Richard Rodgers Theatre
At this late date, what more could one say about the phenomenon that is “Hamilton,” the new musical (as if you needed to know) that is playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway? It is completely sold out until 2017 and even the upcoming Chicago touring company production is selling very nicely. With many of the original (and, in some cases, irreplaceable) leads leaving within a week, perhaps it is best to focus on the actual material and production itself. To call “Hamilton” a brilliant show is an understatement, and the staging by director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler is a continuous thing of beauty.
What hasn’t really been discussed about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterful work is how much fun it frequently is. In this show, you have political debates that function as rap battles, and, with the casting of all the Founding Fathers with persons of color, it almost seems that history has loosened up and it becomes a living and breathing (and often humorous) thing. Who knew that learning historical politics could be such a blast? Also, Miranda’s score, while focusing on rap and hip-hop, is also filled with beauty and sophistication, with musical motifs throughout that happily get caught in your ear. The collective power of “Hamilton” is pretty awesome and it will be interesting to see what the show will be like once the replacements are cast. Ultimately, though, it is a great show and more than well worth waiting to buy a ticket to see.
With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, this astonishing artist has also written a plum role for himself, that of the title character. Still, Miranda is wise enough to give sensational material to just about all the other characters, as well. And while this excellent actor somewhat dominates the show, the rest of the cast also make their mark. In a Tony Award winning performance by Leslie Odom, Jr., as Aaron Burr, you get a foe to Hamilton that is about equal in size to the title character. Leslie Odom, Jr. is absolutely terrific, with his big second act number, “The Room Where It Happens,” being a real showstopper. As Hamilton’s wife Eliza, Phillipa Soo gives a gorgeous performance, and she gets some of the most melodic music in the show.
In supporting roles, Daveed Diggs (also a Tony winner) is just about dynamite playing both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and he opens Act II with one of the catchiest songs, “What Did I Miss?” As Eliza’s sister Angelica, Tony winner Renee Elise Goldsberry is a wonderful presence in the show, endowing her complicated character with a good deal of strength, as well as vulnerability. Christopher Jackson is perfect as George Washington and Anthony Ramos shines as Hamilton’s son, Philip. And then there is Jonathan Groff as King George III. Playing a part that has maybe ten minutes of stage time in a show that is well over two and a half hours long, Groff is absolutely delicious, winning applause and laughter, and he comes close to stealing the show. (It should be noted that the part of King George III is now being portrayed by Rory O’Malley).
The actual physical production of “Hamilton” is pretty sterling, from David Korins’ multi-leveled set, to Paul Tzewell’s period perfect costume design and Howell Binkley’s incisive lighting. Musical director Alex Lacamoire has orchestrated the score ideally, really straddling the line of contemporary rap and hip-hop music with numbers like “It’s Quiet Uptown” and “Burn” that are simply beautiful. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler keeps the entire cast moving smoothly and sinuously throughout, and his work dovetails nicely with Thomas Kail’s overall direction, which is just glorious.
When the original cast leaves, it will be fascinating to see how “Hamilton” will play with new actors, though I can confidently say that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s successor, Javier Munoz, is just as good and brings quite a bit of masculine sensuality to the title role. “Hamilton” will no doubt play for many years, both on Broadway and, most likely, throughout the entire world. The strength of Miranda’s work and of that of Thomas Kail’s production should be more than enough to give the many actors who are successors to the original cast all they need to bring new life and power to the show. When you get the chance to see “Hamilton,” whether on Broadway or anywhere else, you will find that it is a riveting and masterful musical and one that is also richly satisfying.
“Hamilton” continues performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway and, for tickets (whenever you are able to actually get them), please visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Photo: Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) and company
Photo by Joan Marcus