By Tulis McCall
I saw Hamilton Wednesday last at the Richard Rogers Theatre. Last night I went to bed with Hamilton. I had Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s script all to myself and devoured it. There is so much information, not to mention plain old smarts, that is packed into this show that reading the text is an exercise in pure pleasure. And once again I came away with the same conclusion. This is a story ABOUT Alexander Hamilton while at the same time it is the story OF Aaron Burr.
Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.) welcomes us to the evening almost purring:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean, by Providence impoverished, to squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
Who did this immigrant Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) think he was? Burr was the son of money. Hamilton was the son of Chance and Fortune. Burr was willing to wait for his just rewards, Hamilton preferred the direct route.
… I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot
Hamilton arrives from Nevis in the Bahamas just as the country is splintering into a new incarnation. He lands in New York, the center of everything, and works his way up the revolutionary ladder. He sits at the right hand of God in the person of George Washington (Christopher Jackson) and pines for a command that is denied him until there is no other option.
Hamilton did not live in a vacuum, however. Events and people were moving around him like a hurricane. The women in his life were a match in every way to the men. The Schuyler Sisters Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Phillipa Soo), and Peggy (Alysha Deslorieux on the night I was there) are the center of New York’s solar system. While Washington in planning battle, there is a social life to be created. Angelica is looking for a mind at work, and when both she and her sister, Eliza, are smitten by Hamilton, she steps aside in a scene that is tragic and gallant.
As each element is added to the story the tapestry becomes richer and more dense. Family brings new responsibility but does not alter Hamilton’s trajectory. As the new country is formed he stays in the inner circle, annoying Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) who was in France for most of the war, and driving Burr just a little mad. Burr’s thirst for the power that Hamilton has is palpable, and as his frustration explodes in the second act with In The Room Where It Happens the experience is visceral for us all and becomes a show stopper.
Over and over again we see the tragedy that is coming. The rules of dueling are spelled out more than one time. The future is seen as a place where these folks may not walk but in which they will be remembered. The tension and terror of the time fill the theatre. This is balanced by Miranda’s eye for the absurd, the ridiculous and the insidious which evoke belly laughs, winces and mental High-fives. He gives a generous nod to King George (Jonathan Groff who is the only white person playing a main character) who smiles and winks through three pop numbers that remind us in the nicest possible way that the little people are just that:
Cus when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love
Hamilton was smart and driven – and he was a writer. It was his pen that got him out of his home, and it would be his pen that brought him to the side of Washington. Today he would have been Tweeting (as is Miranda) several times a day. If the telegraph had been around he would have been tapping until the machine melted in his hands. But these were the days of long hand, quills, ink and parchment. And delivery was by foot or, if you were lucky, horseback. Still, what Hamilton managed to crank out was not only impressive, it was world altering. His accomplishments are listed like it was an awards banquet. He crafted a financial system. Created the national debt to save the country. Wrote The Federalist Papers. He wrote as if he were running out of time. And he was.
The last moments of Hamilton’s life are perhaps the most delicately crafted. I imagine death so much it seems like a memory Hamilton sings as the bullet travels through time and relationships to reach him. And when it does, we hear the lament of Aaron Burr, still at the center of the tale, who didn’t realize the world was wide enough for them both, and the chorus that delivers us back into our seats singing and asking us Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?
Hamilton is a magnificent tapestry where all the elements of theatre are called upon to be their very best. The choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler is nothing short of mesmerizing. His work makes the entire piece pulse. Alex Lacamore’s musical direction and orchestration lifts us into the stratosphere. The scenic design by David Korins, costumes by Paul Tazewell and lights by Howard Binkley are seamlessly integrated and a visual feast. Finally, Thomas Kail’s direction is impeccable. Under his guidance this show has been pieced together into a living, breathing entity. Hamilton is not just a show, it is an experience – which is always the goal of art. This is not a show that you sit and watch. It is a show that takes you by the hand and pulls you into its embrace.
The end result is something much more than the story of one man. It is the story of how we each create our destiny and our mark on the world. You leave the theater thinking about what you would like to do that you have not done. You leave the theatre filled with possibility.
Hamilton – Music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow; directed by Thomas Kail
WITH: Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), Jonathan Groff (King George), Christopher Jackson (George Washington), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton), Javier Muñoz (alternate Alexander Hamilton), Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), Okieriete Onaodowan (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Anthony Ramos (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) and Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton).
Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler; music direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire; sets by David Korins; costumes by Paul Tazewell; lighting by Howell Binkley; sound by Nevin Steinberg; hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe; music coordinators, Michael Keller and Michael Aarons; technical supervisor, Hudson Theatrical Associates; production stage manager, J. Philip Bassett; company manager, Brig Berney; arrangements by Mr. Lacamoire and Mr. Miranda; general manager, Baseline Theatrical/Andy Jones. Presented by Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and the Public Theater. At the Richard Rodgers Theater, 877-250-2929, hamiltonbroadway.com. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes.