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Review: After Covid and the Insurrection, HAMILTON Resonates More Deeply in its TPAC Return

Review: After Covid and the Insurrection, HAMILTON Resonates More Deeply in its TPAC Return

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Epic Masterpiece Continues its Nashville Run Through August 7

Hamilton (Angelica Company)

When Lin-Manuel Miranda's epic masterpiece Hamilton was last in residence at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center - where it is now ensconced for an as equally anticipated, if briefer, two-week run through August 7 - the world was a far different place than that in which we live today. Yet somehow, due in very large part to the Covid-19 pandemic, the January 6th insurrection at our nation's Capitol, and the repercussions and reverberations of those two cataclysmic events that have followed in the intervening two-and-a-half years, Hamilton seems to be more resonant, its story more relevant and its presentation more heartrending and current than ever before.

As the stories of Alexander Hamilton and other American revolutionaries unfold onstage, you cannot help but be hyper-aware of the very precariousness of our society and the fragility of our democracy - something brought so vividly to life on our viewing screens during the insurrection of 2021 - and the dreams that were brought to fruition more than 250 years ago with the establishment of the United States of America, a country which has provided a beacon of hope for millions across the globe since its inception.

Hamilton (Angelica Company)For me personally, as someone for whom theater has always provided a respite from the real world with its promise of a better, more hospitable and equitable one, seeing Hamilton onstage again in Nashville is a reminder that it was the last show I reviewed before theater, for all intents and purposes, went dark in the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic. Thus, Hamilton represents so much more than just another musical in the personal repository of shows I love. Rather, it is emblematic of everything I believe about the power and the possibility of live theater and what this country means to me in my heart of hearts.

The world over, Hamilton continues to forge its own unique history while attracting new audiences via the ethereal and ephemeral magic of musical theater, setting new standards for theatrical storytelling and introducing new forms of artistic expression that solidifies its place in the canon of classic American musical theater. Based on Ron Chernow's best-selling biography of Alexander Hamilton (the American revolutionary and statesman who was born in the British West Indies before immigrating to America where he subsequently authored the bulk of the Federalist Papers, established the financial system that continues to function today, and founded the U.S. Coast Guard), Hamilton brings a cadre of "founding fathers" to life with aplomb and commitment, using its art to introduce whole new generations of people to specific moments in American history and, likewise, in the evolution of American musical theater.

Directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton in its debut represented not only a seismic shift in the evolution of the musical itself, but also in the production of a musical, fusing together myriad creative and aesthetic processes of movement, design and technology that creates the production's aesthetic, which arguably is as equally astonishing as Manuel's exquisitely conceived music, lyrics and book. Consequently, it creates an immersive experience which involves audiences in a myriad of ways, ensuring that the impact of the show is more resonant and deeply felt.

Hamilton (Angelica Company)Aesthetically, Hamilton remains a collection of wondrous creativity: the soaring brick walls of David Korin's evocative scenic design appear to recreate the New York City of the mid- to late-18th century with a graphic intensity that underscores the various themes and ideas expressed in Miranda's script, while Howell Binkley's stunning lighting design illuminates everything - from the scenery and set pieces to the very story being told - with expert precision and gorgeous artistry. Paul Tazewell's costumes not only capture the sense of the pre- and post-Revolutionary era in America, but they help to further delineate the class differences (and, let's face it, Tazewell transforms frock coats, puffy shirts and silk knee breeches into surprisingly sensual, even sexy, garments) among the characters represented, as well as helping audiences to identify who's who in the story and, in turn, to help evaluate their historic impact. Nevin Steinberg's sound design ensures a total aural experience for audiences, while conductors Patrick Fanning and Kat Sherrell and their orchestra play Miranda's score (which further advances the role of rap and hip-hop as musical theatre idioms, while also featuring lush "showtunes" and ballads that advance the plotline effortlessly in the manner of the perceived masters of the art) with consummate skill. The production features musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, that bring the music to life with expressive passion.

Kail's direction delivers a production that moves fluidly and seamlessly - yet never hurried - from its opening moments to its emotional closing ones. The onstage action seems particularly cinematic in the way the story unfolds, and Kail's deft directorial hand is almost mesmerizingly unobtrusive. With the addition and lift of Blankenbuehler's electrifying choreography - virtually every moment seems choreographed with attention to every possible detail imagined - Kail's direction ensures that Hamilton exerts its emotional impact without leaving a mark (think of Carousel's Louise Bigelow telling her mother Julie about being slapped, but never feeling its physical manifestation and you'll understand the effect to which I refer), yet it resounds and reverberates in the heart for an eternity.

Hamilton (Angelica Company)Blankenbuehler's choreography creates a new vernacular for musical theater movement that is no less as seminal as Miranda's book, music and lyrics, exhibiting an athletic virility that keeps the production's remarkable ensemble in near-constant motion. Every movement seems perfectly timed as it is elegantly performed by the always-moving cast. There seems to be no extraneous, unrehearsed movement, but everything happens with great purpose and profound meaning.

With the creation of Hamilton, Miranda - who first made theatrical history with his much more personal work in In The Heights - joins the pantheon of musical theater composers who have become revered for their artistic achievements. Miranda is every bit the equal of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kern, Porter, even Gilbert and Sullivan, whose works are honored in small, almost imperceptible ways, throughout his masterpiece. But perhaps more importantly, Miranda has created a new archetype of musical theater by fostering a more inclusive and remarkably diverse casting process that has opened the doors to the theater to performers and audiences that are far more representative of who we are and what America is in this day and age. The result is theater of a richer, deeper hue, an otherworldly place in which all who can dream it can find a place to express themselves.

Hamilton (Angelica Company)By shining its all-encompassing, all-inclusive light on the story of the young, orphaned immigrant - one who has had such a lasting impact on the creation of our nation - Hamilton affords audiences a fuller reading of the man than any high school history class ever could. While Alexander Hamilton's death as the result of a duel with his political adversary and rival Aaron Burr remains an important part of the musical, in reality it is the events that led up to that historic moment that prove to be the most enlightening and devastatingly impactful.

Audiences attending Hamilton's media night at TPAC were particularly fortunate in witnessing the performances of understudies DeeJay Young and Kendyl Sayuri Yokoyama in the leading roles of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. So brilliantly nuanced and convincingly portrayed were their characters, that the mind is staggered to think the principals could be any more startling in the roles. Young is charming as he commands the stage as the firebrand Hamilton, while Yokoyama is delightfully warm and empathetic as Eliza, and the onstage chemistry of the two lends an authenticity to their performances.

Hamilton (Angelica Company)Josh Tower is quietly effective as Aaron Burr in the show's first act, leading to a performance during the second stanza that is as compelling as one could possibly hope for from the man who ended Hamilton's life. Stephanie Umoh is impressively understated as Angelica Schuyler, while Yana Perrault is particularly striking as Maria Reynolds (and as Peggy Schuyler).

David Park very nearly steals the show as Thomas Jefferson in Act Two, while he is just as beguiling as the Marquis de Lafayette. Tyler Belo does a good job as both Hercules Milligan and James Madison, while Paul Oakley Stovall is commanding as George Washington. John Devereaux proves an audience favorite as King George III, injecting some much-needed levity into the dramatic proceedings, and Jon Viktor Corpus displays a quiet versatility as both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton.

Hamilton. Music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Directed by Thomas Kail. Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. Musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Presented by Broadway at TPAC. At Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall. Through August 7. For details, go to www.tpac.org or call (615) 782-4040. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

 

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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)


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