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BWW Review: HAMILTON at Shea's Buffalo

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Ingenuity At It's Finest

BWW Review: HAMILTON at Shea's Buffalo

HAMILTON and it's brilliant company have taken up residence at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through January 2nd and this theatrical phenomenon deserves to be seen by one and all. The ingenuity that pervades the entire production combines a modern day sensibility and color blind casting that always seems befitting without feeling gimmicky.

What best can be described as America's first successful rap-opera is full of remarkable creativity that has not been seen on the Broadway stage in decades. With book, music and lyrics all by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the story of Alexander Hamilton is presented in such a way that audiences are almost taken aback by what they are witnessing. After his successful IN THE HEIGHTS, Mr. Miranda has conceived of the unimaginable-- a story told entirely with rap and hip hop music, lacking any traditional dialogue. Thus my suggestion of classifying this an "opera" or "sung through musical." Accepting that rap and hip hop are truly musical genres may seem contrary to traditionalist views on musical theatre, but remembering the effects of rock music in the rock opera TOMMY, it is not unheard of to bring other musical forms onto the Broadway stage. Miranda proves to be a remarkable wordsmith, finding genius rhyming schemes that are simple but often brilliant.

Besides creating the entire piece, Mr. Miranda also played the title character in the original Broadway production, which won numerous Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. His concept employs everything and anything that seems unconventional. Costuming by Paul Tazewell has nods to traditional 18th century garb, but include sleeveless shirts, tight tights and a charmingly shocking color palette of jewel tones for the principal's costumes. Hair styles are purely 21st century and oddly work towards melding the Revolutionary War with urban street wear.

A plethora of history is poured into the first 20 minutes of the show and it takes a while to become accustomed to the speed in which the text is delivered, to say nothing of it's rap patterns. And just when you think it is simply rap-dialogue, it turns into an accompanied song. The brilliant and Tony Award winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler has created a new dance style in which the entire ensemble is a huge part of the story telling, including backup singing and then fully integrating them into the scene changes. No one simply walks around the stage at any time, but is choreographed to strut with a nod to the Fosse style, with angular contortions that weave hip hop with Broadway moves. Mr Blankenbuehler's anachronistic choreography is so innovative and entrancing that is becomes difficult to decipher where it ends and direction by Thomas Kail begins. This is not a criticism, but a compliment to both gentlemen. Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire supports the songs when needed and then brilliantly gets time to shine in the most unusual of places. In ACT II's "The Room Where it Happens" the company raps during congressional negotiations with fascinating and unexpected brass contrapuntal interjections.

Kail has a huge working area in which to work, with the scenic design by David Korins. Multiple levels of rough hewn wooden platforms and mobile staircases, backed by brick walls and large ropes allow multiple playing areas. The use of a centralized turntable allows for the most graceful of scene changes and creative staging opportunities. With the aid of subtle lighting by Howell Binkley, intimate interior home scenes can contrast with war scenes. Telling the story of our of America's forefathers may not be easy, but with the quick pace of rap, we learn of Hamilton's immigration to the US as a young man, his quest for a political life, in addition to his personal foibles. He marries one of three sisters, but carries on an alleged long distance affair with another of them. His infidelities almost lead to his downfall, as he is blackmailed for a secret affair with a neighbor that becomes public knowledge. His tenacious spirit, as well as his inherent smarts become clear as he creates the US Financial system.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez is Alexander Hamilton, himself being a near dead ringer to Miranda. He seamlessly transitions from rap to full on singing while commanding the stage at all times. Mr Gonzalez takes on the challenging role with aplomb- no easy feat for a character that is highly educated and politically brilliant but prone to many bad decisions in his private life . He is plagued with relationship issues, to say nothing of decisions that lead to the death of his son and himself, both dying by duels gone wrong.

The role of Aaron Burr, Hamilton's rival, was played by multi-talented Jared Dixon. This fascinating character oozes confidence and was the perfect foil to Hamilton. Both men strived for higher positions, but Burr is much more diplomatic than the loud and talkative Hamilton. Mr. Dixon gives a powerful portrayal of the statesman. Marcus Choi as George Washington is every bit the father of our country, forceful and diplomatic. Choi has a powerhouse voice that delighted the audience

Clarence native Neil Haskell near stole every scene in which he appears as the foppish King George. Dressed in regal red and gold , his character could have been based on a 1975 Elton John. His commentary on Hamilton's story was both funny and ironic, as both men had to deal with multiple obstacles throughout their careers. His show stopper song "You'll Be Back" rings more of a musical comedy number, but Miranda brilliantly adds some "da da da dat da" in the chorus, that can be thought of as George's own attempt at rap.

The famous Schuyler sisters are composed of Angelica (Ta'Rea Campbell), Peggy (Paige Smallwood), and Eliza (Meecah). Hamilton marries Eliza but has the affair with Angelica. Ms. Campbell brings a strong forthright portrayal of the scorned sister who still is protective of Eliza, and sings with a strong penetrating voice. Meecah is enchanting as Mrs. Hamilton, with a regal bearing. She gives a heartbreaking performance as the beloved wife who must endure her husband's infidelities as well as the death of a child. Her strong singing voice beautifully anchored the finale.

Warren Egypt Franklin plays double duty as Marquis De Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. He moves with a sinuous grace and his portrayal of both are enthralling. When Jefferson, Washington and Hamilton convene and grab hand held microphones to state their political views, the immediacy of their amplified voices is all the more powerful

History laden musicals may sound like unusual commodities, but the Tony Award winning "1776" fully succeeding in it's telling America's independence from England. Today audiences continue to learn more of their forefathers than was simply told in grammar school. Miranda's brilliant new style of storytelling allows Alexander Hamilton's life to unfold as people open their minds and embrace the creativity put into this ground breaking musical.

HAMILTON plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through January 2, 20211. Contact sheas.org for more information


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From This Author Michael Rabice