Review: Mask UP! HAMILTON Lights Up the Stage as Live Theatre Returns to Broadway San Jose

Running now through October 31, 2021

By: Oct. 16, 2021

Review: Mask UP!  HAMILTON Lights Up the Stage as Live Theatre Returns to Broadway San Jose

Lin-Manuel Miranda's HAMILTON triumphantly took the stage at Broadway San Jose, returning to a changed world - as the masked patrons showing proof of vaccination at the door attested to.

But more than that, in the intervening years since Miranda and his intrepid band of brothers (Alex Lacamoire, Andy Blankenbuehler and Thomas Kail) created the sound, look and feel of the nation's origin story, the country today has undergone seismic shifts of great magnitudes. Chief among them was witnessing the killing of George Floyd by the police and the January 6 siege of our Capitol in a violent attempt to overturn the election of Joe Biden as President of the United States.

Watching HAMILTON with all of the above as context made the show's pending revolution of 1776 feel too close for comfort. In the final analysis, is a bloody war the only way to effect change? Do the ends always justify the means? And when one person's hero is another person's traitor, whose ends are we justifying?

One thing that hasn't changed is that Miranda's HAMILTON hits at a soul-deep level. It also invites reflection.

As the first mega-hit "Hip-Hopera," HAMILTON took the world by storm. In the hands of this talented cast (the "And Peggy" company) HAMILTON soars, even as it deftly explores, with nuanced excellence, the depths of sadness, heroism, romance, betrayal and death.

It tells the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation's first Treasury Secretary. If that sounds as dull as tombs, it's not. There's a reason why this story reaped the glory of a lot of golden statues.

As the lights went down, the applause went up but stopped abruptly in homage as Donald Webber Jr.'s quietly perplexed Aaron Burr took the stage, uttering the now iconic opening lines, "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore/and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a/forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, /impoverished, in squalor, /grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Throughout the show the clash of opposites continues. The reserved Burr (talk less, smile more) will continue to be just as perplexed as he was with his first utterance. How can Hamilton (played superbly, divinely by Julius Thomas III) hope to be a hero of the revolution when he's so brash and impulsive?

What Burr doesn't realize is that when the world turns upside down, all the rules change. As Alexander will say of himself, "I'm just like my country/I'm young, scrappy and hungry," and it is that hunger that fuels his ambition. That, coupled with his genius at oration, plus his persuasive writing skills helps him to shape the fledgling nation's narrative. Remember, he's a hero and a scholar.

At a local tavern Alexander meets his own intrepid band of ambitious brothers, John Laurens (Andy Tofa), France's Marquis de Lafayette (Paris Nix) and Hercules Mulligan (Brandon Louis Armstrong). The testosterone runs high as each man introduces himself with alcohol-induced braggadocio.

Drinking, bedding women, stealing horses and cries of commitment to the cause lace this pumped-up rap but they all defer to the passion of Hamilton's fervent intellect and his resolute words "I am not throwing away my shot!" Soon they are all obsessed with taking their shots and they keep doing shots! It's clear that Hamilton is not alone in his hunger for revolution. Aaron Burr just shakes his head.

L-R <a target=Andy Tofa as John Laurens, Paris Nix as Marquis de Lafayette, Brandon Louis Armstrong as Hercules Mulligan and Julius Thomas III as Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus" height="267" src="" width="400" />
L-R: Andy Tofa as John Laurens, Brandon Louis Armstrong as Hercules Mulligan, Paris Nix as the Marquis de Lafayette and Julius Thomas III as Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus

Then, click, boom, the Revolution begins. At a high society shindig, we meet the women in Alexander's life - the Schuyler Sisters. First there's Angelica (the bold and astute Marja Harmon) who is his intellectual - and never satisfied - equal; the winsome Eliza who is the sister he loves and marries (played with quiet strength by Victoria Ann Scovens), and Peggy (Ashley De La Rosa) the youngest of the three.

Review: Mask UP!  HAMILTON Lights Up the Stage as Live Theatre Returns to Broadway San Jose
L-R: The Schuyler Sisters. Victoria Ann Scovens as Eliza, Marja Harmon as Angelica and Ashley De La Rossa as Peggy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Darnell Abraham brings gravitas as the wise General Washington who is too seasoned to burnish the realities of war. "We are outgunned, / outmanned, / outnumbered, out planned. / We gotta make an all-out stand/Ayo, I'm gonna need a right-hand man."

This turns out to be none other than Alexander Hamilton.

Throughout the war and in the ensuing years, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton continue to be "diametric'ly opposed, foes." Webber Jr.'s Burr, left out again as Hamilton's cunning ways get him exactly what he wants, finally breaks down. In a stunning tour-de-force, he and the dynamic ensemble sing "The Room Where It Happens," to stunning applause.

Finally, Burr changes and begins to chase what he wants, running for president only to be bested when Hamilton backs Thomas Jefferson. He eventually challenges Hamilton to a duel and kills him.

History did indeed have its eyes on the Revolutionaries and now it is our turn. Once again, we are a nation in turmoil. But just as in the Civil War, the enemy this time is within. What path will we choose? In the final analysis, is a bloody war the only way to effect change? Do the ends always justify the means? And when one person's hero is another person's traitor, whose ends are we justifying?

At the end of the Miranda's show it will be Hamilton, Eliza who puts herself back in the narrative. She lives another fifty years, and her voice is the final one we hear. She tells us of her philanthropic work, the orphanage she establishes and the money she raised for the Washington Monument. She speaks out against slavery. She tells his story. She ensures her husband's legacy.

Perhaps her way points to a different way forward - good work for the common good and not a white, landed men's country to do with as they please, forsaking all others.

With deference, President Joe Biden will have the last word in this story. "The American story is about the slow, yet steady widening of opportunity. Make no mistake: Too many dreams have been deferred for too long. We must make the promise of the country real for everybody - no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.... We stand again at an inflection point. We have the opportunity to defeat despair and to build a nation of prosperity and purpose. We can do it. I know we can. I've long talked about the battle for the soul of America. We must restore the soul of America."

Now thru October 31, 2021
Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
For information on the digital lottery tickets, use the official Hamilton app at

Photo credit: HAMILTON And Peggy National Tour - Company - © Joan Marcus.