Review: Hamilton Is Genius. Yeah, I said it. Genius.
Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, August 7, 2015
I saw Hamilton back in its infancy at the Public Theater, before the avalanche of praise had reached full behemoth size. I thought it was incredible. I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was genius.
But in the intervening months, I though maybe I was wrong. Could it really be that good? Now that I had been told (and told, and told) that it was the second coming of Christ combined with the invention of penicillin, I started to doubt. Yes, forgive me Lin-Manuel, I had doubts.
I’m so pleased to say it’s even better than I remembered.
Hamilton, which opened last night at the Richard Rogers Theatre, is something entirely new to Broadway. And also something entirely old. Like Oklahoma, which brought character development into lyric and dance, or Company, which introduced us to the plot-less concept musical, Hamilton takes the form to a new place, using the musical genres of today to tell a story of long ago.
Hip hop founding fathers? R&B Aaron Burr? Brit pop King George? It all works. Like I said, genius.
But using the current musical language to tell a story is exactly what musicals did for a very long time. Up until the ‘60s arrived, and hijacked popular music, the songs you heard on the radio, and the songs you hummed while you worked, were the songs from hit musicals. We’ve all heard the complaint that you don’t leave the theater humming any more. Well, you’ll leave Hamilton humming. And teary-eyed. And in awe that someone – Lin-Manuel Miranda in this case – can conceive of, write, and star in something so moving, so compelling, so…well, genius.
And it all makes sense. The people on the stage playing the great men and women of the time – revolutionaries all – are the modern-day equivalent of those scrappy, rebellious, founding mothers and fathers of back then. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian – these are the people of the streets, people with something different to say, with a different way to think. And they are speaking and singing in a new and modern way, just like those dead white guys did in their time.
Hamilton wasn’t a member of the elite. He didn’t come from a titled English family, with a hefty bank balance and a posse of in-the-know pals. He was a penniless, orphaned immigrant, the child of an unwed mother, born in the Caribbean. He came to our shores as a teenager, a man-boy in a hurry to make his mark, “young, scrappy, and hungry” as the song says, “just like our country.” And he was not throwing away his shot.
It’s a brilliant (there’s that word again) intertwining of casting, spirit, and language that makes the show succeed, forcing us to feel the energy of a revolutionary time by using the spirit, song, and people of today.
In a boatload of performers who play their parts (often multiple) brilliantly, Leslie Odom Jr. as Hamilton’s life-long frenemy Aaron Burr, stands out. His combination of admiration, envy, and frustration and the energy he brings to the big showstopper of the evening – “The Room Where It Happens” –convey perfectly the complexity of his character, and turns what could easily have been a stock bad guy into a troubled, sympathetic human being.
The thing I find so moving about the show is that it is, in the final analysis, also deeply patriotic. These men and women felt powerfully about the nation we were building. They were passionate, ready to fight, ready, also, to die. We feel their urgency, as Hamilton brings new life to an old story. This is not your high school history lesson.
It’s just another example of the remarkable combination of retro-modern, old-and-new, circle turning and turning into itself, that makes Hamilton so amazing. That makes it, yes, genius.
Music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow; directed by Thomas Kail; 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.
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).
For the latest news and reviews on theater in New York City and beyond click here.
For a listing of Broadway shows click here.