BWW Review: HAMILTON Delivers the Unimaginable in Pittsburgh
The most anticipated arrival in Pittsburgh since Le'Veon's vanishing...Hamilton, the Broadway musical, has taken up shop at the Benedum Center through January 27. The musical, nominated for a record 16 Tony Awards and winning 11, recounts the life of Alexander Hamilton and the birth of our nation through hip-hop and song. With lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton simply astonishes. To quote the author, "There are moments that words don't reach" - and Hamilton embodies them.
The mesmerizing performance is truly unimaginable - the history we learned in school set to the tune of rap and hip-hop music, along with ethnically diverse casting almost sounds like a musical bound to flop. But Hamilton rises up.
The story of Alexander Hamilton is one known by few. Most recall him as the founding father that died in a duel with Aaron Burr. Miranda sought to change this after coming across the biography Alexander Hamilton by Rob Chernow over a decade ago. The hip-hop connection seemed a natural fit to Miranda, but he knew that he needed to make that translate through the text to the audience. The result was a show ten years in the making, and one that will tell Hamilton's story for centuries to come.
After an introduction of characters, the audience is thrown into the beginnings of the American Revolution. Everyone from George Washington (Paul Oakley Stovall) to King George III (Peter Matthew Smith) makes an appearance, but they all seem to be connected to Alexander Hamilton (Austin Scott) in one way or another. Hamilton's skill with the quill is laudable and earns him praise and job opportunities, but his quick tongue and staunch positions lend themselves to quarrels, and eventually an infamous duel.
In addition to national affairs, Hamilton's own domestic affairs take center stage. The Schuyler sisters, three daughters of a rich man, sweep Hamilton off his feet. He eventually marries one and has children, but his dissatisfaction and frustration with the new nation may lead him into temptation, eggs and bacon. (I think I'm starting to get the whole 'rap' thing!)
One thing that made me nervous going into this show was the music. On recording, the artists are crisp and discernable, but how would that sound in a theater that seats over 2,000? The answer is very well. Not only is the sound design crafted well, but the actors also enunciate beautifully. This is essential to the success of the show, and very much appreciated when actors speed through five words a second.
In all, there is hardly much to critique lyric and sound related. A few missed notes here or there added to the humanity of the performance. Mr. Scott's portrayal of Hamilton was one of the finest performances I have seen. His costar, portraying John Laurens and Philip Hamilton, Jon Viktor Corpuz, was also captivating in both roles. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Angelica Schuyler, Stephanie Umoh. "Satisfied" and "It's Quiet Uptown" left me in tears - partly because of the content and context and partly because of the astounding Ms. Umoh.
In addition to acting accolades, the choreography of Hamilton by Andy Blankenbuehler is stunning. Throw out what you might know from Golden Age choreography because the choreography of Hamilton, like much of the rest of the show, focuses on the human body and its relationship to space and objects around it. Subtle and graceful, this choreography ranges from the simplicity of moving a book through space to the complexity of a dozen actors moving around each other on a revolving stage. Like I said before: stunning.
Combining every aspect of theatre into one phenomenon is a rarity. Most shows only have a few of the key elements: a thorough book, meaningful lyrics, skilled actors, dazzling choreography, a striking set. Hamilton blows us all away and then some. It delivers more than I thought it could, and I look forward to hearing the story again..
In death, as in life, Hamilton is surrounded by his written thoughts distributed to thousands. His legacy no longer stops with the bullet that stopped his heart; instead, his legacy journeys on across America in ways he'd never thought imaginable. If you think some of today's political headlines are unhinged, Hamilton will give you hope that America will survive another 200 plus years.
To see or not to see score: 9/9; Highest Recommended Show
Photo by: Joan Marcus