How rare and wonderful it is when things in life exceed your expectations. Thank you “Hamilton” and Proctors for providing one of those rare occasions.
The musical “Hamilton,” which is playing the Schenectady venue through August 25, is one of those occasions. It’s a theatrical experience that is hard to overpraise.
Rarely are there Broadway musicals that come into town with more hype than “Hamilton,” but few shows deserve the accolades more. The show - with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda – is groundbreaking in the way it tells a story and the style in which it presents that story.
It is always entertaining, yet it teaches about the past to inform the present. It’s fun to see and to hear and it’s enjoyable to discuss on the ride home.
“Hamilton” is a look at the conflicts and rivalries of those who founded this country. But it’s the way their dedication to a common cause overcame their differences that has you thinking about current politics. As for relevancy, one of the biggest audience responses of the night is when Hamilton and Lafayette high five and say, “Immigrants get it done.”
Miranda’s genius with “Hamilton” is his ability to tell the life-story of a complicated and neglected Founding Father by showing the man’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the contributions of director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler are equally as amazing. This is collaborative creativity at the highest level.
There is nothing in “Hamilton” that exists in isolation. Every scene provides an entertainment or a moment of enlightenment on its own. Yet, each scene makes sense of what came before and provides you the background needed to move ahead. If this sounds abstract, it isn’t. This work is presented with as much clarity as it has energy.
One of the great concepts in the show is to portray historical legends like Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Lafayette and James Madison as men with flaws as well as strengths. Miranda makes mythical figures seem human and even silly, without diminishing their stature. It’s a freeing experience to be able to laugh at Thomas Jefferson and still respect his contributions to our country.
Much of this is because of the phenomenal performances. For this run, Hamilton is played by understudy Alexander Ferguson, who is marvelous in the role. He finds the arrogance of the man about whom the play says, “He always thinks and acts like he’s the smartest man in the room.” Ferguson takes the man’s annoying traits and develops a passionate, driven figure whom you like and admire. He’s not the most dominant figure on stage, but your eyes are always on him.
As Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival, and the man who kills him in a duel, Josh Tower’s performance elevates the character to co-lead. Tower creates a man who is always calculating and plots in his own best interests, but in his portrayal, Burr is never evil. Instead, he’s a thwarted, ambitious man who always takes second to Hamilton. His dislike of Hamilton comes from frustration and jealousy, not hatred.
Another powerful figure and perhaps the most admirable man in the piece is George Washington. Played by the imposing Paul Oakley Stovall, Washington is a man of strength, wisdom and dignity. He makes you realize why the man is called “The Father of our Country.” He certainly was a father figure to the petulant, genius Hamilton.
All the above mentioned historical figures are played by actors of color. And, though it seems off-setting, it is a conceit that is effective on many levels. In presentation it seems hardly worth discussing as the characterizations emphasize the accomplishments of the men, not the color of their skin.
The same points can be made about the music, which has a heavy emphasis on spoken word rap. If the genre is not on your playlist, it does take concentration for the first number or two. Eventually you become comfortable by the cadences and by show’s end you embrace the form.
It’s easy to do with the vibrant, exciting numbers of the first act. The second act has more show-stoppers than any traditionally scored musical. Burr’s “The Room Where it Happened,” stops the show, as does Washington singing “One Last Time.” There are tender ballads in the score as well. “Burn” achingly performed by Hannah Cruz, who is terrific as Hamilton’s wife Eliza, nee Schuyler, is gentle and beautiful.
Mention should be made too of the comic portrayal of King George by Peter Matthew Smith. It offers needed comic relief at perfect moments. Indeed, this is a show with a very large cast and every performer makes an important contribution. The stage is filled with concentrated energy, but never is a movement distracting.
There is so much to see, and so much material to digest that it is impossible to get everything in one viewing. It is almost impossible to get a ticket to “Hamilton” either at Proctors or on Broadway. But “Hamilton” will be around for a very long time – deservedly so. When you get the opportunity, go see it.
“Hamilton” is at Proctors through August 25, For ticket information: 518-346-6204 or proctors.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.