Yes, it’s worth all the hype
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
If you’re skeptical, you aren’t alone. After all the months of breathless hype – not to mention ticket prices soaring well into the four digit range – it’s easy to start wondering how Hamilton could possibly live up to the frenzied press and word-of-mouth. And with Tony-winning principals of the New York run (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom among them) no longer with the show, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether those tickets are actually worth the cost of an entire season subscription at Writers’, Remy Bumppo, TimeLine, and Porchlight combined.
The answer on both fronts is an unqualified affirmative. Director Thomas Kail’s New York production was extraordinary. His Chicago production is every bit as good, and in a few scenes, even better. Trust me: You do wanna be in the room where it happens. Composer, lyricist (and now household name) Lin-Manuel Miranda has captured with amazing accuracy both the vast scope and the detailed depths of Ron Chernow’s doorstop of a page-turner. But Hamilton isn’t just a triumph of adaptation. It is also a riveting two-and-a-half-hours of theater. Every time you’re certain the cast has delivered the ultimate showstopper, they up the ante yet again. The opening number grabs you by the heart, and the show doesn’t let go until, well, I’m still waiting.
Miguel Cervantes has big shoes to fill as the title Ten Dollar Founding Father without a father. Miranda created the role, and is indelibly associated with it thanks to performances not just on stage, but at the White House, the Tonys and Carpool Karaoke. Ditto Chris De’Sean Lee as Lafayette/Jefferson, a role created by Diggs with enough flash and dazzle to light the Great White Way in its entirety. Those are arguably the two showiest roles, especially when you take into account the magenta sateen trousers and machine-gun fast/Shakespearean-intricate raps favored by Lafayette and Jefferson.
Not to worry. From the opening 10-syllables that announce his presence, Cervantes (who alternates in the demanding role with Joseph Morales) owns the part. From those first five words, you can vividly see the hunger of the bastard, immigrant son of a whore who is driven as if pursued by furies to conquer the new world.
Cervantes also nails the arrogance and the hot-headed stubbornness that define Hamilton. This is a man who stole British cannons right from under the Redcoats’ noses. Who made the wildly confident demand that his troops unload their guns while tracking the enemy, just to ensure no stray bullets gave them away. And who – although absolutely penniless and without a family – successfully wooed and won one of the richest, most sought-after young ladies of the Colonies.
Cervantes’ Hamilton also nails the impulsiveness that nearly destroys Hamilton. “Say No to This” is one of the slickest, most sensually gorgeous evocations of hubris ever penned. It’s basically sex in a song – forbidden sex at that. As the sultry Maria Reynolds who duets with Hamilton on the number, Samantha Marie Ware delivers a star turn.
As does the aforementioned Lee and Joshua Henry’s Aaron Burr. Lee gets plenty of laughs and spitfire vocals as Jefferson and Lafayette (especially the former), but Henry has the red-meat juicy emotive passages that soar through Hamilton and make Burr a figure as unforgettable and tormented as Hamilton.
Burr’s “Wait for It” is an Everest of a song, both technically and in terms of emotion. Henry scales it to perfection, his low, seemingly almost off-hand initial stanzas building until you can practically see his heart explode with yearning. “The Room Where it Happens” is a white-hot, vaudevillian stunner. Both numbers will leave you exhausted in the best possible way, feeling like you just scaled a mountain and attained a hard-won truth at the pinnacle (“Wait for It”), or chuckling with empathy for someone who has just been excluded from one of the single most important moments in his life (“The Room Where it Happens.”)
As for Lee, he makes the standard theater critics’ vocabulary tired and cliched. He’s a powerhouse, a standout, a master slam-poet wordsmith – and so much more. His Lafayette is that guy who brings the thunder to the party, whether he’s just walking down the street or roaring to the front lines at the head of a battalion. His Jefferson not only quotes Biggie Smalls at a cabinet meeting (“If ya don’t know, now ya know”), he also exudes the entitlement of the Old South (“Sally, be a lamb”), and fully displays the intellect of a mind that’s been trained at the best schools in the world. And that cabinet battle with Hamilton is both hilarious and as historically truthful as a transcript of the actual debate.
The surrounding cast is just as vivid. Wallace Smith’s Hercules Mulligan is a fireplug of a warrior, the guy you want beside you whether you’re hitting on ladies or under fire from the enemy. Alex Gemignani’s simpering, childish King George will leave you with ribs bruised from laughter. Karen Olivo’s Angelica Schuyler is a siren to be reckoned with. Ari Afsar’s Eliza Hamilton is an understated, not-to-be-underestimated warrior with the agency to write her own narrative, even as the wife of the larger-than-life Alexander Hamilton.
Paul Tazwell’s costumes evoke the parchment paper that Hamilton is forever writing upon as well the eventual rise in Hamilton’s fortune (His green frock coat is indeed the color of “new money”). Andy Blankenbuehler’s mesmerizing choreography is a masterpiece that depicts the urgency, staccato rhythms of gun fire (The choreography for “Yorktown” is worthy of a Tony all by itself), the graceful swish of silk ballgowns (“A Winter’s Ball,” “Helpless”), and the propulsive thrust of a ship arriving, full of endless promise, in New York Harbor. And David Korins’ set design makes you think of the creak of wooden ships, rolling beer kegs and the lumber of a new nation under construction.
If there is a flaw in director Kail’s production, I can’t find it – and that’s after the immense good fortune of having seen the production multiple times. The sole problem here is the ticket prices. Hamilton, per a very reliable source, will be in town for four years. Here’s hoping that those prices eventually go down, and give everyone a shot at seeing it.
Hamilton continues on a open run schedule at PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays 1:30pm & 7:30pm, Thursdays/Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $65-$400 (lottery tickets: $10), and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayInChicago.com. (Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, includes an intermission)
LOTTERY: $10 tickets are available for all performances via a lottery program. For matinée performances, enter between 9 and 11am. For evening performances following matinées, enter between 12 and 2pm. On days with only an evening performance scheduled, enter between 9am and 2pm. Enter lottery HERE.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Ari Afsar (Eliza Hamilton), Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton), Alex Gemignani (King George), Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr), Joseph Morales (Hamilton at some performances), Karen Olivo (Angelica Schuyler), Jonathan Kirkland (George Washington), Chris De’Sean Lee (Marquis de Lafeyette, Thomas Jefferson), Wallace Smith (Hercules Mulligan, James Madison), Jose Ramos (Philip Hamilton, John Laurens), Samantha Marie Ware (Peggy Schuyler, Maria Reynolds), Jin Ha (Philip Schuyler, the doctor, James Reynolds), Jose Amor (Samuel Seabury), John Michael Fiumara (Charles Lee), Remmie Bourgeois (George Eacker), Amber Ardolino, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Holly James, Dashi Mitchell, Justice Moore, Samantha Pollino, Emmy Raver-Lampman (ensemble), Sam Aberman, Chloe Campbell, Jean Godsend Floradin, Aaron Gordon, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Eliza Ohman, Antuan Magic Raimone (swings), Yossi Chaikin, Gabriella Sorentino (co-dance captains, swings), Colby Lewis, Aubin Wise (stand-bys)
Colin Welford (conductor, keyboard 1), Rick Snyder (associate conductor, keyboard 2), Tom Hipskind (drums), Jim Widlowski (percussion), Tom Mendel (bass), Felton Offard (guitar), Chuck Bontrager (concertmaster), Roberta Freier (violin), Heather Boehm (violin, viola), Tahirah Whittington (cello)
behind the scenes
Thomas Kail (director), Andy Blankenbuehler (choreography), Alex Lacamoire (music supervisor, orchestrator, co-arranger), David Korins (set design), Paul Tazwell (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Nevin Steinberg (sound design), Charles G. LaPointe (hair and wig design), Colin Welford (music director, conductor), Rick Snyder (associate music director), Rod Lemmond (associate set design), Amanda Stephens (asst. set design), Angela M. Kahler (associate costume design), David Hyman, Jennifer L. Raskopf, Michael Zecker (asst. costume design), Cidney Lewis (costume intern), Ryan O’Gara (associate light design), Patrick Vassel (associate director), Stephanie Klemons (associate and supervising choreographer), Matthew Sherr (company manager), Michael Balderama (resident choreographer), Michael Keller, Michael Aarons (music coordinators), Tesley + Company, Bethany Knox (casting), J. Philip Bassett (production supervisor), Hudson Theatrical Associates (technical supervision), E. Cameron Holsinger (production stage manager), Rolando A. Linares (stage manager), Sara Gammage (asst. stage manager), Randy Cohen (synthesizer and drum programmer), Kathryn Bailey (production assistant), Baseline Theatrical (general management), Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman (producers), Joan Marcus (photos)