Hamilton

We were lucky enough to see Hamilton on Broadway yesterday. I’m presumptuous enough to write a review , if only to record my reactions for myself to solidify the memory of an amazing experience.

So yes, of course it was wonderful and moving. The hype, of course, is that it’s “even better than you expect” even when you expect it to be better than you expect. In some regards that’s true, but in some points, if I am to be honest, I was a little disappointed. (Some of that may be because so many roles were swapped around to cover understudies and standbys.) Overall, though, it was wonderful and worth the long wait.

The lighting was particularly amazing. At times, it functioned as scenery; at times, it was one of the dancers; at times, it was a Greek chorus commenting on the action. (It even provided a little “post-credits bonus” on the way out of the theater.)

The cast is clearly the hardest-working set of actors on Broadway. It’s not just Alexander Hamilton who is non-stop; the company is constantly singing, dancing (with amazing precision and a rich vocabulary of gesture), bringing sets and props on and offstage, miming additional props (rowing Hamilton across the Hudson stood out), and creating a world ex nihilo.

In many ways, this felt like a revival. The original cast is mostly gone, and the audience knows their performance intimately through the Original Cast Recording, through videos of numbers being performed in various special venues (e.g., at the Tony Awards), through the Hamiltome, etc. That gives the current cast the opportunity to reinterpret their roles; and given how much the roles were developed in workshop, this is practically a necessity. Only Daveed Diggs could perform Lafayette/Jefferson as Daveed Diggs. This is a drawback in places (comparing Brandon Victor Dixon’s performance of “The Room Where It Happens” to how I imagine Leslie Odom Jr. did it, based on how it’s been described, is fundamentally unfair, but inevitable) but in others it means the show already has the chance to explore multiple possible interpretations. Bryan Terrell Clark’s “History Has Its Eyes on You” had a completely new interpretation in my mind. Lexi Lawson’s “Burn” left scorch marks where the recording of Pippa Sou was much more smoldering — both are impassioned performances; each brings to light a different reading of the character.

Lawson’s Eliza was wonderful overall, and the highlight of this performance. She covered so much emotional ground, and pretty much whenever she was singing, I was crying. In “Helpless” it was tears of joy at the power of Eliza’s love; in “Burn” it was the rawness of her fury; in “Stay Alive (Reprise)” it was her strength of will and the devastating moment when that failed her; in “It’s Quiet Uptown” it was her silent grace; and in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’, it was her steadfast faith and hope. Lawson inhabited all of those moments with such surety that you forgot you were watching a show, and her performance was her own, not a copy of Soo’s.

Mandy Gonzalez was also a standout as Angelica, although she’s not given as much opportunity as Eliza to play a fully fleshed out character, and so it’s hard for me to distinguish her performance from Renée Elise Goldsberry’s on the recording.

At the performance we saw, Jon Rua filled in as Hamilton. He was quite good, although at times it felt like his attention was too focused on getting every word to come out right, rather than on the nuances of the performance. I also got a “Brian Williams” vibe from him, which I found distracting at times, although Heather says she doesn’t see that. But those are minor quibbles; his performance was fine, just not outstanding. (Again, he’s the standby for the role, so one can be forgiving.)

Dixon’s Burr and Bryan Terrell Clark’s Washington were excellent. Both men delivered their songs well, portrayed their characters in ways that shed new light on their motivations, and made their roles their own.

Two performances, on the other hand, were too campy for my taste. Jevon McFerrin’s Jefferson lacked the gravitas needed to make him believable as an opponent of Hamilton. And Andrew Chappelle’s King George, a role that (in my opinion) calls for sly camp, was too broadly painted. (It didn’t help that his singing and affect were both flat.) (Note that McFerrin is usually the alternate for Hamilton, and Chappelle is a standby for several roles.)

The choreography of “Helpless”/”Satisfied”, and again during “Hurricane”, were two standout moments where “it was even better than I expected, and I expected a lot.” The transition from “Hurricane” into “The Reynolds Pamphlet” made me gasp. A moment that surprised me with the elegance of the blocking was the voters chatting in “The Election of 1800.”

In general, the company was always doing interesting believable detail work in the background; this is a show that would reward attending over and over and over again, if that were possible. (I really hope when they eventually release the video that they shot last year, they do it in a format that allows the viewer to choose which camera to follow.)

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