The very idea of this review is ridiculous.
A review of Hamilton. Honestly, what could be the point?
Now that Hamilton is touring the country with two separate companies (We’ve got the Angelica cast), I imagine a flurry of critics from the Carolinas to California hitting their thesauri to look up new ways of saying “brilliant” and “inspiring.”
It’s not that I don’t think the hard-working cast and crew of the tour are worth their own mentions, it just seems to be the burden of local reviewers to cast their take on a touring show after its original incarnation has already been dissected by every critic in New York, and in the case of Hamilton, it’s reasonable to believe there’s nothing left to say.
Of course, that meant I would be the one reviewing the show for Motif, and that meant trying to avoid regurgitating the same platitudes on a show that’s widely agreed to be an American masterpiece while honoring the unique contributions of the tour — of which there are quite a few.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea to have me review it,” I said to my editor. “I saw the original cast in New York. I’m sure the tour is good, but I’m going to have that production locked in my mind, and it might be difficult not to compare the two.”
Reader, what a fool I am.
For one thing, I’ve become one of those people who believes that 2015 was two weeks ago, so when I actually looked up when it was I saw the original cast in New York, I was shocked to realize that it was a whopping lifetime ago, back when :: holds back tears :: we had a different president in the White House and the lens through which we viewed just about anything was perhaps a little more … optimistic.
I remember the show feeling like a victory lap for American theater, and, maybe even, for America itself. After all, even with all the tragedies of Alexander Hamilton’s life, isn’t it ultimately a story of success and legacy? An immigrant who rises to a prominent place in history and then has this kickass musical written about him?
It seemed like a story of resiliency and cleverness and I would have been hard-pressed to remember any real cynicism in it aside from the wink-wink acknowledgments that, yes, politics is a dirty game, but also kind of fun, right?
Maybe I should chalk it all up to poor memory, but watching the show this time around, I was struck by how different my experience of it seemed to be.
Now, granted, in 2015, some cultural elements were shifting in ways that would prevent me from saying that the show has taken on a prophetic property. We were already knee-deep in election season. The now iconic “Immigrants/We get the job done” line elicited cheers in New York the same way it did when I saw it in PVD. And since one of the main points of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s opus seems to be “Things really don’t ever change that much,” it seems more appropriate to mention that at one point I muttered under my breath, “Oh god, we’re back here again.”
But before we get to all that, let’s get the important elements out of the way.
Cheers to the creative team behind the tour for putting together a show that is absolutely as good as what you would see in New York. It’s become common for people who’ve never seen a show on Broadway to voice that kind of praise, but I can promise you, this time it’s apt. The direction is by Thomas Kail, the choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and the criminally under-mentioned set and costume design by David Korins and Paul Tazewell, which is a gorgeous marriage of the suggested and the specific.
Edred Utomi makes for a sizzling Alexander Hamilton. He plays up the character’s ambition and when the rise transitions into the fall, his anguish and deterioration is palpable. Josh Tower as Aaron Burr seemed to be playing the role straight from his gut, and I’m going to remember his take on “The Room Where It Happens” for a long, long time. Hannah Cruz does a stellar job as Eliza Hamilton, particularly in the knock-out of a finale.
So, if you’re wondering if you should go — go.
If you’ve seen someone on social media say, “I didn’t think it lived up to the hype,” unfriend them and avoid anyone who claims to have a hot take on the show.
There are no hot takes, but there might be a few new insights.
Mine was that King George, played to the gleeful hilt by Peter Matthew Smith, arrived onstage after the defeat of the British to warn that power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and I shuddered a bit. For some reason, the warning seemed to be more sinister than I remembered. A week later, America would watch the Democratic candidates pitted against each other over two nights of — I’m going to use this word loosely — debating. Colleagues who are now forced to eliminate each other if they want a chance to change things that probably can’t be changed. It all sounded as familiar as the lyrics being sung.
While most of Act One still maintains the youthful enthusiasm you can feel just by listening to the original cast recording, when the war is over, things get … complicated.
As the glorious Paul Oakley Stovall (as George Washington) tells Hamilton that he is vacating the White House in the song “One Last Time,” it was hard not to think back to 2015 when we were just finishing up our time with a much different President — one who actually appears on the remixed version of “One Last Time.” President Obama wasn’t just a vocal fan of Hamilton, he played a part in its birth. Miranda performed the genesis of the show at the White House in 2009.
When Alexander decides to get ahead of a scandal by releasing the Reynolds Pamphlet resulting in his adversaries chanting “Never gon’ be president now,” cancel culture jumps to mind, and the image of Lin-Manuel hosting “SNL” back when the “Access Hollywood” tape came out, when it still seemed like poor behavior could derail someone’s political future.
When Eliza sings about taking herself out of (and then putting herself back in) the narrative, I wanted to turn to the person sitting next to me and ask, “Have they always talked about narratives this much?” The idea that we can control how we’re talked about and how we’re remembered seems so fresh — like an idea that was presented in a thinkpiece that just went viral yesterday.
The conniving exhibited by Jefferson (Bryson Buce delivering a performance that is just the right amount of bold and nuanced), the desperation on the part of Burr, the image of two characters grieving the loss of a son struck down by a gun — it all seemed much more prescient, either because we’re watching a story about the past or a musical that’s already celebrating a decade since it took its first steps into the world via the Obama White House and doesn’t seem to be aging one bit. That’s both a credit to the show, and a point against the country it depicts. The patterns it displays hold strong. The tragedies remain the same.
While a lesser production might have failed to make an audience notice these moments or hit them even harder (as is sometimes the temptation when half the audience is quietly singing along under their breath), the Angelica tour manages to honor the spirit of the show while still taking advantage of its flexibility to create their own unique theatrical take on it.
That’s my fancy way of saying if you think you’ve seen it before, trust me —
The Providence Performing Arts Center presents the National Tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, through August 11. A limited number of seats are still available for all performances. Tickets can be purchased at the PPAC box office, 220 Weybosset St, PVD, or by visiting ppacri.org, or by phone at 401-421-ARTS (2787).