Encore Michigan

‘Hamilton’ rocks the ages at The Fisher Theatre

Review March 15, 2019 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–Those who have not seen Hamilton often ask those who have whether or not the show is “worth the hype,” not to mention worth the usually extraordinary prices of the tickets on the secondary market. The latter is up to the individual, but the show remains one of the most transformative in the last fifty years of Broadway theater.

Detroiters who have not seen it in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles have a chance to see it at The Fisher Theater as part of the Broadway in Detroit series through April 21, a long run for this show series. But it’s not as if there isn’t demand. The shows are sold out, though the producers are releasing tickets each week as part of a lottery system.

The show by Lin Manuel Miranda is based on the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton, and highlights the life and contributions of one of the most important and consequential founding fathers of the United States. Despite being on the ten-dollar bill, Hamilton was long overlooked or under appreciated since he did not ever serve as President, and did not have the outsized personality and contributions of inventions like Benjamin Franklin. He only devised the Federal banking system that was key to the building of America, as well as having served in the war, and as Washington’s Secretary of The Treasury. He also wrote most of the Federalist Papers, which explained, interpreted and promoted the U.S. Constitution.

Miranda’s breakthrough book and score draws on hip-hop, R&B, soul and traditional show-tune style writing to illuminate the founding of America through the unlikely success story of Hamilton.

The play has two acts, the first covering Hamilton’s early life as an orphan and traveling from his birthplace of Nevis in 1776, then his meeting and connection with Aaron Burr, Marquis de Lafayette, South Carolinian and anti-slavery statesman John Laurens and Revolutionary War spy Hercules Mulligan. Hamilton marries Eliza Schuyler, but there is drama as Hamilton’s new sister-in-law Angelica is also in love with him. It’s at this time, too, that the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr begins in earnest.

Act Two takes place after the victory at Yorktown when Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton are carrying on the business of launching the country. Rivalries deepen. Hamilton has an affair with a woman, and is found to have been paying off the woman’s husband to keep his silence. Hamilton is pressured by rivals, and is accused of paying the man off with government funds, which was a lie. Hamilton, to clear his name, publishes a pamphlet coming clean on the whole episode and asserting that he only ever used his own personal funds in the matter. The story builds to Hamilton endorsing Thomas Jefferson for President over Aaron Burr as the two men were locked in a tie for who would be the third President. Hamilton’s endorsement swayed the final vote and left Burr as vice president and a would-have-been in the eyes of historians. That episode set the stage for the well-known duel between Hamilton and Burr that took the former’s life.

There are leads in the show–Hamilton (Edred Utomi), Elizah (Hannah Cruz), Aaron Burr (Josh Tower). But the whole cast feels like such a true ensemble. It is this quality that makes the show hold up beautifully production to production without a “star.” Indeed, this show will attract the best of the best touring actors for years to come, I imagine, making it a sell-out for several more years. Utomi inherits the role originated by Miranda on Broadway, and does a beautiful job of leading the story. Cruz is striking in her portrayal of Elizah on whom Miranda brilliantly closes the play. Tower is well cast as the insecure, ambitious Burr. And Paul Oakley Stovall towers as Washington and delivers powerful vocals.

Miranda’s genius is imagining how the characters felt about what was facing them and putting those feelings into his unique blend and palette of different musical genres. His writing has every influence, from hip-hop to Fiddler On The Roof and Camelot. He is a true American original in the way he blends musical styles into, dare I say, a melting pot.

Hamilton’s “My Shot,” delivers on his feeling that he cannot waste his luck or opportunity. A kid from the Bronx or Brooklyn today would be feeling the same. Burr’s “The Room Where It Happens” could be a thought expressed by a corporate climber today who knows he is being excluded from a process that could deliver his or her dream of power and wealth. His inclusion of King George (Peter Matthew Smith) in the show, popping into the action in asides three times with the delicious and catchy “You’ll Be Back.”

There is an energy in Hamilton that is almost without precedent in recent years, along with the innovative use of modern music and casting of black actors as the founding fathers, that elevates the show to a level seldom reached in American theatre. That Miranda found ways to illuminate such an old story from our history books with the best notions of modern music as to attract audiences of every age and stripe is why the shows continue to be sell-outs.

Hamilton has a “good-for you quality” as it brings vital American history to the stage in an electric way that has hit a chord with audiences, almost as if they were waiting for someone to enliven American history, the literal founding of the nation, with musical vigor that has generations of families hocking the family jewelry for tickets unless they score face-value tickets or hit one of the ticket lotteries.

See this production or another…any which way you can.

Click here for show days, times and details.

Week of 10/14/2019

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