By Mary Boyle
By now, Lin Manuel Miranda's 2015 Broadway Musical smash hit Hamilton, based on the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, is a household name. Winner of 11 Tony Awards (and a record-breaking 16 nominations), as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Hamilton continues to run on Broadway, along with productions in London and Chicago, and two simultaneous U.S. tours: the Angelica tour (first) and the Philip tour (second). Thanks to the Broadway at the Marcus series at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, the Philip tour has arrived in town for Milwaukee's long-awaited HAMILTON premiere.
The musical, itself, focuses on the life of Alexander Hamilton, our country's very first Secretary of the Treasury and founder of our financial system, as well as the founder of the U.S. Coast Guard and the New York Post newspaper. Unfortunately, before the musical, Hamilton was often remembered not for his accomplishments, but for the way that he died: in a famous duel in 1804 with Aaron Burr, who was America's third Vice President at the time. Comparisons between Burr and Hamilton are made throughout the musical, highlighting the incidents that led up to the duel. While full of historical facts, the musical takes plenty of artistic license and rearranging of events for dramatic effect and time constraints; however, I (and many others) wouldn't have done this research if it had not been for the musical, which has unleashed a sudden obsession with American history as it pertains to Alexander Hamilton.
The popularity of the musical was such that it saved the $10 bill, which was slated to have its image of Alexander Hamilton replaced with a woman; instead, the $20 bill will be changed. A book about the making of the musical, Hamilton: The Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin Manuel Miranda, has over half a million copies in print, while the book that inspired the musical has sold over a million copies, thanks to the musical. The musical even inspired Hamilton: The Exhibition, an interactive museum focused on the life of Alexander Hamilton that ran on Chicago's Northerly Island this past April through August, and is expected to go on tour, just like the musical.
While it may seem unlikely that the story of one of America's lesser-known founding fathers would be the musical to take both Broadway and the nation by storm, Miranda's song and lyric-writing genius, which became apparent with his first successful Broadway hit, In the Heights, and was confirmed with the music he wrote for the 2016 Disney film Moana, is not to be denied. He can write in just about any genre, from hip-hop and rap to 70's rock and classic Broadway, and he does it all in Hamilton; songs that make you laugh, cry, cheer and simply wonder in awe at his ability to arrange words. Song writing ability aside, though, I believe the real brilliance of Hamilton was the way Miranda chose to tell the story, which is truly a retelling of our nation's history, in such a way as to include everyone in the dialogue.
Alexander Hamilton, himself, was an immigrant, as was Miranda's father. While reading Chernow's biography, Miranda identified with the immigrant experience, and he recognized how it fit into the current cultural and political landscape. By casting the musical with people of color as our founding fathers, people who have been largely unrepresented in the telling of America's history, and by using hip hop and rap, the music of the marginalized, to tell portions of the story, Miranda gave them a voice and made them seen, not as a lesser, but as a main character. There is a line in the song "Yorktown" that goes: "Immigrants, we get the job done." When the audience hears it, it never fails to elicit cheers. Suddenly, the American story includes immigrants and people of color, and it doesn't just include them, the story also belongs to them. This musical is beyond groundbreaking. Unprecedented is the only way to describe it.
The trouble with the musical being so incredibly popular is that most fans have been listening to the soundtrack for some time, and they want to hear Lin Manuel Miranda, who played Alexander Hamilton, along with the rest of the original Broadway cast, but this is not to be. Much like the Chicago cast, the Philip tour has some performers that really live up to that expectation and some who do not. For those who do not, some are able to make the roles their own and their performance is good enough to be a replacement for the original. Nonetheless, there is music in the play that is not in the cast recording, and the chance to see it staged is well worth it. For those who have been living under a rock and haven't heard the original cast recording, you're in for a real treat.
I expected Joseph Morales, who was in the original Chicago cast as well as playing Usnavi in the National Tour of In the Heights, a role also played by Miranda, to be a good replacement, but I was disappointed in his lack of emotion, particularly in the first act. Nik Walker, who is Aaron Burr, has a very different voice from the original, but his duet with Morales in "Dear Theodosia" is beautiful and I truly enjoyed his performance. Warren Egypt Franklin is perfect as the Marquis de Lafayette, and especially as Thomas Jefferson, and Erin Clemons, Ta'Rea Campbell, and Nyla Sostre all deliver excellent performances as the Schuyler sisters: Eliza, Angelica and Peggy. As usual, King George (Neil Haskell) steals the show; he just can't help himself. Overall, the Second National Touring cast is a really solid group. Be prepared to laugh and cry but, more importantly, be prepared to witness history in the making.
HAMILTON runs through November 17th at Uihlein Hall, located within the Marcus Performing Arts Center at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased by calling (414) 273-7206, in person at the Marcus Center Box Office, or online at https://www.marcuscenter.org/show/hamilton. For each performance, there are 40 $10 tickets set aside for the #HAM4HAM Lottery, beginning two days prior to each performance. To enter, go to https://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery/ and click on the "Milwaukee" tab.
Learn more about the Broadway at the Marcus Center 2019-2020 Season at:
By Mary Boyle
First Stage in Milwaukee, a national leader in theatre for young audiences, has a reputation for producing world premiere plays. This past season, they upped their commitment to this endeavor by creating the Foundry Stage Series, which is dedicated to forging the future of theater though emerging plays, artists, and engaging experiences beyond the stage. Besides producing new work, this series includes workshops, additional talk-backs, hosting new play readings, and the addition of an expanded Playwrights-in-Residence program. Alvaro Saar Rios is one of four playwrights-in-residence this season at First Stage, and his play, ON THE WINGS OF MARIPOSA, which was one of the new works that went through a reading last season, is this season's Foundry Stage Series World Premiere play.
Based on the story Ghost Wings, written by Ozaukee author Barbara Joosse, On the Wings of Mariposa is a celebration of Mexican and Latino culture, coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month and Día de los Muertos celebrations, as well as a beautiful tale of family, love and loss.
Ten year old Pilar (Abby Hanna/Dayanara Sanchez) has recently lost her beloved Abuelita (Laura Crotte). Before she passed, Abuelita brought Pilar to her favorite place: a part of the forest called El Círculo Mágico (the circle of magic), where the monarch butterflies (mariposas) return to every spring in Mexico. According to Abuelita, the monarchs are more than just beautiful: they carry the souls of our loved ones. When Pilar wraps her grandmother's rebozo (shawl) around her, she breathes in her Abuelita's scent and it brings back all of the beautiful memories, but the memories begin to fade as the scent does, even when she returns to the forest. With the help of her Mami (Rána Roman) and her friends, Amparo (Catalina Cruz/Stephanie Santoyo-Bustos) and Ramiro (Rafael Cervantes/Enzo Velasco), Pilar works to get her memories back in time for Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).
Directed by Karen Estrada, a First Stage alumni and Milwaukee actor, director and educator, On The Wings of Mariposa is a bilingual production that not only highlights Hispanic culture, but particularly showcases Milwaukee's own Hispanic community, from Director Saar Rios, who also wrote the award-winning play Luchadora!, which made its world premiere at First Stage in 2015, to Music Director Dinorah Márquez, who founded the award-winning Latino Arts Strings Program at the United Community Center in Milwaukee, which recorded Márquez's original music and lyrics for the production. Rána Roman, who plays Pilar's mother, is a graduate of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts and a regular on Milwaukee stages; in fact, she will play Eva Perón, Latin America's famous First Lady, this season at Skylight in Evita.
Though the play is bilingual, audience members need not be to understand the story; as a matter of fact, the production is an excellent immersion into Spanish language, as well as a cultural experience. Moreover, the story is a beautiful example of dealing with the death of a loved one. Sweet and a bit sad, On the Wings of Mariposa is a touching reminder that "when you love someone, they never really leave you."
ON THE WINGS OF MARIPOSA runs through November 10th at the Todd Wehr Theatre, located at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased by calling (414) 267-2961 or online at www.FirstStage.org. There are several special events scheduled in conjunction with the performance, including:
Sat, Oct 26 at 1pm or 3:30pm
Día de los Muertos celebrations
Browse our MERCADITO (Artisan Market) in the upper lobby.
Create Mexican crafts
Pre-show music by Latino Arts Strings Program
Sun, Oct 27 at 1pm
MERCADITO, Mexican crafts, and music Latino Arts Strings Program
Tech Talk – an extended talkback about the creation of the play – following the performance.
Fri, Nov 1 at 7pm
College & Young Professionals Night Inquire at (414) 267-2961
Sun, Nov 3 at 3:30pm
Tech Talk following the 3:30pm performance.
Sat, Nov 9 at 7pm
Sensory Friendly Performance. Tickets by phone at (414) 267-2961.
Sun, Nov 10 at 3:30pm
Sign Language Interpreted performance at 3:30pm
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves nearly 2,000 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’sEureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). www.firststage.org
By Mary Boyle
Mo Willems has been one of the most popular authors of books for children over the past decade, and with good reason. Both author and illustrator of over 50 books, including the Knufflebunny and Pigeon series, Willems has a knack for capturing the antics, feelings, and behavior of young children with honesty and empathy and, to the delight of readers of all ages, brilliant humor. His books have earned him three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals, five Geisel Honors, and numerous #1 New York Times Best sellers. While his career began in television, working for the likes of Seseme Street and Cartoon Network, his latest venture has been in live theatre, with the creation of several musicals based on his books. Now, Milwaukee audiences have the opportunity to see two of Willems' most beloved characters in ELEPHANT & PIGGIE'S "WE ARE IN A PLAY!"
Directed by Milwaukee's own Matt Daniels, We are in a Play is a part of the First Stage First Steps series, which takes place at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and is geared towards children ages 3 - 7. These productions are shorter (nearly an hour) for shorter attention spans, and children have the opportunity to sit on wide steps, or even on mats, as opposed to chairs. Elephant & Piggie are first reader books and several of the stories are incorporated into the musical. Elephant (James Carrington), whose name is Gerald, is an anxious fellow, but he always feels better when his best friend, Piggie (Rachel Zientek), is around. Whether they're going to a party, playing with a new toy, or sharing an ice cream cone, Elephant & Piggie always have each other.
Those who are familiar with the Elephant & Piggie stories will find the embodiment of the characters in the well-chosen adult performers. James Carrington, who was also seen in The Wiz as the cowardly lion with First Stage, is absolutely perfect as Elephant Gerald, while Rachel Zientek, who was brilliant in Forward Theater's production of Fun Home and in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's Unnecessary Farce, is the very essence of Piggie. They are accompanied by the three Squirrelles and Boy (Lina Singh, Ryann Schultz, Tarynn Lassiter and Joshua Wirth in the Swimmy Cast, and Taylor Arnstein, Katie O'Connor, Maya O'Day-Biddle, and Augie Poppert in the Fancy Cast ), who sing and dance along with Gerald & Piggie. The music, directed by Josh Robinson, is fun, catchy and absolutely what you'd expect Gerald & Piggie to sing. The dancing, choreographed by Jayne Regan Pink, is equally appropriate; even the set design by Emily Lotz and costumes by Lyndsey Kuhlmann are just right.
First Steps productions are an excellent way to introduce young children to theatre. Besides the shortened show time and storytime-like seating, there are activities available in the MYAC commons prior to the show and audiences can even purchase Willems' books or, for a donation, receive adorable Elephant & Piggie finger puppets to create their own plays at home. Translating popular stories to the stage can be particularly difficult, but First Stage absolutely nails it for We are in a Play. He's a pachyderm and she's a swine, but you'll find this musical is just divine. Don't miss this production!
ELEPHANT & PIGGIE'S "WE ARE IN A PLAY!" runs through November 3rd at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut St. in Milwaukee. Tickets are $14 and may be purchased by calling (414) 267-2961 or online at www.FirstStage.org. There will be a special ASL interpreted performance, for the deaf or hard of hearing, on Sunday, November 3rd at 1 p.m.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building, and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education, and the arts for its Next Steps program for students with autism (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).