By: Sandi Durell
I remember reading my history books – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton (after all, his face is on every $10 bill or as it succinctly says here ‘ the ten dollar founding father without a father’) and all about the American Revolution. But, let me say, had it been presented in hip-hop, rap, pop-rock musical fashion like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s exciting and brilliant multi-ethnic production (currently at the Public Theater), I would have remembered a lot more and probably done a lot better on my exams.
Well, be that as it may, I was immersed in the 2 hour, 45 minute production unlike any I’ve seen for a long while. This Hamilton hits all the contemporary highpoints – a bastard immigrant orphan born in the West Indies, arriving by ship to New York, uneducated but hungry and ambitious to learn, with a penchant for words and ability to talk the talk as he meets Aaron Burr (the phenomenal sizzling Leslie Odom Jr.) and they form a competition in their professional lives that only ends in death.
Lin-Manuel Miranda not only stars, but has written the book, music and lyrics based upon Ron Chernow’s book “Alexander Hamilton.” That’s a lot of responsibility but the show has already been extended twice readying for its Broadway run. Miranda is a Tony winner for “In The Heights” and is unstoppable as he approaches this musical based upon real facts presented so uniquely that my first thought was how this younger generation has a way of learning and relating to history in a format they can now understand.
Every political and current issue we now face is touched on with droll amusement as Miranda brings Hamilton to life – miraculously attending Kings College (or as we now know it, Columbia University), a man with an edginess, a passion and ability to write and gather the troops as George Washington’s (a regal Christopher Jackson) right hand man in the Revolutionary War and into his presidency. Meeting the wealthy Schuyler sisters, Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry) for whom he has more than sister-in-law feelings, Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones, who also plays Maria Reynolds – with whom he has an affair) and Eliza (Phillipa Soo), who becomes his loving and devoted wife, he has chartered his own life’s course as he takes on rivals Thomas Jefferson (an engaging and amusing Daveed Diggs), James Madison (Okieriette Onaodowan) and more.
Hamilton, a successful lawyer, becomes a delegate to the Constitutional convention, is the first Treasury Secretary and the father of our financial system that operates to this very day.
Making several appearances as the comical King George is Jonathan Groff whose song is very reminiscent of Beatles-style tunes.
Throughout the operetta-like production, are high level dance moves for an exciting uber-talented cast created by Andy Blankenbuehler, while Thomas Kail magically directs this unrelenting tale on David Korins’ double turntable in the center of a double decker set, with balcony running around the upper areas and ladders rolling in and out. The furniture is sparse and is moved gently and in tandem by the actors in rhythmic pattern, off and on. Paul Tazewell is responsible for the period costumes peppered with modern touches accessorized by Charles G. Lapointe’s hair and wig designs.
The rap rhythm and rhymes say it all and there are several beautiful pop-rock, swing and Caribbean style tunes that bring all the pathos, sadness and uplifting necessary to move every audience member in one way or another. And if you listen closely, you’ll even get a wee bit of Gilbert & Sullivan, and other familiar references.
My predication: It’ll be a BIG HIT on Broadway!
www.publictheater.org thru May 3rd.
*Photos: Joan Marcus