Monday, March 16, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) and the company of Hamilton. Photo: Joan Marcus.
NOTE: This review is of the Off-Broadway production at the Public Theater. For information about the Broadway production, visit http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com/

 A Revolutionary Hamilton Becomes the Shot Heard ’Round the Theater World
By Lauren Yarger
It could be called revolutionary, because it is. It also could be called exciting and fresh. Mostly, The Public Theater’s sold out run of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s newest musical about the life and loves of Alexander Hamilton has been the shot heard ‘round the theater world, as its popularity has required three extensions at its Off-Broadway home and launched it to a new Broadway production this summer.

There for a while, producers were toying with the idea of bringing the show to The Great White Way this season in the hopes of stealing some Tony Awards in June, but apparently backed off in favor of giving Miranda (In the Heights) a chance to work some more on the piece first.

Wise move. While this musical is one of the most entertaining I have seen say, since Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (do I see a historical theme here?), the two-hour, 30-minute run time should be cut by about 20 minutes (easily done—at least one of the 34 musical numbers can go and so can a couple of less-than-flattering references to women) and the book could use some tightening (lose the confusing references to Burr’s love for the wife of an English soldier). If those changes are made, Hamilton will be a contender (and possibly a sweeper) at the 2016 Tonys. Without it, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see it up for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for which Miranda was a finalist with In the Heights.)

Miranda, reunited with creatives from the Tony-Award winning In the Heights, (Director Thomas Kail; Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler; Music Director and Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, Costume designer Paul Tazewell and Lighting Designer Howell Binkley) not only writes the music, lyrics and book (inspired by the book “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow), but also stars as Alexander Hamilton.

The hip-hop musical (with a few ballads thrown in for variety) is about taking your shot, speaking your mind, and turning the world upside down.

This show certainly turns thoughts about the Founding Fathers upside down, thanks in part to a multi-ethic cast that has non-whites playing Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette (both portrayed by Daveed Diggs) and George Washington (Christopher Jackson) for starters.

The focus is on asking how to tell the story of Hamilton, an illegitimate, orphan immigrant who ended up being Washington's right hand man forming the nation’s economy (“Who lives; who dies; who tells your story?” asks the playbill). Later, he becomes the center of the country’s first sex scandal and is probably most known for his duel with Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.). The influence of Hamilton’s life on America today is felt in the modern feel of the costumes (there is a mix of period look with more modern wear with Revolutionary influence) and in modern language.

Besides Hamilton’s part in the Revolution and in helping to build America ( he wrote a majority of the Federalist Papers), the book includes some of his personal life. He marries Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), but also maintains a relationship with her sister, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), who had wanted Hamilton for herself (one number intriguingly and movingly replays the scene where Hamilton and Eliza meet from Angelica’s perspective).

Later, Hamilton finds himself embroiled in scandal following an affair with Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and suffers the loss of his son, Phillip (portrayed a bit creepily at age 9 and then later as an adult by Anthony Ramos) who dies in a duel, foreshadowing his father's own end. A scene about forgiveness, brought tears to many in the audience.

Despite the needed tweaks mentioned above, I found myself totally enjoying the show, told mostly in song and Manuel’s clever lyrics as well as through Blankenbuehler’s choreography, enhances the storytelling without getting in the way.

Kail keeps the pace moving with precision and good back action that rounds out a scene. Performances and singing voices are terrific across the boards. The strong ensemble is comprise dof Carleigh Bettiol, Andrew Chappelle , Ariana DeBose, Alysha DesLorieux, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings,Thayne Jasperson, Stephanie Klemons, Javier Muñoz, Jon Rua, Seth Stewart, Betsy Struxness, Ephraim Sykes, and Voltaire Wade-Greene…. Ensemble

Very funny is King George (Jonathan Groff), the hapless sovereign who doesn’t quite get why the colonists are upset with him:

“You’ll be back. When push comes to shove I will kill all your friends and family to remind you of my love,” he sings in a perky number.

Note: Groff replaced Brian d’Arcy James, whom I would love to have seen in this role -- I am not sure who has been cast in this role for the Broadway engagement.

If you don’t already have tickets to the sold out run at the Public, you are in luck. Tickets are on sale for the Broadway production which begins previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre July 13 for an Aug. 6 opening.


More information:
Hamilton runs through May 3 at The Public Theater’s Newman Theater, 425 Lafayetter St., NYC. This run is sold out, but cancellations may become available so check the box office at (212) 967-7555 orwww.publictheater.org for last minute availability.

The Public and TodayTix will continue to offer “Hamilton for a Hamilton” ($10), furthering the innovative new partnership with TodayTix and The Public’s ongoing commitment to making theater accessible to everyone. During the run of Hamilton, a pair of tickets will be available for each performance for $10 per ticket. The lottery will begin each day at midnight for the performance that same day, and winners will be notified three to four hours before show time. Winners will make the payment in the TodayTix app and collect the tickets at the box office. A limited number of $20 tickets, subject to availability, will be distributed via a lottery in the lobby of The Public Theater. For full details on the lottery, please visit publictheater.org. These tickets are $20, cash only, with a limit of two tickets per person.

The Library at The Public (212-539-8777) is open nightly for dinner before or after a show  
 starting at 5:30 PM.  Please RSVP via email to HamiltonRSVP@publictheater.org.  

Tickets for the Broadway engagement at the Richard Rodger Theater, 226 West 46th St. NYC (previews begin July 13 with an official opening Aug. 6) are available at www.ticketmaster.com800-745-3000

Christians might like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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