‘Hamilton’ attains rock star clout

There’s a reason everyone raves about the musical play “Hamilton.” Even seven years after its premiere it’s still the best show in town.

Decades from today, “Hamilton” will still be relevant and performed such as tunes from “West Side Story” (1957) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1971) are still spinning to this day.

“Hamilton” takes the audience on a journey through the American revolution and up through the first three elections for President. It’s a historical fact that Alexander Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804. The irony was that Hamilton’s eldest son Philip was shot and killed in a duel, protecting his family honor, a few years previously in the same place no less (Weehaeken, New Jersey) where père was felled.

Less of a paradox results from the casting of Hamilton’s historical white protagonists with people of color. Alexander Hamilton was an abolitionist of sorts, certainly more so than Thomas Jefferson, who owned and fathered children with slaves.

Entirely sung, except for one brief scene, Hamilton owes its magnificent score to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, based on the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

Miranda mixes hip-hop, jazz and pop themes to glorious effect. When Hamilton and Jefferson confront each other over the economic future of America, it’s like a rap-off. But when King George appears (for two songs in the first act), the memorable ditties sound like bubbly British invasion pop songs that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dave Clark Five album. There’s a lot of “Da dada da da da’s” going on — always the sign of a cool song.

Like any good story, we’re drawn into the characters despite (or perhaps because of) their flaws. Hamilton in a moment of weakness committed adultery and was literally the subject of the first sex scandal of the nascent republic.

Burr and Hamilton meet often throughout their careers, and it isn’t always with a sense of animosity. That’s why the final confrontation seems so tragic. They were young contemporaries who shared the same growing pains.

The first two songs – “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot” – are greeted with rapturous applause from the audience not unlike the way a popular rock group would be signaled by opening with a big hit.

A typical musical ends with a loud in-your-face production number. However, Hamilton concludes with a soulful tune that bemoans a grieving widow dealing with her loss. “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” sums up the remembrance of things past as seen from the point of view of family members as opposed to the annuals of history.

The stage set consists of a worn brick exterior with upper balconies that lead to an extending staircase, which descends to the stage. Ensemble cast members are constantly moving around in the background, oft times aided by a multiple revolving stage, while the main action takes place center stage.

Direction by Thomas Kail keeps the action constantly in flux. Choreography by Andy Blackenbuehler emphasizes fluid motion. This is most apparent during sequences where the entire cast seems to be moving in motions dictated by reduced time. It’s like some kind of performance art momentarily transported across space and time as the cast lifts chairs and tables in super slow motion.

The stage itself has two revolving concentric circles. Sometimes the inner circle is stationary while the outer circle slowly spins like a Lazy Susan. Combine the circular motion with the actors’ own moonwalking and breakdance movements and it’s a sight to behold. The entire synchronization, abetted by razor sharp lighting cues, constantly amazes.

“Hamilton” runs in an exclusive engagement at the Hobby Center until Sunday, March 20.


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