Review: 'Hamilton' gets even better on its trip to Broadway
Aug. 07, 2015
NEW YORK (AP) — Revolutions are messy, sudden, often brutal things. They're not meant to mature gracefully.
Thankfully, no one told the creators of the pulsating "Hamilton," which arrives on Broadway sharper, tighter and cleaner than just a few months ago.
The hip-hop-based musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first treasury secretary of the United States, has gotten even more "scrappy and hungry" like its hero during the move uptown to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it opened Thursday.
The musical reunites the team from "In the Heights" — director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, lighting designer Howell Binkley, costume designer Paul Tazewell, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show's book, music and lyrics, and stars in the title role.
It's even in the same theater as "In the Heights." This time, the cast better settle in for the long haul.
This is a musical often stunning in its audaciousness: Who could possibly set George Washington's farewell address to music? What other show could pit two Founding Fathers in a rap battle over whether to aid France?
The show stresses the orphan, immigrant roots of Hamilton — "Immigrants. We get the job done" is one line that gets huge applause — and his almost Greek tragedy of a fall, fed by his insecurity.
Perhaps Act 2 wanders a bit and the ending is a slight let-down. But there's no denying the show's sheer brashness and freshness. It is a revolution: A reclaiming of America's founding story by a multicultural cast using modern music and themes.
It's got a terrifically varied score, ranging from pop ballads to gospel to sexy R&B. Hip-hop fans will hear shards of lyrics by Gilbert and Sullivan and the Notorious B.I.G. There are also riffs from Shakespeare and the Bible.
The standout performances are Leslie Odom Jr. as a wary Aaron Burr, a cautious yin to Hamilton's impulsive yang. Odom throws down a career-defining marker here, graceful and cunning and haunted as both the narrator and the man who will kill Hamilton in 1804.
Renee Elise Goldsberry as Hamilton's sister-in-law is glorious as the treasury secretary's secret crush, rapping and singing like a virtuoso, and Phillipa Soo is a tender and swanlike wife to Hamilton, her strength showing in her tortured "Burn."
Daveed Diggs in the dual role of a sarcastic Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette has gotten even better at balancing the humor with the flamboyance of both roles. Christopher Jackson's George Washington is ramrod-straight but allows his character's insecurities to show. Okieriete Onaodowan reveals his range as a bombastic Hercules Mulligan and then a very contained James Madison.
Comic relief comes in the form of Jonathan Groff as a peevish King George, who appears three times in regal foppishness to lecture his former American colonies like a jilted lover — "You'll be back," he croons. "I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love."
Miranda has made changes to the show that opened this winter downtown at the Public Theater, but mostly he seems to have cut back the historical underbrush that sometimes bogged the show down. He's also sliced some cute but distracting references, as when Hamilton once channeled LL Cool J.
Kail and Blankenbuehler are at the top of their games, keeping up a fluid pace as scenes dissolve into new ones and dancers pop up to add to the plot as citizens or soldiers, often in thrilling slow motion.
"The Room Where It Happened" is a real feat of choreography, performance and stagecraft, led by Odom. "Ten Duel Commandments" is a clever riff from the Notorious B.I.G's "Ten Crack Commandments," and when the song "Helpless" gets rewound and sung by a different character as "Satisfied" it is pure triumph.
The sparse wooden-and-rope set by David Korins has lanterns and staircases and a revolving center — yes, a turntable. The final duel pitting Burr and Hamilton has both men with guns drawn, dancers spinning — one even acts as the bullet — the stage turning. Thrilling, better than an action movie.
It's all like nothing you've ever heard or seen before. In one song, the main ladies sing euphorically, "Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now! History is happening in Manhattan."
We couldn't agree more.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits