'Hamilton': EW stage review
A groundbreaking, one-for-the-ages hip-hop tale of one of America's founding fathers
The dreaded high-school history-class field trip is about to become a thing of the past. When those of that age – or absolutely any age, for that matter- cast their eyes and ears on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing, thrillingly multi-layered new musical Hamilton, you can bet your sawbucks that Alexander Hamilton becomes more than a 10 a.m. textbook tale to them.
Miranda, reteaming with his In the Heights director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, has a connection to this material that borders on supernatural possession, and in creating a hip-hop riff on the biomusical (a genre just begging for exciting treatment), the composer seems to have invented a wholly new style for himself. Quietly intense in the title role, Miranda portrays the founding father’s roots from immigrant to Constitution crusader to flawed husband to pride-wounded politico, and it’s not difficult to spot traces of classic works such as Evita and Amadeus seeping into its DNA–particularly as it employs lifelong Hamilton adversary Aaron Burr (marvelously played by Leslie Odom Jr.) as a sort of sly-dog commentator throughout. Burr even gets the show’s biggest showstopper (and there are many)-the pulse-quickening “The Room Where It Happens”-one of the many reminders of how Hamilton keeps continually surprising you.
The show’s instantly memorable, freestyle-flavored score could have carried the evening plenty far on its own, but what makes Miranda and Kail’s collaboration so exciting (along with Blankenbuehler’s vibrant choreography) is the innate understanding of how we define history as much it defines us. The decision to cast the show with an eye on multiculturalism–actors rarely bear any resemblance to their real-life counterparts–is nothing short of inspired; you’re constantly nudged into acknowledging the American landscape as interpretive and ever-changing. The hulking, hunky Christopher Jackson as George Washington? Sure, why not. Said casting is often subversively witty too, especially in the delicious choice to represent Thomas Jefferson (a fleet, funny Daveed Diggs) as an African-American man (think about it).
And what could have been a carefully patterned mens’ club has a distinctive, gravitas-laden female perspective, as Hamilton’s wife Eliza and her older sister Angelica-both adored by Hamilton in very different ways-are as integral to the proceedings as any of the blustery boys, stirringly embodied by Phillipa Soo and The Good Wife‘s Renee Elise Goldsberry, respectively. And one simply cannot neglect to mention Brian d’Arcy James, in a small series of bliss-out what-me-worry? interludes as the snooty King George, likely more hilarious than he’s ever been allowed to be on stage before.
This Public Theater world premiere has been the talk of the town practically since its first rehearsal (and rest assured, this one’s headed for the big time in no time), but nothing can really prepare one for how assured and conceptually jolting Miranda and Co.’s craftsmanship is here. Even the sound design is perfect; it’s one of the only recent musicals that resist the urge to crank up volume to create faux emotional swells. (This remarkable cast achieves real ones on their own, thank you very much.) Alexander Hamilton may be best known for being the face of 10 bucks, but Hamilton will make you feel like a million of ’em. A