Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
When I saw Hamilton the first time it played in the Twin Cities, in fall 2018, I was already familiar with it, having listened to the original cast album numerous times and seen the filmed performance on Disney+ a couple of times. That did not diminish my rapture upon seeing it live, in person, for the first time. In my review I unabashedly declared it "the best musical I have ever seen." Upon my second live, in-person viewing of Hamilton I continue to love it, though to be honest, the experience does not match the utter amazement of seeing it for the first time. Still, it remains wonderful, well worth seeing again. Lin-Manuel Miranda's complex and ingenious score and book, Thomas Kail's seamless direction, and Andy Blankenbuehler's nonstop choreography offer so much that the second viewing allowed me to notice and appreciate little things I missed the first time around.
If you are new to the subject of Hamilton, it follows the title character from his life as an orphan in Jamaica to his arrival in New York as a young man, his quick rise as a lawyer and writer, and his association with activists plotting and waging the American Revolution, including John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Marquis de Lafayette. He becomes right-hand man to George Washington, leads a regiment at the decisive Battle of Yorktown, is instrumental in securing the approval of the United States Constitution, and is tapped by Washington to become the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton goes on to establish the federal reserve bank and a finance system that continues as the underpinning of our economy to this day. Along the way, Hamilton marries a daughter of the wealthy and influential Philip Schuyler, embroils himself in an illicit sexual relationship, and becomes the object of Aaron Burr's deep envy that turns to hate and eventually leads to Hamilton's death.
What Lin-Manuel Miranda and his creative team accomplish is not only a tuneful, gripping, and beautifully mounted musical–rare enough to warrant hosannahs–but turns our conception of American history on its head by telling the story with a racially diverse cast using contemporary language, movement and sounds that demonstrates its relevancy to an audience in 2023. Hamilton elucidates the continuing significance of events from the 1770s, 1780s and 1790s, and also suggests that the leaders of activist movements today would have had a home in that era.
The score is famously infused with hip-hop and rap, but it contains a host of other musical styles as well, a veritable feast of tone and melody, and the smartest lyrics this side of Stephen Sondheim. There are songs that relate historical content, and other songs that reveal the inner passions and sorrows, none more movingly than "Burn," the intense resignation of a betrayed wife. There are also comic ditties, courtesy of the British King George III, observing the antics of his rude American "children" from the safety of his palace.
The entire show flows without ever seeming to pause, yet most songs and musical numbers conclude with a finality that allows for eager audience applause, accomplishing the rare feat of having songs that stand as singular achievements yet urge us along, rather than provide respite from the driving narrative. After the incredible climax of the victory at Yorktown, the tone gentles to celebrate the birth of two children–Hamilton's and Burr's–with the lovely "Dear Theodosia." Calmed a bit, we are swiftly reignited with "Non-Stop," a powerful first act closer that leaves us understanding that the writing and passage of a constitution to unite thirteen ragtag former colonies into a single nation was as large an achievement (or larger) as gaining independence, eager for the second act to instruct and inspire us further. It also leaves us breathless for what is still to come.
The staging, dance and physical production remain as superlative as before. Credit again goes to David Korins for his versatile environmental unit set design, Paul Tazewell for costumes that give a contemporary look to period styles, Howell Binkley's evocative lighting, and Nevin Steinberg's immersive sound design. The score is vividly performed by a ten-member orchestra, ably conducted by Kat Sherrell. This is a show that does not require special effects to dazzle. We are dazzled by the words and music, the continuous integration of dance and movement, imaginative use of props–such as ensemble members holding up a writing surface to serve as Hamilton's desk–the fantastic use of subtle devices such as a dual turntable, and the compelling object of all this effort and invention: a story that is about us, about who we–our nation–are and how we got here. Hamilton is both an ennobling myth and a cautionary tale, and we cannot look away.
The current touring company boasts a terrific central performance by Edred Utomi as Alexander Hamilton, who delivers with power, both vocally and dramatically. Utomi projects Hamilton's motivations and his demons so that we have a sense of the inner man, rising to full force in "Hurricane." Josh Tower plays Aaron Burr, Hamilton's intellectual, political and, ultimately, dueling competitor. Tower's voice is pleasing, but through the first act he does not catch fire enough to seem a feasible match for Hamilton. In Act Two, Tower comes alive in "The Room Where It Happens" and proceeds to fare better through the second act, delivering a grave post-mortem in "The World Was Wide Enough."
Carvens Lissaint is thrilling as George Washington, authoritative in presence and bringing a beautiful voice to two impassioned songs, "History Has Its Eyes on You" and "One Last Time." David Park has the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, especially impressing in the latter: flashing charisma in "What Did I Miss?" and serving as a worthy sparring partner to Hamilton in a pair of staged cabinet meetings. A bit later, Marks, Tower, and Tyler Belo (excellent as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison) dish out a revelatory and entertaining "Washington on Your Side."
Alysha Deslorieux projects warmth and sincerity as Eliza, the Schuyler sister who marries Hamilton, with moving delivery of "Helpless," "That Would Be Enough" and especially "Burn." Stephanie Umoh, as the more worldly sister, Angelica, is pleasing, but does not reveal the star quality in "Satisfied" that would make us understand why it was she who really won Hamilton's heart. Yana Perrault is suitable but not given much to do as Peggy Schuyler, but she blazes as Maria Reynolds, bringing heat to the torchy "Say No to This." Bryson Bruce, stepping in for Peter Matthew Smith on opening night in the role of King George, was masterful, with the audience in the palm of his hand for each of his three scenes, bringing comic relief along with a different perspective on the birth and infancy of our nation.
The Twin Cities has no paucity of excellent, world-class theater. Virtually every week I am stunned by a performance, astounded by the power of what has been written and the talent with which it is presented on stage. We live in a cornucopia of theatrical treasure. It is, then, no small praise when I say that the current tour of Hamilton is the best thing I have seen on stage since Fall, 2018–Hamilton's first Minnesota stand. I am already looking forward to its next return visit.
Hamilton runs through May 6, 2023, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $119 - $249. $10 lottery tickets available for all performances on the Hamilton app. For tickets and information, please call 612-339-7007 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour/.
Book, Music and Lyrics Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow; Director: Thomas Kail; Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuehler; Music Supervisor and Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire; Scenic Design: David Korins; Costume Design: Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design: Howell Brinkley; Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg: Wig and Hair Design: Charles G. LaPointe; Arrangements: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire; Music Coordinators: Michael Keller and Michael Aarons; Associate Music Supervisor: Matt Gallagher Music Director: Kat Sherrell; Casting: Telsey + Company, Bethany Knox, CSA; Production Stage Manager: Eric H. Mayer; Associate and Supervising Director: Patrick Vassel; Associate and Supervising Choreographer: Stephanie Klemons
Cast: Tyler Belo(Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Jon Viktor Corpuz (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Taylor N. Daniels (George Eacker), Alysha Deslorieux (Eliza Hamilton), Adriel Flete (Charles Lee), Patrick Garr (Samuel Seabury), Jorrel Javier (Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/doctor), Carvens Lissaint (George Washington), David Park (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Yana Perrault (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Peter Matthew Smith (King George III), Josh Tower (Aaron Burr), Stephanie Umoh (Angelica Schuyler), Edred Utomi (Alexander Hamilton).
Ensemble: Reanne Acasio (swing), Adam Ali-Perez (universal swing), Amanda Braun (universal swing), Taylor Broadard (universal swing), Bryson Bruce (standby), Yossi Chaikin (universal swing), Carey Channing (swing), Karlee Ferreira (swing), Yesy Garcia (ensemble), Kellie Jean Hoagland (ensemble), D. Jerome (ensemble), Jimmie "JJ" Jeter (universal standby), Kourtney Keitt (ensemble), Andre Malcolm (swing), Josh Marin (ensemble), Terrance Martin (swing), Tyler McKenzie (universal swing), Bella Rusli (swing), Avery Sobczak (swing), Raven Thomas (ensemble), Damani Van Rensalier (ensemble), Keenan D. Washington (swing), Kendyl Sayuri Yokoyama (standby), Deejay Young (standby)