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Review: HAMILTON Proves it's Worth the Wait at Kennedy Center

Review:  HAMILTON Proves it's Worth the Wait at Kennedy Center

After all that ticket buying frenzy, the national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton has finally arrived at DC's venerable John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and, at least for the opening night audience (which included Mr. Miranda), it was worth the wait. If the rousing and prolonged applause and immediate standing ovation is any indication, this show is going to wow local audiences all throughout the summer.

I've seen three productions of Hamilton - the original Broadway production, the sit-down production in Chicago, and now this tour. Admittedly, I did not leave the Richard Rodgers Theatre in September 2015 thinking it was the best show ever. However, with repeat viewings, I've come to appreciate the show - and especially Miranda's writing - more.

I can now say that the exceptionally versatile Miranda excels where many of his past and present peers do not. He contributes the book, music, and lyrics for the award-winning musical and each element is as strong as the others. This is somewhat of a rarity as far as American musical theater history is concerned when writers attempt to go at it alone.

Using Ron Chernow's book Alexander Hamilton as a basis for exploration, Miranda masterfully and creatively brings history to life in a way that is fresh and relevant to a diverse audience - those that live and breathe musical theater like me, and those who do not. While he's certainly not the first writer to tackle history and demonstrate its applicability to today, all while playing with a variety of music styles - let's think back to Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers' Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, which focuses on another colorful, historical player in American politics - he's managed to create a juggernaut that accomplishes a lot. He seamlessly mixes the serious and fun. He wrote a show that's artistic yet accessible. The musical is educational and entertaining and undeniably transcends the seemingly impenetrable popular culture-Broadway divide.

Miranda's material is strong on its own, but the essential contributions of three equally creative men - Thomas Kail (Director), Alex Lacamoire (Music Supervisor and Orchestrations), and Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) - should most certainly not be overlooked. The story of the lesser known founding father is chock full of details and personal and professional incidents that could be the focus of musicals all on their own, but Kail's direction ensures we enter and exit Hamilton's world both swiftly and deeply without feeling like too overwhelmed or shortchanged. Lacamoire and Blankenbuehler, respectively, not only provide ear and eye candy, but key ingredients to creating a musical for a modern, diverse audience.

This national touring cast (there are two - DC has the "Angelica Cast") ably creates Hamilton's world on David Korins' utilitarian yet creative set. There aren't any weak links, but there are some cast members who delivered more memorable and convincing performances than others on opening night. Austin Scott plays the title character and he successfully navigates the demanding role. He's a strong, charismatic actor with a penchant for rapping and more than decent singing skills. While it took me longer to warm up to him than his counterpart in Chicago (Miguel Cervantes), he ultimately won me over. Nicholas Christopher, on the other hand, immediately grabbed my attention as Aaron Burr. He's a true triple threat and his excellent diction ensured I could grasp every word uttered, which is no small feat in a hall known for sound troubles when national tours play there.

Peter Matthew Smith and Bryson Bruce deliver noteworthy performances as King George and Thomas Jefferson (Bruce also plays Marquis de Lafayette). Both have a knack for physical and verbal comedy without resorting to just pure over-the-top camp. Smith leaves you in laughter with every song starting with "You'll Be Back" and Bruce kills in the debate scenes.

Carvens Lissaint has the kind of commanding presence that makes him believable as George Washington. Chaundre Hall-Broomfield delivers a fine performance as Hercules Mulligan, but he really makes a memorable impression as James Madison. He's a multi-talented performer for sure, and all of those talents are put to good use in the latter role.

In a show dominated by men, Julia K. Harriman and Sabrina Sloan make their presence known as Hamilton's wife Eliza and her sister Angelica Schuyler. Both are exceptional singers and, particularly in act two, they make it hard not to care about their own plights. Isa Briones has less time in the spotlight - portraying both the other Schuyler sister Peggy and Maria Reynolds (Hamilton's mistress) - but she rounds out the core group of ladies quite well.

This production not only boasts a strong principal cast, but also an equally strong ensemble. Each note and dance move is delivered with precision, energy, and purpose. Thanks to their skill, production numbers like "Yorktown," "My Shot," and "Non-Stop" are definite highlights.

Put simply, Hamilton at Kennedy Center should not be missed. Sure, the hype is a little much, but even this jaded theater nerd has to admit it's pretty exceptional.

Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes, including one intermission

HAMILTON plays the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F St, NW in Washington, DC - through September 16, 2018. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or purchase them online.

Photo: A touring company of HAMILTON; by Joan Marcus

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From This Author - Jennifer Perry