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Review: HAMILTON at Des Moines Performing Arts

Don't throw away your shot to see this amazing production through June 5.

Hamilton (Philip Company)
Cast of Hamilton
Photo by Joan Marcus

One of the great things about theatre is the stories it allows us to tell. It doesn't seem like it would work when you first hear the story "Hamilton" and how it is being told. The show has proved that notion wrong since 2015 when it took New York and the country by storm. When it first came to Des Moines in 2018, it sold out within just a few hours. "Hamilton" made its triumphant return to Des Moines on May 17 for another limited run through June 5. While tickets are still available, the nightly audiences have been packed.
What makes "Hamilton" so successful? Is it the casting, the music, the story, or is it a combination of everything? The show starts with Aaron Burr leading the cast in telling the story of Hamilton growing up in the Caribbean, and eventually immigrating to the US, where he became one of the founding fathers. As the story continues, we see his rise to the Secretary of the Treasury, the affair that became his downfall, and his eventual death in a duel with Aaron Burr. For me, what makes the story successful on stage is that it shows the impact that people had on his life and lets us see the legacy he left.
One of the great parts of seeing shows like Hamilton multiple times is how you notice different parts of the show. That can be from where you are sitting. The first time I saw the tour, I was sitting up close and could see some of the details of the fantastic costumes, but I wasn't able to see the turntable. This time I got to sit further back. While I couldn't see as many of the small details, I was able to take in the whole story the show is presenting. So the elements of storytelling used throughout the show hit me differently.
Sitting further back, I could better take in the brilliant staging and storytelling that came through Thomas Kail's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography. There is a beauty in how the show flows seamlessly between blocked and choreographed scenes. Another aspect of the show I was able to take in and appreciate in a new way is the lighting by Howell Binkly. One of my favorite moments that I hadn't caught before was at the beginning of "Right Hand Man." As the song starts, we see blue lights enveloping the stage to give us the feeling that we are at the harbor seeing the water rise. While it's a subtle lighting change, it has a huge impact on the story being told on stage at the time and provides a great transition.
While this show is visually stunning to watch, it wouldn't be the same without the excellent cast that we get to see on stage. We had two sensational performances with Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Alexander Hamilton and Jared Dixon as Aaron Burr. Each of them brings their own flair to the roles. It was also fun seeing Ta'rea Campbell, Marcus Choi, and Elijah Malcomb return to the Civic Center Stage in the roles they were playing the last time the tour came through. One of the night's biggest surprises for me was seeing Elijah Macomb's journey as Philip Hamilton. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him take the character from the youthfulness of a child to the adult that lost his life standing up for his father.
Some of my favorite moments came seeing actors' interpretations of their roles in ways I hadn't seen before. One of those came in Stephanie Jae Park's interpretation of Eliza Hamilton. I was surprised at how I found myself relating to her character this time. She brought an awkwardness to the Ball where she and Alexander meet that I could emphasize with. It drew me into her character's story in a way I had not been drawn in before. Another fantastic performance came from Warren Egypt Franklin as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson. While he gave an outstanding performance as Lafayette, he stole the show in the most positive way in his performance as Thomas Jefferson. It was one of the most energetic and charismatic takes on the character I had seen.
Whether it is your first time seeing Hamilton, or your return to the show, you won't want to throw away your shot to see this fantastic production. The way the elements of directing, choreography, lighting, and cast come together to tell a story will have you drawn in from the moment the show starts to the breath Eliza takes at the end of the show. This return engagement is only here for a limited time, and tickets are selling fast. To find out more about the show or to purchase tickets, visit the link below.

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