So, there’s this Broadway musical called “Hamilton,” inspired by—of all things—a biography of Alexander Hamilton written by the historian Ron Chernow.
You might have heard something about this show. Likely the terms “brilliant” and “groundbreaking” have been thrown around. Maybe also “spectacular” and “innovative.” It’s written by this guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda, who’s probably been a guest star on a TV show you watch or done a good job popping up in one of your favorite podcasts. The show has become something of a phenomenon, and the national tour has finally come to Austin’s Bass Concert Hall (playing through June 16), courtesy of Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts.
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I say all this, tongue firmly planted in cheek, because hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the brilliance of “Hamilton” by now, and most of them aren’t hyperbolic. Miranda is the first composer to bring hip-hop to the Broadway stage in a way that fully attracts a crossover audience of both regular theater-goers and those who have never found a way into the art form. The text is smart, dense, funny, inventive and celebratory of both the birth of the American experiment and the rich diversity of the country’s present day. Entire books can (and have been) written analyzing the show’s music and lyrics.
However, with the exception of a few snippets, the entirety of “Hamilton” is available on the cast recording, serving as a concept album in the vein of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original recording of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The majority of the brilliance of “Hamilton” is all there, for a much cheaper price tag than the cost of a ticket. What, then, does the live production bring to the table?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. Director Thomas Kail’s staging is based almost entirely around the bodies of his kinetic ensemble, using Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography to create set pieces and to define much of the action, even as a rotating, circular stage adds a sense of constant motion. Packing so much story into just under three hours requires very little downtime, and “Hamilton” is a show that is high energy from start to finish.
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At the heart of this energy is an extremely talented cast, led by the vibrant and breathless Joseph Morales as Hamilton; the brooding and conflicted Nik Walker as Aaron Burr; and Erin Clemons as Eliza Hamilton, with gorgeous vocals. All three leads go beyond simply recreating the performances of the original cast by providing their own takes on the characters, imbuing them with the kind of deep emotion that requires the subtlety of body language in addition to vocalization.
In addition, Marcus Choi is impressively commanding as George Washington, while Jon Patrick Walker (as King George), Kyle Scatliffe (as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson) and, especially, Fergie L. Philippe (as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison) provide perfectly timed comic relief that resonates at times with the characters’ (and the young country’s) deeper angers and ambitions.
“Hamilton” is a genius piece of musical theater writing that has been given an extremely good production. Though you can fully understand what makes it so staggeringly virtuosic by listening to the cast recording, the national tour is well worth seeing to catch the gorgeous staging and the moving performances.
It is, in short, as good as you’ve heard.
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