Few shows have arrived on Broadway with the hype that accompanies Hamilton, the new musical inspired by author Ron Chernow's biography of one of America’s instrumental founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who immigrated from the West Indies as a teenager; the contribution of immigrants to the young country is a key theme in the musical, and one which obviously is still making headlines today. The musical begins in the 1770s, after Hamilton’s arrival in America, and the first act mostly revolves around Hamilton's role as a top aide to Washington in the Revolutionary War, while Act Two covers the early days of the American Republic, including the Washington administration, in which Hamilton was the first Treasure Secretary, and Hamilton’s death in 1804 as the result of his infamous duel with Aaron Burr.Hamilton was greeted by rave reviews during its sold out run earlier this year at the Public Theater, and it has now moved uptown to Broadway, where it already has advanced ticket sales of reportedly over $30 million. It can often lead to a letdown when expectations for a show are so high; fortunately, that is not the case with Hamilton, which not only lives up to expectations but even manages to exceed them. This is a remarkable, landmark musical that is stirring, intellectually stimulating, and ultimately quite moving. It also boasts a brilliant staging and superb performances.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and starred in the hit musical In the Heights, does the same for Hamilton; he wrote the book, music, and lyrics, as well as starring as Hamilton. There is real genius in Manuel's creative work on Hamilton. The musical is mostly sung through, and its excellent score ranges from hip hop to R&B to pop. While there is a good amount of hip hop, Manuel has also written some beautiful melodies. Yes, our founding fathers have rap numbers, including policy debates, and they work in telling the story. A cabinet meeting rap debate between Hamilton and Jefferson is particularly effective. What Manuel has done so exceptionally is using modern sensibilities and vernacular to tell an important historical story, making it all more relevant and topical. The intelligent, dazzling, and often witty lyrics literally cascade upon the audience in a dense style, and some lyrics, as a result, will be missed. But it also results in imparting an enormous amount of information to the audience, plus considerable dramatic power and urgency. It is a musical with an epic sweep and scope, painted on a huge canvass with enormous skill.
Miranda is aided by a magnificent, exquisite staging from Director Thomas Kail, as well as stunning choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, resulting in a show that is a visual feast. The entire staging is fluid and natural, with the cast in almost perpetual motion.
Another of Hamilton's conceits is having the Founding Fathers played by a diverse, multi racial cast. Miranda creates a fully developed character as Hamilton, a brilliant, forceful, strong willed but flawed man who was so important in building the young country. His supporting cast is equally talented and terrific, especially Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, who Hamilton became friendly with at the start of the show. Odom has one of the best numbers in the Act Two showstopper, "The Room Where It Happned." Daveed Diggs stands out in dual roles as Lafayette in Act One and Thomas Jefferson in Act Two. Phillipa Soo shines as Hamilton's wife, as does Renee Elise Goldsberry as her sister. And, Jonathan Groff almost steals the show in his brief appearances as King George III -- he is petulant, mischievous, and very funny, plus a fine singer.
It did take a few minutes to adjust to Hamilton's style and get into its rhythm. But it quickly draws the audience in with its masterful storytelling and sensational production. Miranda has made American history come alive and totally theatrical, resulting in a hip as well as entertaining history lesson. He emerges from Hamilton as one of the most influential players, and perhaps the next great creative force, in musical theater. - James Miller
Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.