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Review: 'Hamilton' audacious, funny, inspiring

Review: 'Hamilton' audacious, funny, inspiring

Scenic design, choreography, music, lighting, direction -- a success on every level
Review: 'Hamilton' audacious, funny, inspiring
A scene from the national touring production of "Hamilton: An American Musical."
Photographer: joan marcus

About a year ago I saw Ron Chernow, the author of “Alexander Hamilton,” at Chancellor’s Hall in Albany, discussing, among other things, the musical based on his book. An audience member asked how many times he had seen the show.

“About 70.”

We all gasped, jealously. He was an advisor to the show, and, by his own admission, he’d always been a devoted theatergoer anyway.

Now we have seen it.

It is audacious, funny, inspiring, instructive, and clever on nearly every level of the script and the production.

Though Lin-Manuel Miranda (of “In the Heights” fame, which had a memorable treatment at Park Playhouse last month) is the name above the lights as script writer, lyricist, and composer, he workshopped the ideas for a few years before the Broadway opening in 2015 .

Thus,  it’s a collaborative realization of his vision, with outstanding contributions from scenic designer David Korins, in a single, multi-use set of places from late-18th-century America, in tandem with Howell Brinkley’s evocative lighting work; Paul Tazewell’s period and contemporary costumes; and, especially, Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, movements punctuating text and subtext with astonishing originality. Finally, to Tony winners Alex Lacamoire and Thomas Kail, for musical orchestrations and direction, respectively, go props for imaginatively seeing the whole thing — well, whole.

If the arc of the story is chronological (unfortunately, about three-fourths of the way through the technique becomes a wearing “And then this happened”), and if the content is not unfamiliar to most Americans, it’s Miranda’s riff on the story of this immigrant from the British West Indies that makes us pay attention. The cast is -- intentionally --- a melting pot of races, with Hamilton and Washington, for example, played by African Americans. The musical language, too, shifts subtly from rap to pop to spoken word to soul. In short, the time warp is the message: contemporary America remains a work in progress just as those framers of the Constitution were flying by the seat of their breeches to come up with a new country.

In a show with 34 musical numbers, I can only mention a few of my favorites. “My Shot” captures the revolutionary spirit that seized the colonies, with the stage animated by people in purposeful frenzy. “The Schuyler Sisters” (yes, Albany’s own) and “Helpless” feature the redoubtable Hannah Cruz, Stephanie Umoh, and Olivia Puckett. 

As King George III, Peter Matthew Smith is a hoot in “You’ll Be Back,” whose perky tune sounds like one from the 1960’s British musical invasion.  

“The Room Where It Happened” (an explication of back-room politics) gets a ferocious treatment by the remarkable Josh Tower (Aaron Burr). “One Last Time” was, for me, the most touching song of the evening, as George Washington (Paul Oakley Stovall, superb) takes leave of his office.

Holding the show together is, of course, the brilliant, cocky, and shrewd Hamilton, and Alexander Ferguson (a standby on Wednesday) was first-rate--vocally flexible and completely credible in his portrayal of this Founding Father.

The large cast is backed by a fine orchestra, led by Andre Cerullo.

The audience at Wednesday’s press opening was into this show from the beginning. Even those who hadn’t yet seen a production had probably listened to the soundtrack or watched YouTube clips --- there was that kind of knowing enthusiasm in the air. 

Now it’s off to read Chernow, who inspired Miranda in the first place!


'Hamilton'

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.
WHEN:  Through Aug. 25
HOW MUCH: Tickets available for Aug. 20-25 only, at $449 for premium seats and $299-$135 for others
MORE INFO:  518.346.6204, or proctors.org

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