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Review: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Back HAMILTON Musical to Costa Mesa

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical makes triumphant return with AndPeggy Tour

Review: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Back HAMILTON Musical to Costa Mesa
Photo by ©Joan Marcus

Any avid theatergoer---including this one---will tell you that nothing can compare to seeing a stage show live and in the flesh versus watching it at home on your TV or, worse, a handheld device.

While, sure, the world has now been blessed with a stunning 4K-mastered, beautifully-captured live performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece HAMILTON: An American Musical---featuring Miranda himself and the original lead Broadway cast---that's available to stream any time on Disney+, the thrill of seeing this historically-inspired hip-hop opus performed live, whether on Broadway, the West End, or in a city near you is still the best way to experience this work of undeniable genius.

But for those of us who've already seen it on stage once or even multiple times before, how does the show hold up today? Now that we've seemingly come back from the worst days of the pandemic, and now that the initial FOMO-induced, must-see hype of its early years has quieted down, is revisiting HAMILTON again in the room where it happens still live up to its hyperbolic expectations?

The answer, at least for myself, while witnessing the recent Opening Night performance of the show's And Peggy Tour company at Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa---where it will continue through October 16---is a very resounding yes.

Even with an entirely new ensemble of actors---all giving some fresh acting and vocal interpretations to their respective (and now iconic) roles--- the inescapable power and purpose of the show remains intact, making HAMILTON, in 2022, still a must-see theatrical event that needs to be experienced in person to be truly appreciated.

The very cool machination behind the production, of course, is its deliberate notion of revisiting the history behind the building of early America by using the sounds, rhythms, and faces of today's America, as it depicts the life of orphaned immigrant-turned-founding father Alexander Hamilton---a guy that, arguably, wasn't as well-known or talked about before this musical came out.

I mean, besides being the handsome face on the $10 bill and being featured in a memorable "Got Milk?" Ad campaign that recounts his death-by-duel against Aaron Burr, how much does the average lay person really know about him? Luckily for the musical theater world (and now beyond), Miranda saw something in Hamilton's narrative worthy enough to devote making him the central figure in the follow up to his debut musical IN THE HEIGHTS.

Enriched with detailed, multi-layered contextual storytelling, cleverly-constructed rhymes, and well-orchestrated emotional highs and lows, HAMILTON is a riveting, and ultimately uplifting history lesson that still fiercely resonates, most especially as it is juxtaposed against today's even more divisive geopolitics. Though many have criticized the show for its loose liberties on historical accuracy, Miranda---an artist at his core---chose to utilize his artistic license to better present the subject matter for a modern-day theatrical audience... and it absolutely works. In his hands, the show makes history come alive with a fervor and intensity that mimics the very nature of its subject matter.

Armed with Ron Chernow's comprehensive, heavily researched biography of Hamilton as source material and combined with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop/R&B and classic Broadway musical touchstones, Miranda has created a palpable, soul-stirring work of art that bridges then ignites the pleasure centers of musical theater audiences from multiple generations.

As a musicalized stage play, it is riveting at every corner. As an all sung/rapped-through show, it earns your rapt attention, even as it spills out a rapid conveyer belt of political and insider drama. Alexander Hamilton, it seems, is one of the most complex figures in our nation's early history---a brilliant but intensely flawed man who grew up from very little, prompting him to spend the remainder of his life obsessing over raising his rank so that he may leave behind a lasting legacy.

So, yes, he's a real-life figure definitely earmarked for a showtune showcase or, in Miranda's intuitive assessment, a rags-to-riches-to-tragedy hip-hop ascension narrative.

As a traditionally-structured classic musical, HAMILTON feels right at home alongside the works of Sondheim, Schwartz, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. As a showcase for hip-hop/R&B music for both aficionados and audiences that may not traditionally be fans of the genre, the show places its musical styles on an absorbing, well-deserved pedestal.

Right away, one can surmise that Miranda has a scholarly command of the influences that went into the material. There are so many pointed references to classic hip-hop and even contemporary R&B that HAMILTON often feels like a throwback to my younger days listening to R&B radio stations at home or on the road.

The musical offers unmistakable ear candy homages to everything from LL Cool J, Brandy and Monica, and Jay-Z to DMX, Beyoncé, and the Notorious B.I.G. among others---but then also wonderfully mixes in musical theater staples like PIRATES OF PENZANCE, SWEENEY TODD and SOUTH PACIFIC to contemporary works like THE LAST FIVE YEARS and WICKED. I gotta say HAMILTON for me---first as a Broadway Cast Album then, later, as a fully-realized stage show---is the best melding of my two favorite music genres that have been combined into one show.

Review: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Back HAMILTON Musical to Costa Mesa
Photo by ©Joan Marcus

Thoughtfully directed by Thomas Kail, HAMILTON mesmerizes the audience with its energetic efficiency, using its ensemble's talents to dramatize its events as organically and zig-zagging as the free-flowing of rhymes that they dispel. In David Korin's now iconic wood-and-brick set, the show's backdrop evokes a perpetually under construction structure that's both a revelatory work in progress as well as a location that's on the brink of destruction. An always-active stage turntable keeps things on the move, and is paired with the stunning lighting work of Howell Binkley that creates various spaces and moments.

Paul Tazewell's colorful colonial costumes look like they've been purposely kissed by modern sensibilities even though their patterns may feel authentically vintage. Meanwhile, Andy Blankenbuehler's lyrical, hypnotic choreography gives the show a dynamic backdrop of dancers that swirl their way into the action as if their slight movements have a significant hand in what transpires for the characters in the foreground. There's one particular moment in the end that stuns me every time: when a pair of dancers suddenly drop to the edge of the turntable and mimic the movements of a pair of men rowing a boat. I don't know why but just that particular movement takes my breath away every time.

Happily, the show's prime directive---to feature a diverse set of actors of color in the lead roles---is still very much in practice in this new national tour ensemble, continuing to offer up an historically-based story told by the voices and faces of our America today.

This link from the present to the past is what gives HAMILTON a groundbreaking edge that not many other shows can truly boast. Here, the early architects and citizens of the dawning America are proudly seen portrayed by various ethnicities, which, in turn, not only allows for the story to take on a universal quality, but also allows for modern mouthpieces to seamlessly perform these contemporary musical compositions.

So "who tells this story" this time around?

Though I do have fond memories of tours past (and the OG cast reunited for the Disney+ live capture), this fresh sets of voices in the "And Peggy" tour are worth your attention as well.

As the title role, Deaundre' Woods is an excellent A. Ham, blessed with an equal talent for singing and rapping that also envelopes his portrait of the scrappy/hungry founding father very well. Donald Webber, Jr.'s portrait of Hamilton's frenemy Aaron Burr is replete with palpable pride and envious vulnerability (his "Wait For It" is incredible, too). I was pleasantly surprised by the commanding presence of Darnell Abraham whose turn as George Washington made me sit up and take notice, particularly because of his earth-shaking deep baritone voice.

The female leads in the show, however, are the true MVPs. I loved Morgan Anita Wood's vocal and acting choices as Eliza Schuyler, many of which either made me smile or made me shed some tears (her "Burn" sounded amazing). I was also super impressed with both Marja Harmon's superb portrayal of Eliza's older sis Angelica (her riffs on "Satisfied" are just stunning) as well as Rebecca E. Covington's double roles of innocent Peggy Schuyler and seductive Maria Reynolds (the latter of which allowed her to displays some amazing vocal stylings).

Also worth noting are Paris Nix's devilishly humorous Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson; scene-stealer Brandon Louis Armstrong as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison; Jared Howelton's adorkable portraits of John Laurens and Alexander's son Philip; and, of course, Rick Negron's hilarious turn as King George.

While some of the male cast members tend to understandably over-stylize their delivery to make the role their own, this over-enthusiasm sometimes renders their rapped lyrics indecipherable, particularly during sections that have them trading rapid-fire barbs between one another. Fortunately, much of that bravado doesn't impede too often from the forward trajectory of the story, but I do recommend audiences give a listen to the original cast album before or after seeing the show in case you miss(ed) some deliciously well-written bon mots from Miranda.

Now my fourth time seeing the show, I found myself still in awe: I laughed, I cried, I went home re-affected. The show is undeniably of intelligent design, with every detail and nuance crafted with maximum creativity and forethought. Is it perfect? Probably not.... But it's quite possibly near that. But like other ubiquitous stage shows before it, HAMILTON will no doubt continue to enchant, provoke, and inspire for many viewings to come.


Performances of HAMILTON - AN AMERICAN MUSICAL continue at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through October 16, 2022. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.

Photos by Joan Marcus.



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