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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 23, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 08
Hamilton's OK by me
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Hamilton's OK by me

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

HAMILTON
Paramount Theatre
Through March 18


There are a lot of different reasons to appreciate or even to love Hamilton: the crazy public scramble for tickets, the hype, the panic, the draw for middle schoolers who don't even care for musicals who ask to learn its songs, or the thousands of regular people suddenly interested in one of our less well-known founding fathers and a few of his contemporaneous buddies. It's a phenomenon that has rejuvenated an interest in musical theater so much more deeply into the wider culture than Broadway has been penetrating in recent years.

The production of the show is beloved for being 'sung through' in almost entirely Hip Hop and Rap style lyrics, with sides of jazz and Broadway sprinkled over the top. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda's longing to change the American Songbook has been a crowning achievement of this score.

Then there are the deliberate choices that upend most of the standard tropes in casting, choosing performers of color for almost every role, including those like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington who were slave owners, pointing out the irony without ever uttering a word in the script.

There may be many reading these words who will feel that tickets to the second national tour, which opened here in Seattle at the beginning of February, are completely out of reach, or that trying for one pair of the 20 pairs of lotteried tickets ($10 per ticket) each performance is too hard to win. We all know that eventually there will be another production to see, even if it's because we wait for the regional theaters to get rights or the thousandth tour comes through and tickets come back down to earth in price.

As a production, the musical has aspects of genius - the lyrics are dense and complex and have internal rhyming schemes and contrapuntal characterizations, the choreography combines aspects of modern dance/Broadway style/Fosse/rock-and-roll and emphasizes the emotional rollercoaster of the script - and many aspects are more totally thought about than meet the eye. But it is by no means flawless.

We've heard so much about Hamilton that the sheer excitement of actually getting a ticket to the show is a function of the event itself! After it's over, do you feel the same level of excitement? Maybe many do. I wasn't quite as enthralled. It's good! It's&LONG! Reading reviews from the earliest days, that was a critique from the very beginning. It's three hours! Truthfully, it kind of wore me out.

So much history is packed into the show that sometimes an incident is recognized in one line - or even half of one. It goes by really quickly, pacing-wise. The sound system at the Paramount does not do this show much service. It's mushy. If you have time, go online and find the lyrics and read them. You will be glad you did.

Also, the women in the show are crucial, but only in service of Hamilton's life. Yes, everyone is in service to Hamilton's life, but many of the famous men do get quirks and recognition of their own. The three Schuyler sisters are introduced as all in love with Hamilton. It's like their claim to fame - but there is much more than meets that eye to find in history. Additionally, Angelica and Eliza actually get to have relationships with Hamilton and the youngest, Peggy, just gets to be in love with him and she's about done. Her character doubles as Maria, the woman who has an affair with him.

Another overall impression is that the second act tends to be slower and sadder since all the worst things happen in it: the duel that kills Philip, the duel that kills Hamilton, and the revelation that Eliza (Elizabeth Hamilton) is the keeper of his legacy and the teller of his story for years after. And that's about where it ends! On a downer note. While I would not expect some funny, upbeat dance rap, I do feel like I would have liked a shot of some energetic singing, summary, SOMEthing to give me some energy to get out the door and go home with.

The choreography is relentless. There is always a lot to see. For a first time viewer, it may be too much. Yes, the ensemble dancers/chorus functions as a 'Greek' chorus in witnessing and commenting on his behaviors, but sometimes you might wish they weren't so present!

After seeing the show, I have learned about how many more layers there are to everything and I learned that there is a dancer named The Bullet. A female dancer appears as a harbinger of death and in the crucial moment when Burr shoots Hamilton, she holds her fingers an inch and a half apart and 'becomes' the Bullet that kills him! However, if you didn't know anything about there being such a dancer, there is likely no way you could pick her out in first viewing!

Of course this points to the idea that there is so much more you can get out of subsequent attendings, but given the ticket prices and how hard it is to get to see it once, that seems rather remote!

Now I must comment on this particular cast and their execution. The women who play Angelica and Eliza are wonderful. Ta'Rea Campbell and Shoba Narayan are at the top of their game. So, too, is Kyle Scatliffe as Lafayette/Jefferson. You might have seen him at the 5th Avenue Theatre doing his best Jud in Oklahoma while consternation rained around him about a black man being cast as the bad guy in an otherwise very white cast. In this production, he shows wit, comedy, agility and arrogant strutting as Jefferson.

Marcus Choi is George Washington. He has a low-key manner in this, and in some ways sets himself apart from more animated actors. But when he comes to the moment where he tells Hamilton that he is saying 'goodbye,' that moment becomes filled with meaning and gravitas. It is revealed as such a key moment in the formation of our political system and how important it is that we change leaders every few years, unlike so many monarchies and dictatorships.

The small but choice role of King George is Jon Patrick Walker who was a joy to see in a beautifully written role. King George's song is the most like earworm music this musical has.

Nik Walker as Burr does his best to position himself as the villain and the 'failure' of this story. His main difficulty is that Joseph Morales is the actor playing Hamilton and, unfortunately, Morales is not really able to pull off this role properly. Hamilton in this play is a tricky and complicated role and calls for many unusual aspects. Two of them are clear passion and charisma.

We must care about Hamilton and want him to win, even as we wince at some of his poorer choices. If we don't, this play becomes like a very long Wikipedia entry. We must see his passion and zest for life in addition to his ability to thrive in some very unexpected ways. His verbal acuity swayed men's emotions and politics, after all.

Morales seems like he's trying to be a copy of Lin-Manuel Miranda in a kind of meticulous and uninspired way. He knows the show well and has been in it many times, likely, in the 'Chicago' version. He raps well. He sings less well. He seems outclassed by other leads in the production. He might be charismatic in a rehearsal room, thirty feet away from viewers, but his energy did not translate off the stage into a 3,000-seat auditorium.

All that is to say that I appreciate that Hamilton exists, I've learned a lot more about it after I saw it, which is kind of fun, and it was certainly an 'Experience!' So, Hamilton is OK by me.

For more information, go to www.stgpresents.org or try for the lottery at http://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery.

Discuss your opinions with SGNCritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters. More articles can be found at MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com.

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