Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Hamilton dominated the 2015 Tony Awards. Writer, composer, and lyricist Lin-Manual Miranda tells the story of America's birth through the eyes of immigrant Alexander Hamilton and his impactful life. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are among the other historical characters central to the musical, which was inspired by the 2004 biography "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow.
Miranda's bold and sweeping storytelling contains many very personal moments, a number of which mirror the corresponding historical events. This centuries-old tale is told, however, through the lens of today's musical styles and language (both dialogue and lyrics). Those musical styles include R&B numbers, pop love ballads, rap battles, drinking songs, hip-hop, and traditional musical theater tunes. The quality of the songs is excellent, providing emotional gravitas to the action and variation in how the plot is conveyed. Alex Lacamoire's contributions as orchestrator and co-vocal arranger (with Miranda) shouldn't be overlooked either, as they are part of what makes this score so exhilarating.
The back-to-back songs "Helpless" and "Satisfied" show the same scene from two different perspectives and in two different styles, and both are enormously impactful and skillfully constructed. "Yorktown" has so much history packed inside its lyrics, along with many musical motifs coming together to a crescendo, both musically and in the storytelling. "Take a Break" pushes the story forward while delivering beautiful counterpoint melodies and harmonies, and "Say No To This" actually sounds like sexual infidelity through the music, even without the witty lyrics that punctuate the point. There aren't many better examples of an R&B song than "The Schuyler Sisters," nor of a gospel anthem than George Washington's "One Last Time." King George's "You'll Be Back" sounds just like a 1960s British invasion band chart topper. The dense and expressive lyrics in songs such as "Alexander Hamilton," "My Shot," "What'd I Miss," and "The Room Where It Happens" communicate a 200-year old story, but with modern vernacular.
Though not a perfect show (it drags a bit and has too many false rhymes in the lyrics), Hamilton is magnificent because it has so many "wow" moments–those times when the thrill of a musical melody, the emotional impact of dramatic interchange between characters, or the genius in the staging of a scene, creates a cathartic experience for the audience. Hamilton has dozens of these, and this is what makes the show so very special.
Director Thomas Kail provides fluid staging and a cohesiveness that feels natural. Cincinnati native Andy Blankenbuehler supplies vibrant and dynamic choreography, with the dances at times emphasizing the lyrics, dialogue, or emotional responses being presented. Kat Sherrell leads an excellent 10-piece orchestra.
The multiracial cast in the touring production reflects the diverse make-up of America today, and the performers are uniformly top-notch singers and actors. Edred Utomi was Alexander during the last stop in Cincinnati, and again skillfully captures the many levels of the protagonist, from naïve teenager with great ambition, to broken, grieving father, and everything in between. Understudy Bryson Bruce is a charismatic and active Aaron Burr, still conveying the character's "play-it-safe" mantra, but doing so with a bit more vibrancy than others I have seen in the role. Stephanie Umoh (Angelica Schuyler), also a returning performer from 2019, delivers an especially heartbreaking "Satisfied," and Zoe Jensen embodies the kind-hearted nature and emotional center of the show as Eliza Hamilton. Both actors provide strong emotional arcs for their characters.
Yana Perrault displays versatility as both the flighty Peggy Schuyler and the temptress Maria Reynolds. In addition to an understudy for Burr, the performance reviewed also had replacements in the roles of George Washington and Mulligan/Madison. Neptune (George Washington) shows off a sweet, gospel-tinged voice and commanding stage presence. Deejay Young has lots of fun in the two very different roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison. David Park tackles the challenge of portraying both Marquis de Lafayette in Act 1 and Thomas Jefferson in Act 2. He's a fun and playful performer, and seems especially at home as Lafayette. Also here in Cincinnati for a second time, Peter Matthew Smith is aptly pompous, silly, and oddly threatening as King George III, and Jon Viktor Corpuz brings an earnestness to both of his roles (Laurens/Philip Hamilton).
The unit set by David Korins is a multi-level wooden scaffold in front of exposed brick, a functional and period-looking foundation which opens up the performance space for smaller set pieces to further define the setting. The lighting by Howell Binkley is extremely varied, providing showbiz pizazz at times and delicate atmospheric intimacy during other scenes. Paul Tazewell's costumes are handsome and generally period-appropriate, but with just enough variation to be hip.
Even though a professionally shot video of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton is now on Disney+, there's really nothing quite like seeing it in person, in the room where it happens!
Hamilton runs through October 2, 2022, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit https://hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour/.