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BWW Review: HAMILTON Returns to the Providence Performing Arts Center

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Don't miss your shot to see Hamilton in Providence

BWW Review: HAMILTON Returns to the Providence Performing Arts Center

In a recent interview with CNBC, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the highly acclaimed composer and lyricist of HAMILTON, stated how the live show is as popular as ever due to the filmed stage version that has been available on Disney+ since July 2020. That certainly seemed to be true on Wednesday evening, based on the nearly full Providence Performing Arts Center auditorium and enthusiastic response of the audience as Hamilton's Philip Tour began its approximate 2-week stint in Rhode Island.

At this point, it would be challenging to not be familiar with the phenomenon that is Hamilton the musical. Inspired by Ron Chernow's autobiography of Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda created a show that tells the life story of the (previously) lesser-known Founding Father. From the show's own humble beginnings as a few songs on a mixtape, Hamilton first opened off-Broadway in 2015, and following a sold-out run and numerous accolades, transferred to the Richard Rogers theatre on Broadway later that same year. At the 2016 Tony Awards, it won eleven of the sixteen categories it was nominated in, and Miranda was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The cast recording also won the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album.

All of this makes for large shoes to fill, but the Philip Tour is more than up to the task. Aaron Burr is often considered the show's true main character, and Jared Dixon makes that the case for why. Through Dixon's acting choices and detail in even the small moments, Burr's frustrations with Hamilton are palpable from the beginning, and continue to smolder until his turning point during "The Room Where It Happens" in the second act. That the animosity between Burr and Hamilton builds so effectively throughout the show makes "The Election of 1800" sting that much more, with the decision to duel as the inevitable outcome.

Warren Egypt Franklin, Desmond Sean Ellington, and Elijah Malcomb each have their stand-out moments as the Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, and John Laurens/Philip Hamilton respectively. Franklin's deft rap sequences and the swagger he brings as both Lafayette and Jefferson more than made up for an occasionally dodgy accent in the former role. The nuanced choices and excellent chemistry with Thomas Jefferson make Madison a stand-out role for Ellington. Having seen the show several times with different casts (including the original Broadway cast), this is not often the case. Malcomb embodies the spirited John Laurens in act one and later is endearing as Hamilton's ill-fated son.

Meanwhile, the Schuyler sisters' affection is obvious from the entrance to their song early in act one. Stephanie Jae Park is an absolute delight as Eliza Hamilton, as she goes from wide-eyed girl in "Helpless" to her husband's long suffering wife in act two. Her rendition of "Burn" is heartbreaking. Between her amazing vocals and small but significant flourishes she adds while acting the role, Ta'rea Campbell is perfect as Angelica Schuyler.

As George Washington, Marcus Choi fully captures the complexities of the role. His frustration and borderline resignation is palpable early in "Right Hand Man," but his character grows and continues maturing throughout his scenes. The almost fatherly relationship between Washington and Hamilton is fully realized by act two, such as when Washington fixes Hamilton's coat and tie - a brief, but powerful moment.

Neil Haskell makes King George his own. His version is more knowing, more sure, but also less stiff than the way this role has been portrayed by other actors. This makes his silly moments all the more effective, and enough to make it so even Dixon, as Burr, couldn't help laughing at one point in the second act.

No matter the cast, Hamilton's ensemble is surely among the hardest working of all current shows, and the Philip Tour is no exception. Not only are they on-stage in some capacity for the majority of the show, but Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography is incredibly intricate, with movement that often helps illustrate the lyrics. The energy required to do this seamlessly is no small feat.

That brings us to Pierre Jean Gonzalez as the title role. While Gonzalez is undoubtedly a strong singer, his Hamilton feels aloof and not quite living in the scenes. Surrounded by such a strong supporting cast, this becomes all the more apparent. Nevertheless, there were some strong moments, including his sections in "Dear Theodosia" and the interactions between him and Burr during the act one closer, "Non-Stop."

There were a few technical issues early in the show, in which some of the audio was marred with static, but this was fixed early in act one, and most likely due to it being only the show's second performance in PPAC. Otherwise, the technical aspects of the show ran smoothly. The lighting is especially impressive in this show, and depending upon where one sits in the audience, it is interesting to note the different ways it is used.

Whether you've already seen the show live multiple times or have only experienced it through the cast recording or on Disney+, overall, the Philip Tour of Hamilton is in fine shape and for many people, a welcome return to live theatre.

Tickets for Hamilton are currently on sale at the PPAC Box Office (220 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903), online at www.ppacri.org and by phone at (401) 421-ARTS (2787). Box Office window and phone hours are Monday-Friday, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Saturday, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and two hours prior to curtain time(s) on performance days. Patrons are advised to check official Hamilton channels and www.ppacri.org/hamilton2021 for late release seats which may become available at short notice.

Pictured: Joseph Morales and Marcus Choi. Photo by Joan Marcus. (Please note: cast members depicted do not necessarily reflect the current actors)


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