Monday, April 23, 2018

A Cleveland reviewer gets to evaluate whether “Hamilton” lives up to its advanced billing

Some musicals change the very nature of the genre.  “Oklahoma” gave birth to the book musical in which story, dance and lyrics blended together perfectly.  “Chorus Line” brought the concept of the dance-centered musical.  “Hair” encouraged societal topics and mores to be probed.  “Rent” introduced the stage to 21st century ideas and issues.  Then, along came “Hamilton” which opened the door to singing, rap and movement blending into fine-tuned story telling.   The color-blind casting brought a new stage image to Broadway.

“Hamilton” was inspired by the 2004 biography, “Alexander Hamilton” by historian Ron Chernow.  It has book, music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda, who perfectly honed each element to clearly represent our Revolutionary fathers. 

The script and production have been called, “exhilarating,” “a theatrical watershed,” and “sublime.”

After a successful off-Broadway run which opened in February, 2015, it moved to a Broadway stage in August of that year, and set unprecedented multimillion-dollar advanced box office sales.  Even after numerous cast changes, including the departure of Miranda, the show still over-sells nearly every performance.   

Tickets for the Broadway version can go for many hundreds of dollars. (The people sitting next to me in seventh row center paid $625 for each of their seats).  Why?  It’s “Hamilton.”  No more needs to be said!

The script tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton, who was born out of wedlock in the West Indies.  He comes to the American colonies at age 19 and seeks out revolutionary patriot, Aaron Burr, who advises the young and enthusiastic youth to “talk less; smile more.”  This is advice Hamilton did not take, and helps set the stage for a life-long set of philosophical battles between the men.

The people of Hamilton’s life, the Marquis de Lafayette, the Schuyler sisters, George Washington, Charles Lee, James Madison, and John Jay, flow by in song, rap,  movement, and spoken words. 

The story of the Revolutionary War, the birth of the nation, Hamilton’s developing the country’s financial system, the death of his son in a dual, and his own demise in a dual with Aaron Burr, all transpire in compelling fashion, under the adept direction of Thomas Kail and precision choreography and movement by Andy Blankenbuehler.

Too bad history classes don’t so successful tell such tales.

Tickets are hard to get, but despair not.  The show is running in Chicago, and touring versions are now wending their way across the country.  These productions are duplicates of the Broadway staging, complete with the original choreography and concentric turntables. 

It is also running in London and will be performed, with Manuel in the leading role, in Puerto Rico beginning in January, 2019.

Still want to see the show on Broadway?  Hamilton, like other Broadway musicals, offers a ticket lottery before every show, allowing a very limited number of those in line to purchase tickets for one Hamilton ($10) each.  You may, if you are standing near the theatre before curtain, be exposed to “Ham4Ham” shows, mini-performances which allow lottery participants to experience a part of the show.

Capsule judgment:  The question asked to many who see “Hamilton” is whether it is worth the investment of time and money?  This reviewer’s answer, “Absolutely!”  I can’t wait until it comes to Cleveland this summer to see it again!  (And, hopefully more than once!)

What: “Hamilton”
Where:  Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street
When:  Open run