BWW Review: HAMILTON at the Peace Center is Just as Good as the Original
Seems to me there's really only one question you want answered about the touring production of Hamilton.
Is it as good as the original?
As someone who saw the original cast on Broadway, I can say with complete confidence, yes.
Is it different?
Surprisingly, yes and no. And it's exactly in that intersection that the genius of Hamilton reveals itself.
If you're like me - overly familiar with the original cast recording - hearing a whole new set of voices can at first be jarring in their unfamiliarity. But that quickly subsides and you get sucked right in to the new voices and rhythms. And those new rhythms, those new inflections, those new and different character choices made by a whole new set of actors are exactly the extra level of genius I mentioned. The work is so much bigger than the original cast.
As Alexander Hamilton, Joseph Morales brings a different dynamic to the character than the role's originator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. While his singing voice is strikingly similar to Miranda's, Morales tends to do a lot of speak-singing, especially for the more rap-like lyrics. This gives Hamilton a youthful energy, especially in the early scenes, that complements his character's age at the time, while also giving Morales a lot of leeway to let the character slow and age as the evening plays out.
Even better is Nik Walker's paradigm-shifting take on Aaron Burr. As the self-proclaimed "villain in your history," Burr introduces himself as the "damn fool" who shot Hamilton. As portrayed by Leslie Odom, Jr. in the original, Burr was reserved, serious, and often seething. But Walker brings a mischievous, Cheshire Cat quality to the role that utterly transforms the character. As my wife quite astutely pointed out, Walker's Burr fully embraces the "Smile More" part of the "talk less, smile more" creed, and in so doing becomes more sympathetic and almost lovable.
Aside: when my brother saw a production last year, he bought an "A. Burr" cap at intermission, but at show's end he realized that Burr is a jerk and so returned the cap, swapping it for an A. Ham. As I told my brother the other day, Nik Walker makes me want to buy an "A. Burr" cap.
The rest of the actors were uniformly superb, with some second act performances in particular causing some real fireworks. Shoba Narayan's Eliza - probably closest to the original's performance - really killed it in the devastating "Burn." Similarly, Nyla Sostre really came alive as a soulful Maria Reynolds in "Say No to This." And Kyle Scatliffe's take on Thomas Jefferson is simply delightful. A special shoutout also has to go to ensemble member Wonza Johnson, who studied here in Greenville at the Governor's School and will actually perform the role of Alexander Hamilton this Sunday. Talk about local boy makes good.
Another beautiful thing about Hamilton is the sheer spectacle, which, instead of residing in giant set pieces, is all about the people. The set consists of bare brick walls, a few chairs, a table and a board, just enough to serve as accents to the performers. The entire ensemble was spot on with the amazing choreography, making complex yet subtle moves with absolute perfection. There is so much to see as the talented ensemble bring the show to life, that I've now seen the show multiple times and still find new subtleties I'd completely missed before.
What all this says to me is that Hamilton is bigger than its original production, that it's open to interpretation and specific character choices while still being the dynamic, mesmerizing, joyful, emotional ride that it's been from the beginning. This brilliant production reinforces a thought I had the very evening I first saw the original cast - that I can't wait to see what smaller companies in smaller spaces do with this material years and years from now, when it's finally released to regional theatres. A black box production of Hamilton in an intimate venue? Might just be mind blowing. I want to be in the room where that happens. (Sorry.) (Not sorry.)
One final recommendation. If you're one of those who've been holding out on listening to the album until you see the play, stop it. Get over yourself. Go. Listen. To. The. Music. You will not be spoiling the experience. You don't need to go overboard, necessarily, but having some familiarity will help you navigate some of the rapid fire rapping. Not that this cast doesn't do an exceptional job enunciating - they do. In fact it's one of the ways this version excels. But I'm just saying, having some of the basics of Hamilton in your head will only make your experience richer. Do not throw away your shot.
Hamilton runs through December 16 at the Peace Center in downtown Greenville, SC. Blocks of tickets are occasionally released, check here for current availability. You can also download the Hamilton app to enter the daily ticket lottery.