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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
HAMILTON
at Richard Rodgers Theatre

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN

  Daveed Diggs/ Ph: Joan Marcus

In the new Broadway musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, its composer-lyricist-librettist and star, says as Alexander Hamilton that he wants to build something that will outlive him. Well, Hamilton did just that, and there’s a solid chance that Miranda has done so too.
 
Yes, Hamilton, Miranda’s rap, hip hop, R and B, pop Broadway musical about the life and times of Hamilton – that Caribbean-born impoverished bastard and orphan whose unending drive and need to succeed led to his rise to Revolutionary War hero; that co-writer of the Federalist Papers urging adoption of the U.S. Constitution; that first Secretary of the Treasury; and that founder of the national banking system – is as good as just about everyone has said it is.
 
And for those of you who saw it in its first incarnation, in its acclaimed Off Broadway run earlier this year at the Public Theater, see it again. It's even better now. 
 
Miranda had a big hit, and a Tony-winning Best Musical, in 2008 with In the Heights, a delightfully sweet and gently moving show about Hispanic-American life in Washington Heights, a musical that featured pretty much the same combination of rap, hip hop and pop, but with more of a Latin inflection. 

He got the idea for Hamilton while reading Ron Chernow’s biography of the ever-striving Founding Father. And with Hamilton Miranda has expanded his talent to almost inconceivable heights. Sweet and gentle has become inspiring and revolutionary. One great leap for Broadway. 

Simply put, everyone involved deserves praise. Miranda’s music is gripping, his lyrics are clever, the rhymes are complicated and frequently funny, and the libretto is spare, deep and historically accurate. He portrays Hamilton compellingly as a brilliant man determinedly reaching for fame, seeking forever to compensate for his difficult childhood, doubting his success and, in part because of his uncertainty, always seeking more, needing to prove himself both politically and sexually. 

Indeed, there are elements of Greek tragedy in Hamilton’s life story. He was a great man brought down by his fatal flaws – pride, quickness to anger, insecurity – which led to the sex scandal that cut short his career and the duel that ended his life (a duel that also served as a self-imposed punishment for allowing his son to be slain in a duel).
 
Leslie Odom, Jr. is brilliant as Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s killer, a man (and a politician) without principles, unaware of his true personality and, after he slays Hamilton, full of self-pity for the villainous role he realizes he must assume in history. (At times he seems reminiscent of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar).
 
As Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife, Phillipa Soo is loving, forgiving and devoted, her angelically powerful singing conveying the ache and the disappointment with the man she cares for. As Angelica Schuyler, Eliza’s sister and Alexander’s friend and confidante, Renée Elise Goldsberry embodies her character’s intelligence and brilliance, and has a voice to match. Jonathan Groff is slyly funny as King George III, a ruler without a clue, oblivious to what his decrees have wrought.
 
The entire cast is exceptional, including Christopher Jackson as a consummate General and President George Washington and Daveed Diggs as both the Marquis de Lafayette and perhaps a tad too caricaturish Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Kail’s direction is stirring and fast-paced but knows just when to slow for emphasis. Andy Blankenbuehler’s athletic choreography makes it seem that every movement, no matter how surprising, is essential and natural. Sets, costumes and lighting contribute meticulously to the overall effect. 

A Broadway musical in which Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson do verbal battle in rap about the creation of a national bank, and that sells out nightly and has a close to $40 million advance? If you had been told that two years ago, would you not have shaken your head and doubted the sanity of the teller?
 
A musical in which the very white founding fathers – Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton – are played by people of color, a concept that has received universal acceptance and at least for now put to rest the years of debate about traditional versus color-blind casting?

The second act, which meandered a bit downtown and was the show’s only – minor – weakness, has been tightened and sharpened and marches relentlessly, like the flow of history, to its fateful conclusion.

I’ve been so positive that perhaps I need to provide at least one caveat, and that’s the cost of admission. A check on the web shows that little is available in the near future directly from the venue, where most tickets are already hyper-expensive, and that the secondary market is mind-bending. A seat in the rear mezzanine can approach $200 in a secondary sale, and one in a prime orchestra location can go for more than $1,000. Such is the price of success. I guess it depends on how much it means to you.
 
Miranda certainly means a great deal to the theater. If he remains on Broadway (and doesn’t succumb to the movies), he has the potential to become this century’s equivalent of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Make that Rodgers and Hammerstein, since Miranda has done as one person what they accomplished as two – music, lyrics and libretto – with acting thrown in. Let’s hope he sticks around. And continues to create more theater history.

 


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