By ERIKA SASSEVILLE
Disclaimer: I apologize that this review is sentimental at the beginning. However, I will not apologize for the occasional reference puns. I just couldn’t resist.
In 2009 Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a new piece at a White House Poetry Jam for the newly elected president, Barack Obama. He nervously told the audience that he had been working on a hip-hop concept album based on the life of a man whom he believed “embodied hip-hop.” That man was an immigrant, a Founding Father, a Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (played on the tour by Joseph Morales). In the end, he created a musical that blended hip-hop, R&B, rap, blues, jazz, and the Broadway sound and went on to win 11 Tony Awards. Now on its second national tour, Hamilton is playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through October 7.
In 2009 I was a junior in high school, a self-professed nerd who loved her high school theater troupe and knew more trivia about politics and history than your average 16 year-old. I watched on You Tube as this fellow theatre nerd — a newly Tony Award-winning theatre nerd —rapped about a man who most Americans only knew as the face on the $10 bill. It was stunning. In 2013 I was a Sophomore Theatre/Political Science double major and Hamilton was heading into workshops in New York. Finally, in August 2015, Hamilton Opened on Broadway. Unfortunately, being a fresh college graduate in Minnesota, I was unable to make the trip and afford the tickets to see this new phenom of a musical. I listened to the cast album, first for free on NPR, then on iTunes. Over, and over, and over and over. I was in love. It was everything I hoped it would be when I first heard Lin-Manuel sing the opening number in 2009. It is a cultural phenom now, a show that by design is diverse and proud of it. As Lin-Manuel says, Hamilton is “a story about America then, told by America now.” Since then, I’ve bided my time until the stars would align and I could see this show I loved. I waited for it.
This national tour is better than I could have ever have imagined. Every second of the performance is filled with pure joy and endless talent. The tour brought all the trappings of the Broadway show on the road with them. From the subtle and adaptable scenic design by David Korins, the gorgeous lighting design by Howell Binkley, and the sleek period costume design by Paul Tazwell. The tour’s ensemble transition from background extras to pieces of living scenery and from soldiers in battle to physical manifestations of conscience through the seamless, timeless, and genre-bending choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and direction by Thomas Kail. The delightful appearances of King George III (Jon Patrick Walker) are a crowd pleaser as this caricature of a famously “Mad” monarch muses upon the revolution unfolding across the sea.
The main cast brings their own flair and personality to their now well-known characters, delighting and surprising even this Hamilton junkie. Marcus Choi (George Washington), Kyle Scatliffe (Marquis De Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Desmond Sean Ellington (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), and Elijah Malcomb (John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton) all play their respective roles with the tangible, living personality that each historical figure deserves. Playing the Continental Army’s general and our nation’s first commander-in-chief, George Washington, is a tall order. Marcus Choi embodies the stoicism and honor of a great man with a difficult life full of duty, pressure, and hope for the future of the nation he helped build. Scatliffe spits out rhymes with a fervor befitting his enigmatic characters. Ellington – a standby and understudy for Aaron Burr and George Washington as well as Mulligan/Madison – had some of the biggest laugh lines of the show. The smallest of Hamilton’s gang and son were played by the equally adorable and heartbreaking Malcomb.
The women in Alexander Hamilton’s life were just as important (if not more so) as his comrades. The musical’s love triangle forces Alexander to wrestle with his undying love for his wife, Eliza (Shoba Narayan), and the overwhelming emotional and intellectual attraction he feels for her sister, Angelica (Ta’Rea Campbell). Both actresses do great justice to two incredibly interesting and intelligent women. Narayan’s sweet Eliza broke my heart on more than one occasion during the second act.
Finally, we turn to the men at the center of this story. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) were brought together by circumstance and common interests, and history has bound them inexorably by the duel that ended Hamilton’s life. Walker plays Burr with smooth confidence and a coiled energy that begs to be released. Burr often acts as the narrator of the musical, and each time he breaks the fourth wall to address the audience we get a peek into the mind of Hamilton’s erstwhile friend, ally, partner, and adversary. The $10 Founding Father himself, is played by Joseph Morales with all the fervent joy, burning ambition, and blistering attitude that the prolific writer of the Federalist papers (among thousands of other creations and pages of writing) is said to have had.
Hamilton is exactly the sort of story about American history that we need in this era of American politics. It’s a story about an immigrant that rose to greatness with nothing more than the thoughts in his head, the pen in his hand, and the will to leave the world better than the one he was born into. I encourage anyone and everyone to see this musical (check out the Hamilton mobile app or this website to enter the lottery for each per performance to try to win the chance to purchase 1-2 tickets at $10 each). See it for not only the staggering amount of talent on display, but for the historical and cultural significance of the moment, no, the movement (I bet you didn’t think I could fit in another reference, did you? Well, I’m not throwing away my shot!)
Hamilton is playing now through October 7th at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. To purchase tickets: call (800) 982-2787, visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org, or purchase in person at the State Theatre Box Office (805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis) open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.