BY STEVE WONG
For both seasoned theatre lovers and those wondering what all the fuss is about, the meg-hit Broadway musical Hamilton now playing at Greenville’s Peace Center is everything wonderful you may have heard about it and so much more.
Every aspect of the show, from the background set of muted tones of brick and wood depicting a gritty New York City in the mid-1700s to the innovative rap lyrics paired with hip-hop, is breathtaking.
Throughout the nearly three-hour show, the Upstate South Carolina audiences have cheered, applauded, whistled, and yelled out praises as the multi-racial cast and ensemble use contemporary song and dance to tell the story of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Even for those who often sit in darkened theaters to see live plays and musicals, Hamilton is a wholly unique experience that lingers in the mind long after the final bows.
To be such a spectacular production, presented in such unconventional ways, patrons get a good lesson in American history. With that in mind, you might want to brush up on who Hamilton is other than the face on the $10 bill. Also, there are a couple of key phrases associated with Hamilton that will be invaluable for you think about, as you see it and later as you consider the deeper meanings: Hamilton’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has said, it is a show about “America then, told by America now” and “I’m not throwing away my shot,” which is taken for the song “My Shot” and said throughout the show. Remember those words, and your understanding will definitely be better.
There are currently three companies touring the world presenting Hamilton. This past Wednesday evening, there were 14 cast members and the ensemble of 11 at the Peace Center. The leading roles were Edred Utomi as Hamilton, Zoe Jensen as Eliza (Schuyler) Hamilton, Josh Tower as Aaron Burr, Stephanie Umoh as Angelica Schuyler, John Devereaux standing in for Paul Oakley Stovall as George Washington, David Park as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, Tyler Belo as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Jon Viktor Corpuz as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Yana Perrault as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds, and Peter Matthew Smith as King George. It is a large cast, playing the characters important to the story of our national heritage.
From beginning to end, Utomi was truly convincing, portraying Hamilton’s passionate public and private lives with smooth dance moves, and loud and incharge singing. I was most impressed with Tower’s acting as Burr, having to be both Hamilton’s political friend and enemy (and eventual killer). As a whole Hamilton has an abundance of masculine energy, especially during the first act, which establishes Hamilton as a man determined to get the most out of life, war hero, ambitious Federalist, and intellectual who was especially good at writing documents that would withstand the test of time.
Bringing a refreshing and feminine dimension to the atmosphere were the Schuyler sisters. Jensen may be small in stature but her voice filled the auditorium and her presence was anything but small. It wasn’t until Perrault transformed into Reynolds (a woman Hamilton had a scandalous affair with) that I found my favorite female voice of the evening: a bit lower, vunulabe, and sensual.
Granted much of Hamiliton is complicated political maneuvering by the men of power. Lightening the mood and adding a nice element of humor was Smith as the prissy King George. He made more than one appearance, each time bringing down the house as a prancing and dismissive European arosticat sure of himself that the Americans would fail in their fight for independence and return to his rule. Park also challenged the musculine rule of thumb as Jefferson, as a statist from the South prone to purple pants and underhanded politics.
I find it surprising that a play with this many characters, spanning several decades, and focused on the politics that birthed our nation would be so universally enjoyed. Miranda reimaged theatre on so many levels with castings, lyrics, storyline, music, set. And, really above all, it makes some of us better appreciate pivotal people in our history — in a fun way. Not only is it a fan favorite, the critics, too, awarded it — among the so many — a Pulitzer Prize.
I found the ever-present ensemble to be especially interesting. Often their clothing was beige and bland and non-gender specific, giving the impression of the masses watching the founding fathers from the sidelines or from the balcony. The multi-racial cast adds yet another melting-pot element to their being.Their unexpected moves across the stage were often intricate, beautiful, and intriguing. And now and then, one would step forth with a witty comment, echo, or delivery with an attitude. So many together doing their own thing.
The rap music in the show gets all the attention, but rest assured it’s not all rap. Some songs are Broadway all the way. Here, again, Jensen shines with a strong, yet femine voice that tugs at the heart.
And, it is not all hip hop. Honestly, I really don’t know how to classify much of the dance in Hamilton. I see elements of jazz, acrobatics, ballet, and just creative movement. It is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I, and millions more, agree it’s worth seeing again and again.
The technicalities to bring a touring company of Hamilton to the stage are staging and creatively amazing. The playbill lists dozens of artists and technical professionals who must set up in a new city every few weeks to present a show that is consistent again and again with the seamless quality presented on stage. The basic gritty city background remained the same throughout the show, but by advancing the costuming styles through the years, adding small elements such as a rolling staircase and table and chairs to suit the situation, and directing attention with strong lighting, it was easy accept indoor and outdoor scenes, including booming battles, dark streets, and politicking behind closed doors. Personally, I took note of the live music using piano and harpsichord for the more intimate moments. At other times, the score was resounding with strings and percussion.
This production of Hamilton is directed by Thomas Kail. The music is supervised by Alex Lacamoire. And, the choreography is by Andy Blankenbuehler. Together these men have taken the melting pot of America and blended not just a musical that has taken the entertainment world by storm, but a story that today’s Americans – especially the young – can learn from.
Hamilton runs June 7-19 at the Peace Center, 300 S. Main St in Greenville. For tickets, visit peacecenter.org or call (864) 467-3000. For $10 Lottery ticket info, visit https://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery/