Spoiler alert: Yes, it really is that good. As I sat in a packed house at the official opening of “Hamilton” at the Hippodrome Theatre on June 26, the level of excitement among the audience was palpable. Clearly, the play has a deep fan base, among young and old theater-goers alike. Music enthusiasts even had the chance for a little karaoke fun in advance of the touring Broadway musical at a “HamilTunes” event earlier this week at Everyman Theatre, belting out their favorite tunes before the show’s airing.
When I heard Hamilton was coming to the Hippodrome this summer, I was eager to take it all in. And, I have to admit, I left the theatre utterly satisfied but also anxious to see it again.
The play is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, an orphaned immigrant hailing from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary.
The play opens with Hamilton landing in New York City in 1776. Though initially an outsider, he is soon recognized through his determination and ambition by his newfound friends, including Aaron Burr, played by the impressive Josh Tyler, who would eventually rise to become a U.S. senator and Thomas Jefferson’s vice president.
In the title role, Edred Utomi brings the appropriate sense of self-assured confidence and swagger, conveying his lines with both ease and poise.
His wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, played by Hannah Cruz, delivers the heart of the play, especially in the second act. With a bold voice, she gives a mesmeric and passionate performance. She makes you ache for Eliza in her grief after the loss of her son and, then shortly after, of her husband near the play’s final moments.
Other memorable performances in the large cast include Peter Matthew Smith, who brings comic relief as King George III, appearing periodically to scold and later warn his colonists with one of the most humorous songs in the show, “You’ll Be Back.” Paul Oakley Stovall also gave a stellar performance as a clear-headed Washington as he carries the weight of the new republic on his shoulders. And, I can’t forget Bryson Bruce, as both a fiery Marquis de Lafayette and a vain joker as Jefferson.
But, the entire cast is noteworthy and operates as a smooth ensemble. I think audiences will be hard pressed to find a more dynamic cast anywhere.
As for that famous score? It was as equally impressive as the acting. Effortlessly blending hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway, every song in the show makes you want to get up and sing right along with the cast.
Modern playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda provided book, music and lyrics, with direction from Thomas Kail, and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. I was impressed with the way Miranda mastered the art of wordplay and rhyme with his lyrics. Although I will admit, using that rap/hip-hop idiom, combined with the actor’s rapid-fire delivery, it was hard at times to fully catch all of the lyrics. But, that’s what a second or third viewing is for, right?
But the real scene stealer for me was Andy Blankenbuehler’s brilliant choreography, aided by scenic designer David Korins’ mobile set. With razor-sharp precision, the movement and dances tie the entire production together, along with the impressive set, lighting, and blocking. It was mesmerizing to watch the performers stirring at the center of the stage along two coaxial circles, the outer moving clockwise, the inner counterclockwise. It really emphasized the movement of a nation that will not stay still or be silenced.
Overall, Hamilton really is a piece of its time, presenting real-life questions about the expectations we have of national leaders. It is truly a show that commands our attention — and deserves it.