Yes, “Hamilton” Is That Good

Touring company at Overture Center enlists a new fan

 

I always like to reiterate to my readers that I am no Broadway musicals expert, and even in the repertoire that I’ve enjoyed most over the years, I’m definitely old school. That has nothing to do with why I hadn’t sought out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton before now; I just don’t have time to pursue the Broadway scene on a regular basis.

That’s my prelude to stating that before Wednesday night in Overture Hall I had never heard a note of Hamilton; all I knew about it was that it was incredibly successful, used rap freely—and two people whose opinions I respect told me how much they enjoyed it.

The sold-out house last night might have had a majority of Hamilton fans who had already seen the show; certainly the folks sitting on either side of me had, and based on audience response during several moments in the show it seems a safe assumption. And now I know why.

The most basic reason is clear: Hamilton never lacks for energy and compelling flow to the action and unforgettable characters. Whether one cares to quibble whether Thomas Jefferson works as a quasi-“Sportin’ Life” quickly dissolves in the winning ways of  Warren Egypt Franklin.

The stagecraft alone might be worth the price of admission; somehow director Thomas Kail moves his peripatetic cast on and off not just the stage as a whole, but on the separately rotating center sections of the floor without it ever seeming chaotic.

Then there are the strong performances, perhaps the most fully realized character being Aaron Burr, brought to memorable life by Nik Walker. By turns aloof, charismatic, occasionally vulnerable, the tall and imposing Walker is really the straw that stirs this drink.

Joseph Morales is the eponymous founding father of the title, ultimately caught up in the maelstrom of history and his own all-too-human fallacies (pictured above, left, with Marcus Choi as George Washington, courtesy Hamilton National Tour). Erin Clemons is his true love, Eliza Hamilton, and she brought an understated urgency along with the poignancy of “That Would Be Enough.”

It is easy to see why King George III, snarky and unselfconsciously despotic in the portrayal of Neil Haskell, was such an audience favorite. His first number, “You’ll Be Back,” is wickedly clever and perfectly inflected, and his “What’s Next?” (his question to the newly free Americans) an on-point sequel.

I will confess that my admittedly vague pre-impressions of the show led me to believe that it was all, or principally rap. It’s true that it’s hard to catch every word, especially in the opening minute; then again, surtitling would never be an option—not only couldn’t it be projected fast enough, anyone trying to even read it at that speed would be missing all the fun on the stage. But the surprise was how many great tunes there were, and a larger range of musical styles than expected.

I dearly hope that Hamilton eventually makes it to film…I’m sure I can make some time for that. In the meantime, if you can find a ticket here , Hamilton is firmly encamped downtown through December 8.

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