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: