(Nik Walker, photo by Joan Marcus)
The long wait is over- Austin fans can finally see Hamilton- one of the top musicals in history -some say the best of all time-winning countless awards around the world including Tony Awards and Pulitzer Prize. Lin-Manuel Miranda is now a household name for bringing modern pop culture into historical theater. It’s broken rules, boundaries and records. For the last few years, people outside of NYC and Broadway couldn’t fathom actually seeing the buzz-worthy show in person. Even in New York, tickets were scarce and often resale prices were in the thousands and out of reach for most. Yes it is worth the price and lives up to all the hype.
(Joseph Morales photo by Joan Marcus)
The entire ensemble was brilliant in acting and choreography. Morales is flawless and feels like Miranda. Of importance is the fact that the all white founding fathers are played by non-white actors. Fans will be happy to know that many cast members on the touring show in Austin are from the original cast including lead (Alexander Hamilton) Joseph Morales (Chicago) who looks and appears like Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator/actor). The actors were so well cast and such a fit that one would assume Miranda hand picked each of them. The other lead characters are Burr (Nik Walker), then two sisters- Eliza (Erin Clemons) who eventually marries Alexander-and Angelica Schuyler (Ta’Rea Campbell). These actors were phenomenal and believable and worked cohesively to tell the story of Alexander. The actors in the great supporting, almost lead group were actually standouts and included John Laurens/Philip Hamilton (Elijah Malcomb), Lafayette/Jefferson (Kyle Scatliffe), James Madison (Fergie L. Philippe), George Washington (Marcus Choi).
There were bits of comedy relief throughout and at times King George (Jon Patrick Walker) stole the show with appearance, facial expressions, and the mannerisms that accompanied the comedic lyrics. He exuded jealousy and anger like an obsessed lover (Great Britain) who is losing his grip on his woman (America) as she slips away from his power and control. He says “You’ll be back-Remember despite our estrangement, I’m your man, You’ll be back, Soon you’ll see, You’ll remember you belong to me, You’ll be back”.(Jon Patrick Walker photo by Joan Marcus)
The story dives deep into the mastermind of Hamilton who came from nothing as an immigrant from the Caribbean to going to Columbia University (then King’s College) and becoming a lawyer to becoming the president’s right hand man and then the first American Treasury Secretary after proving his worth on many occasions during the great war with Britain. He’s responsible for the financial systems and Wall Street today. The show covers all his flaws including his irrational decisions, stubbornness, and his indiscretions during his marriage and the tragic loss of his son Philip in a duel-perhaps giving him bad advice to attend. Hamilton had 8 kids but Miranda focused on Philip. Sadly the show ends with him losing his life too soon in a duel (repeating the exact tragic end his son went through) via a bullet from Burr. It didn’t have to happen which is what makes it so tragic. Stubborn competitiveness/ego is to blame. The show ends with Hamilton being rowed back to Manhattan lifeless and his wife looking into the light of heaven in despair.
(cast photo by Joan Marcus)
The star of the show is of course the music- as it’s sung and rapped and seamlessly combines old with modern worlds. It’s a testament to Miranda that millions of young new theater fans have jumped into attending musicals because of him. The blend of hip hop and history has proven to get more people excited to learn and attend. The show has attracted all ages, races, and cultures because of the songs and the relatable lyrics-taking an old topic and making it new and interesting like a good teacher would. Highlights include: ‘My Shot’, ‘Wait For It’, ‘The Room Where it Happens’, ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the hilarious ‘You’ll Be Back’, ‘Satisfied’, ‘The Schuyler Sisters’, ‘Yorktown’. There are 51 total numbers and it often feels like there’s only a split second between any two songs. The show runs at a quick pace so at times you feel you can’t keep up. It runs through 30 years of history and over 20,000 words so it has to be continuous.
Part of what makes Hamilton so powerful and inspiring is the fact that it’s a political story that includes gun violence, hate, and racism that often mimics what our country is facing today. Manuel is a genius in how he blends rhyme and wordplay. The lyrics are familiar and powerful. “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”, “How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower somehow defeat a global superpower?”, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, “We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less” and “How you say, no sweat, we’re finally on the field. We’ve had quite a run”- Immigrants: “We get the job done”. Other modern/relatable (often direct quotes) and often hilarious one liners in the show are highlights: “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry”. “Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!” “Why do you write like it’s going out of style?”.”When I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m’a compel him to include women in the sequel!” “Wait for it”. “Being a self-starter”. “But my God, she looks so helpless, and her body’s saying, “hell, yes”.
The choreography was also superb. Mixes of ballet and hip-hop dominated and often had the ensemble both singing and dancing. Andy Blankenbuehler, choreographer, has talked about the importance of bringing the lyrics to life and slowing down time by creating the appearance of slow-motion sequences throughout. He uses poses and movements from baseball to illustrate important lyrics and emotions. Stopping time to magnify Hamilton’s thoughts was evident while often including modern hip-hop moves with the modern lyrics. There are huge sequences that are repeated over the course of the show due to their importance; you’ll notice these for example during ‘My Shot’, ‘Right Hand Man’, and ‘Room Where it Happens’.
The production is incredible and is the same production that’s on Broadway. It’s a simple set–or appears so at first– made of mostly wood (or faux)- with wood floors- with a rotating circular center-or turntable stage piece that the cast must artfully and carefully dance across and through- massively tall side brick walls and wood scaffolding staircases that move, long beams on the ceiling, second-level catwalk, and loose ropes used in a variety of scenes (apparently designed to resemble the inside of a boat). The lights were important and often single spotlights but many numbers included drop down candle lanterns that created a romantic ambience and are historically accurate due lack of electricity (was invented later).
More about Hamilton: Creator, writer, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Hamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton runs through June 16th at Bass Concert Hall on the UT campus. The show runs about 3 hours total including one intermission. Tickets are available but limited. You can also try the Hamilton app to win $10 tickets.