Stage

Hamilton, at the Hobby, Remains One of The Great Shows

Hamilton rolls on in majestic and revolutionary splendor.
Hamilton rolls on in majestic and revolutionary splendor. Photo by Joan Marcus

This is a review of superlatives. For there's no other way to describe Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical masterpiece, Hamilton (2015).

There's the first superlative – masterpiece.

Sometimes it takes seasons between a slough of ordinary shows until a rare work of theater truly blows you away, bowls you over, and leaves you breathless in its originality. Think Oklahoma, South Pacific, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, The Book of Mormon, The Producers. Hamilton ecstatically has been added to this esteemed list. It will remain one of the great shows for as long as musicals are produced. It has won every prize imaginable except the Nobel.

For any doubters who think the Broadway musical is dead or dying, Hamilton in this Broadway Across American national tour puts the mickey to this spurious theory. Look around the cavernous Hobby Center. Packed to the rafters. Listen to the deafening applause when Hamilton (a charismatic Edred Utomi) enters to his eponymous song “Alexander Hamilton.” Hear the reverential silence in the emotional scene “Burn,” where Hamilton's wife Eliza (heartbreaking Zoe Jensen) reacts to her husband's philandering. When King George of England (a delightfully dippy John Devereaux) struts on in ermine shoulder cape and red satin breeches, you'd think you're at an arena concert hailing some rock god.

Throughout, the audience is primed, eager to inhabit this world, ready to be enlightened and entertained, raring to be moved. Whatever they expect, they surely receive. Many in the audience are repeaters, you can hear them lightly hum along or anticipate what's coming. When a show becomes a cult hit, it has arrived.

Hamilton arrives with fulsome cannonade and wind-swept pennants. There really has never been anything on stage quite like it. A rap opera, it's non-stop, a unique and distinctive poetry slam, certainly with music and lyrics never before heard on Broadway. And look at the cast. The major roles are black, brown, Asian artists sharing the spotlight, doing what every Broadway cast has done since 1866's The Black Crook, Broadway's first musical, singing and dancing their hearts out, pouring their talent across the footlights – in this case, Hal Binkley's laser-sharp lighting – and touching something deep within us. They make us weep in gratitude with the ease in which they draw us into American history and these people from the dusty 18th century. We get the most entertaining history lesson imaginable. That's a feat in itself.

And who in the world would ever think there could be a musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton? That stuffy guy in a powdered wig who was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr (oily and powerful Josh Tower) and forever etched on our $10 bill? Are you mad? Miranda took Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Chernow's bio, Alexander Hamilton, and forged it into a stupendously entertaining musical work of art. And he does this using the most contemporary music, rap, the sound of now. But he's enough of a craftsman to honor Broadway's past with plangent love ballads, soaring choruses, and belting anthems.

The score is astonishing; with clever lyrics rivaling Gilbert, Sondheim, Porter. They're whip-fast, tongue-twisting, and character-driven. The grand maw of the Hobby devours some of them, a few singers mumble them, and once in a while the orchestra drowns them out. But this is minor, because the ultra-fluid staging by director Thomas Kail, abetted by a turntable, along with the gloriously spiky choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (both Tony winners) show us exactly what's going on even when the words become stifled.

The entire enterprise is buoyant and a constant joy of discovery. This is what the best of Broadway can do. Granted these are exceptional talents working at the top of their game, but their worlds coalesce in the most magnificent, affecting, and emotional way. The touring cast nimbly matches the original, with standout performances (along with the above-mentioned actors) by Stephanie Umoh, as Hamilton's unrequited love Angelica, sister of Hamilton's wife Eliza; Paul Oakley Stovall, as boisterous and commanding George Washington; David Park, as preening Thomas Jefferson, although his Lafayette was undecipherable; Yana Perrault, as Hamilton's adulterous lover Mrs. Reynolds.

The ensemble, who never stop moving, play assorted citizens and soldiers, who fill in the background in this multi-faceted production and give it life with an edge. Hamilton is life with an edge. It's a one-off, for sure. But what a one-off. It's an entirely different musical world conjured by Miranda and his cohorts: one of beauty, diversity, stage magic.

Hamilton is new. And exceptional. And revolutionary. And full of superlatives. Go and be transfixed.

Hamilton continues through March 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination is required. Masks are required. For more information, call 713-982-2787 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $106-$158, High prices to $1,000 for verified resale tickets.
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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover