Story: Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton, this musical presents the life of Founding Father Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became General George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and later served as the first Treasury Secretary of the fledgling United States of America.
Highlights: With book, lyrics and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton explodes out of the starting gate and maintains an exhilarating pace throughout. It’s a glorious and transfixing theatrical achievement and, even with its dramatic license stretching the truth, an important lesson in American history as well.
Other Info: First produced by the Public Theater in New York City, Hamilton won 27 awards for its Off-Broadway debut in 2015, followed by 11 Tony Awards for its Broadway incarnation in 2016 as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its Tony Award cache included Best Musical as well as Best Book, Best Score, Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations and Best Direction.
There is no mystery why. Hamilton utilizes a variety of musical genres in its lively, compelling score including hip-hop, Broadway, jazz, rap, rhythm and blues and pop to tell the story of the man who had as much to do with the establishment of the American form of government as anyone else.
Miranda’s diverse cast keeps the energy level on adrenaline throughout the show’s two acts and three hours of performance time, which zips by in a flash. The show begins with an ensemble rendition of the title tune, which informs the audience of Hamilton’s humble beginnings as an illegitimate child whose father abandoned him and his mother, leaving Alexander an orphan in the West Indies upon her death when he was just 12.
Pointing out that the musical is “inspired” by the Chernow biography helps account for some historical inaccuracies, such as the fatal duel between Hamilton and his nemesis, Aaron Burr, which happened in 1804 and not just after the presidential election of 1800. Additionally, it’s jarring to see diminutive actor Chris De’Sean Lee portraying the 6’3” Thomas Jefferson, even though his performance skills are top-notch.
Still, this musical is every bit as good as you’ve heard it is. Miranda’s score is filled with catchy, pulsating numbers which contain intelligent, insightful lyrics, such as the hesitant Burr’s lament, Wait for It, or the ambitious Hamilton’s theme, the invigorating My Shot.
Through it all, Andy Blankenbuehler’s stylish, infectious choreography blends with Thomas Kail’s expertly-paced direction to keep the large ensemble moving briskly about David Korins’ handsome, two-tiered set in sweeping, seemingly perpetual motion.
That extra level in the scenic design allows for grand, eloquent gestures by the insurgent colonists’ sagacious leader, Washington, as well as an opportunity for the showboating Jefferson to descend to the masses at the start of Act II from his free-wheeling days as ambassador to France.
Howell Brinkley’s luminescent lighting design and Paul Tazewell’s lavish 18th century costumes show why they also captured Tony Awards. Significant contributions are made as well by sound designer Nevin Steinberg and hair and wig designer Charles LaPointe.
It’s jaw-dropping to hear the performers rap out Miranda’s exquisite lyrics in rapid patter to the lively musical arrangements created by Miranda and Alex Lacamoire under Julian Reeve’s musical direction. Lacamoire also supervises the 10-piece orchestra comprised of keyboards, percussion, drums, bass, guitar, violins, viola and cello. The music is stirring and stunning as it accompanies every carefully choreographed step by players on stage.
Austin Scott leads this inspired touring company with a standout performance in the title role, showing Hamilton’s indefatigable drive and work ethic as well as his ceaseless quest for knowledge and action. Scott deftly handles Hamilton’s romance with Eliza Schuyler as well as the platonic love he shares with Eliza’s older and savvy sister Angelica.
He delivers conveying less savory aspects of Hamilton’s life as well, such as his ill-advised infidelity with a woman named Maria Reynolds while he’s away from his family while working in New York City.
Also outstanding is Nicholas Christopher in the role of Burr, who serves somewhat as narrator looking on while his friend and eventual adversary Hamilton reaps the benefits of adulation and the gratitude of Washington with his drive for success. Christopher’s tenor serves him grandly on numbers such as The Room Where It Happens and Wait for It.
De’Sean Lee wittily portrays Jefferson as a scheming opportunist and a bit of a fancy don as well as doubling as America’s great ally in the Revolutionary War, France’s Marquis de Lafayette. Chaundre Bloomfield Hall serves well both as Jefferson’s fellow Virginian and eventual president James Madison and Hamilton’s friend Hercules Mulligan.
Carvens Lissaint brings gravity and wisdom to the role of colonial leader George Washington, both in war and in peace as the upstart nation’s first president, while Peter Matthew Smith is humorous in the role of England’s off-kilter King George, who revels in the hope that America will self-destruct.
Julia K. Harriman and Sabrina Sloan provide excellent voices and dramatic scope as sisters Eliza Hamilton and Angelica Schuyler, respectively, while Isa Briones does well as youngest Schuyler sister Peggy and the duplicitous Maria Reynolds. Alexander Ferguson handles the part of Maria’s conniving husband James Reynolds, who blackmails Hamilton for a time, while Ruben J. Carbajal serves ably as abolitionist John Laurens and Hamilton’s oldest son Philip.
Hamilton is breathtaking in its epic scope, both from theatrical and historic viewpoints. It’s a history lesson wrapped in a rollicking, rambunctious and richly rewarding musical romp, every bit as good as its reputation.
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand
Dates: Through April 22
Tickets: From $95-$350; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com.
Limited tickets are available daily at The Fox box office, as well as 40 tickets offered at $10 apiece for each performance through a lottery. For details, visit www.foxstl.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus