Theater Review: HAMILTON (North American Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on September 29, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours


A hip-hop Alexander Hamilton? A beat-box Father of His Country? A jumping James Madison and a jiveass Jefferson who disses bigtime in a poetry slam? The ten-dollar bill will never be the same (or the dollar note for that matter). A sassy-spunky 2015 blast from the past set to irresistible rhythms, Hamilton is a wildly successful revamp (or reclamation) by Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of In the Heights). It feels as revolutionary as the war it covers and as bold as the new nation it celebrates.

A money maker about the credit-worthy man who made our money (our first treasury secretary, co-author of The Federalist Papers, and deal-maker for a strong government and centralized economy), Hamilton is indefinitely invincible in this stop at Segerstrom Hall as part of a North American Tour.

Rapping and rampaging in set designer David Korins’ big barn with wooden walkways and revolving stage, all but dancing to Howell Binkley’s wizard lighting, Miranda’s makeover finds its heartbeat in “(I’m Not Going to Lose) My Shot” (darkly ironic, considering Hamilton’s demise). This is Hamilton’s declaration of independence as a hopeful, hungry seeker of newly minted glory, driven by a destiny he carves himself. Everything old is new again as we learn “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

DeAundre’ Woods tackles the title role with combustible ambition, climbing notes and surmounting obstacles from 1776 to 1800. Along Miranda’s “green brick road” we meet Hamilton’s true if tried helpmate Eliza (lovely Morgan Anita Wood), his surrogate dad George Washington (Darnell Abraham), his ally Madison (Brandon Louis Armstrong), his opportunistic foil Burr (Donald Webber, Jr.), and his ideological foe Thomas Jefferson (Paris Nix). (John Adams, who HBO covered well enough, does not appear.) Keeping it huge as well as real, Miranda includes a sardonically clueless George III (Rick Negron), a stalwart Marquis de Lafayette (Nix), Hamilton’s cut-from-the-same-cloth teenage son Philip (Manuel Stark Santos), and Angelica Schuyler (Marja Harmon), Hamilton’s sustaining Muse and sister-in-law. Some actors are still working on diction, others were heard perfectly.

Drawing from Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, the action contrasts private and public happenings to show how, more than politics, history is local. Hamilton seems as much the subtle strategist who became G.W.’s “right hand man” as the skilled suitor to the Schuyler sisters, as much a comer (“History Has Its Eyes on You”) as a marked man (“The World Was Wide Enough”).

Radiating pluck and luck, opposing Northern interests to Southern subversion, Woods’ Hamilton is a dogged campaigner, whether negotiating affaires d’honneur (“Ten Duel Commandments”); intriguing for advantage (“Cabinet Battle”); forging a difference (“The Room Where It Happens”); admitting to bribing an irate husband to cover an adulterous affair (“The Reynolds Pamphlet”); or simply settling for some short serenity (“That Would Be Enough”). Paralleling the ardor of his once and future victim with his own aching aspirations, Mr. Webber, Jr.’s Burr (“Wait for It”), himself an orphan, fits Hamilton as Javert does Jean Valjean. Ms. Woods incarnates heartbreak in Eliza’s pop anthem “Burn.” No Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, the ensemble is game for fame.

You can fault Miranda’s fascination with a flawed hero to rewrite the story a bit — but, hey, this is the land of Musical Comedy: No bronze statue in the making, Hamilton was not opposed to slavery. A closet elitist, he was no pal to democracy, despising the mob and cultivating fellow plutocrats. It’s strange that Hamilton was decisive in making his arch adversary Thomas Jefferson our third president: Miranda’s ire at the adulterous slave owner stops him from acknowledging the populist fervor of a virtuous Virginian. (For more dicrepensies to the story, see the displays in the lobby.)

But, pulsating to Andy Klankenbuehler’s kinetic choreography, Hamilton is a “non-stop” Pulitzer and Tony-winning musical, not a political testament. A nearly three-hour amusement ride, this is America as seen from the future, not projected from the past. Thomas Kail’s faithful staging squeezes the juices from Miranda’s R&B magic-making. When it’s not S.R.O. (which it was on opening night), there will be dancing in the aisles. It’s impossible not to be caught up in the sheer anti-boredom of it all, thrill-making 21st-century theatricality to rechristen the republic.

photos by Joan Marcus

reviewed at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive Costa Mesa
Tues-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1 & 7
ends on October 16, 2022 at Segerstrom
for tickets, call (714) 556-2787 or visit SCFTA
tour continues; for dates and cities, visit Hamilton

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