Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hamilton (Broadway)


The Broadway original play, "Hamilton," has been the event of the year. Celebrities and politicians vie for seats, and even us regular folk have to pay $500 or more for a ticket. For a number of reasons, "Hamilton" merits this attention and the accolades it has received. To some degree, the praise is somewhat over the top.

First, let me begin by stating my being a bit of an aficionado of the Revolutionary Era. At the bottom of this post, I will discuss briefly the historical aspects of the play I had problems with. Chalk it up to my OCD-like need for things to be as accurate as possible when presenting historical events.

Sadly, or not, I saw "Hamilton" about a month after much of the original cast had moved on. I have seen Lin-Manuel Miranda in "In the Heights," and on television, so I have some sense of him as a performer. The new lead, playing Alexander Hamilton, is Javier Munoz, who I believe contributed to the creation of the role. Munoz is so good as to be worthy of the highest praise. He might be equal to Miranda, though I cannot say for sure, having not seen the latter as Hamilton. I can say that Munoz vocally is less nasal than Miranda, and I like him more as a singer and even rapper. Miranda's genius is as a creator.

I also was quite taken with the performances of Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler (original cast), Andrew Chapelle as Lafayatte and Thomas Jefferson (especially as Jefferson) and Lexi Lawson as Eliza Hamilton. Sydney James Harcourt, though the understudy in the Aaron Burr role, was also quite good. Christopher Jackson, as George Washington (original cast), provides the best vocal performance, with a stellar rendition of "One Last Time." Lawson's "The World Was Wide Enough" is also a show highlight vocally.

Conceptually, Lin-Manual Miranda has created something uniquely scintillating and impressive. "Hamilton" is smart, funny, eye-catching, original, and overflowing with cultural relevance. In this time of Donald Trump, and the racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant fervor he spews, and many of his followers share, the diversity of the cast, where white men and women are black, Hispanic and Asian, and women can even be men, is a stark message that the Trump vitriol is not what America is supposed to represent. I realize that the original America; in fact the one that even now continues to struggle with inequality, is far from perfect. The founding ideals are more represented in this cast, and many of the lines of the script, than can be located in any Trump rally. To quote the play, "Immigrants - we get the job done."

Some of the choreography of "Hamilton" is fascinating. The two rap battles between Jefferson and Hamilton are wonderful. And the Burr-Hamilton dual is gorgeously laid out. The staging is seamless and alluring.

The funniest moments come from the King George character, though Thomas Jefferson's entrance provides satirical pleasures worth mentioning, too.

While I do not see the soundtrack as being a timeless "show tunes" display, it is no less impressive for its bringing to the stage agile and clever lyrics, witty repartee and a few traditional numbers (see above for two examples) that shine brightly.

"Hamilton" is not an all-time great musical of the year winner, in my opinion. But it is a dazzling Broadway display, and it is hard to argue with the success it has garnered. I maintain that Danny Burstein's portrayal of Tevye in the "Fiddler on the Roof" revival deserved Best Actor. For its timeliness of message, given the politics in our country this election season, it warrants its place in the spotlight. Anyone who can get a ticket, should.

Historical notes:
Mr. Miranda's script is based on the Ron Chernow biography, "Alexander Hamilton," You can read what I have to say about that book here. I appreciate that this musical is about entertainment and is not meant to be a school classroom. That said, people will walk out of the theater believing they have learned more history than they actually have.

If you want a much more honest understanding of Aaron Burr, I recommend following this link and read the biography it discusses. Burr is misrepresented throughout "Hamilton." Then again, he is treated somewhat unjustly in most textbooks, too.

The caricatures of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are also highly distorted. I could probably offer up 20 books on Jefferson and 3 or 4 on Madison that could serve as more objective portrayals.

Burr's, Jefferson's and Madison's role in confronting Hamilton about the Reynolds Affair are pure fiction. James Monroe and two others were actually involved. The election of 1800 is a factual mess, too.

The arc of Alexander Hamilton's life is close enough, though imperfect. His prolific writing is beyond reproach, and his fighting spirit and creation of our monetary system unquestioned. The story Eliza Hamilton tells about the orphanage she created in his honor after his death is true.

My point for this section is, enjoy "Hamilton," Then read a lot more!!

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