by Deirdre Donovan
Hamilton, the much-awaited
musical at the Public Theater, is making a mighty big noise at its downtown
home in Astor Place. And if you go to only one show this season, it should be
to this amazing new musical that breathes life into 18th Century
American history and gives it a pulse.
multi-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda performs in the titular role and cements his
reputation as a game-changer by creating Hamilton. Miranda serves as a
theatrical factotum here: Lead actor, author, lyricist, and musician. He was
inspired by Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, and has gleaned
historical gold from its pages.
much buzz has been generated on this piece that I won’t gild the lily. But I
will say that its lyrics and music are tops. Rapping may rule. But the work
shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a hip-hop musical. Indeed it is a contemporary
melting pot bubbling with hip-hop rhythms all mixed in with R & B, jazz,
pop, and traditional Broadway tunes.
of Broadway, the show will be transferring to the Richard Rodger’s Theatre on
July 13th. Slated to run at the Public’s Newman Theater through
May 3rd (Due to its popular reception, there have been two
extensions), the production will then wing uptown to the Great White Way.
to the current production, it is a trail-blazing work that theatergoers,
history buffs, and anybody over 12 should see. Though I was not present at the
opening of Oklahoma, I venture to say that Hamilton has that kind
of frisson. It immediately sweeps you up with its high-voltage energy and
retelling of Hamilton’s epic life story. It traces his rise from being an
orphaned immigrant (Hamilton hardly knew his father, was 11 when his
prostitute-mother died, and in 1772 left St. Croix for America.) to George
Washington’s aide-de-camp, the first U. S. Treasury Secretary, the first one to
spawn a political sex scandal, and right on to his untimely death.
in case you forgot that tragic episode in early American history when Hamilton
was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, your memory will be jogged when entering
the theater. In the main lobby stands a life-sized sculpture, on loan from the
New York Historical Society that shows Hamilton and Burr looking down the
barrels of their shotguns and taking deadly aim at one another. Not only is it
an impressive work of art on its own, but also it serves as a silent and
pointed Prologue to the entire musical.
are 34 musical numbers in this show. And there’s not a dud among them. While
you can’t help being pulled in by the opener “Alexander Hamilton,” the musical
number ”My Shot” following on its heels, is spot-on in revealing Hamilton’s
incredible personal force and drive.
nothing tame about this show! It is a rough-and-tumble journey that thrusts
you into that political theater where Hamilton became a major presence.
Hamilton, and the rest of the founding fathers—George Washington (Christopher
Jackson), Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), and John Madison (Okieriete
Onaodowan)—are all grounded in historical facts.
when it comes to the grandees’ ethnicity and skin color, inventiveness rules.
Miranda gives a Hispanic look and manner to his Hamilton. And George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison are non-conventionally cast as
black. Likewise, many female principals are performed by black performers. A
strange choice? Yes and no. As directed by Thomas Kail, contemporary
resonance is the thing. And what better way to point up the idea of racial
equality in our present American culture than to style our white founding
fathers in darker-skin shades?
utterly radiates as Hamilton. It is tempting to say that it is his show, and
that he has the corner on star power. But truth be told, many of the
supporting actors are sparkling too. Daveed Diggs doubles as the Marquis de
Lafayette and the young debonair Thomas Jefferson, and his acting is
first-rate. And Brian D’Arcy James, as the sneeringly arrogant King George is
well-cast. Incidentally, D’Arcy James will soon be leaving the show and replaced
by Jonathan Groff on March 3rd.
shout out to David Korins for his rotating set design, Paul Tazewell’s elegant
period costumes, and Howell Binkley’s glorious lighting. All their artistry
meshes, and they bring a rich and elegant texture to the production.
in all, Hamilton is a knock-out. Okay, it could knock out about 15
minutes, which would make it a trimmer show. But as far as what specific scene
should be tightened or omitted . . . Well, it is easier said than done.
tickets are now sold-out for remaining performances at the Newman, Hamilton will
be humming on Broadway this summer. And given its huge popularity at the
Public, you really should go to this red-white-and true musical of our founding
father who never had a chance to grow old.
the Public Theater, Newman Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan.
more information, visit www.publictheater.org or phone the box
office at the Public Theater: Tel. (212) 967-7555.
Time: 2 hours; 45 minutes with one intermission.