When any show garners that much praise – some audience members go in to the theater with a “show me” attitude. After all, it can’t be that good.

 Let me tell you, it is.

 If you somehow don’t know about the show (perhaps you have been living in a cave since 2015), it is about Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was an illegitimate orphan who came to New York City from the Caribbean island of Nevus and achieve success. He was Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, setting in place many of the original economic policies. He founded the Coast Guard. He wrote 50+ of the 80+ essays that made up The Federalist Papers, which helped convince citizens to support the US Constitution. He founded the New York Post and was a lawyer who helped establish the principle that the truth is a defense against a claim of libel. He also campaigned against the international slave trade.

He and Thomas Jefferson were political adversaries. But many only know Hamilton for the fact that he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr (another New Yorker and major political figures) who had served as Jefferson’s vice president.

Lin-Manuel Miranda – who must be a genius – read the recent biography of Hamilton written by historian Ron Chernow – and decided it could become a musical. He wrote the book, lyrics and music, as well as starring in it.

Miranda’s genius wasn’t just in seeing that this character could be the center of a musical – but in how he decided to do it.

First of all, he uses rap a great deal of the time to tell the story. This is a “sung-through” musical with no dialogue. But he didn’t use only rap music, but combined with more traditional sounds. He made the lyrics jump off the stage.

And he decided as he said, to cast the show so it looks like America today. That means that many – if not most – of the cast are African-American and Hispanic performers. He did not go for authenticity in how characters might look. Thus while Hamilton and Washington are tall, the Marquis de Lafayette as well as Jefferson are quite short.

The comic touch is King George III, who comments on the goings on in his former colony. Those numbers are particularly delightful.

Of course, there is a love interest – the beautiful Schuyler sisters of New York. He marries Elizabeth but has a very close friendship with her sister, Angelica.

The cast on this tour, one of two in the US right now, is good. Some have been part of the Hamilton family for a while, others are new to the show. Austin Scott is very good as Hamilton as is Josh Tower as Burr, Hannah Cruz as Elizabeth, Stephanie Umoh as Angelica, Paul Oakley Stovall as George Washington and others include Peter Matthew Smith as King George.

This tour does not skimp on cast (25 members), orchestra (12 members) or sets, lighting, costumes or sound. The Bushnell has seldom been as easy to hear everything.

You probably won’t get to see Hamilton while it is in Hartford through Dec. 30 unless you have a huge amount money to buy ticket from someone OR you win tickets in the daily Hamilton lottery. If someone offers to sell you tickets, be very, very careful. Unfortunately, the tickets may be fake.

For information on the lottery, check out Bushnell..

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