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Hamilton An American Musical – Surpasses the Hype, Making the Most of Its Shot

Hamilton An American Musical – Surpasses the Hype, Making the Most of Its Shot
Miguel Cervantes

Miguel Cervantes and cast

It was with great excitement and exuberance I joined a packed house of fellow Chicagoans to witness firsthand the megahit phenomenon, Hamilton An American Musical. Creative wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s love letter to one of this country’s original Founding Fathers.  Jaw dropping fabulous, from start to finish, this type of show is a once in a  lifetime theatrical event.  The accolades showered upon this production have been impressive and substantial.  Winning 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and collecting a litany of trophies from the Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, Drama Desk, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, where the Broadway company performed live on the Grammy ceremonies. But tonight was all about the new permanent Chicago cast and their open-ended run at the PrivateBank Theatre. I would be stunned if Hamilton & Company didn’t run well through 2018 and beyond.  Spectacular, mind-blowingly glorious and wildly original, Hamilton An American Musical is the must see theatrical experience.

Joshua Henry

Joshua Henry

Director Thomas Kail’s cast is young, passionate, easy on the eyes and ferociously talented. Andy Blankenbuehler’s strong, furious, passionate, sexy and gravity defying choreography astounded. Paul Tazewell’s costume design and Charles G. LaPointe hair and wig design put distinctively modern twists on a not so staunch period piece.  I’ve noticed “Sexy Hamilton” is a hot costume for this year’s Halloween. I pondered what could possibly be added to make these costumes appear sexier?  Howell Binkley’s lighting is better served sitting in the mezzanine or balcony, as you may miss many of the nuanced patterns formed on the stage from a main floor seat. Regardless of your location in the theater, this musical certainly packs a punch and does not, pardon the pun, throw away its shot.  Then there are the songs. With terrific music supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, this soundtrack featured an organic and revolutionary blend of pop, rap, hip-hop, R&B and classic show tune touches that were routinely met with thunderous applause from the sold out onlookers. Intelligent lyrics told in rapid-fire succession, song after song, with the viewer intrinsically engaged the entire time. Needless to say, this energetic contemporary masterpiece is no dusty history lesson.

Alexander Gemignani

Alexander Gemignani

The show centered around an émigré from the West Indies, “Immigrants we get the job done!” who became both George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War, as well as becoming the first Treasury Secretary of America. “I just love my country.  I’m young. Scrappy and hungry, and I am not throwing away my shot” he exclaimed as his career started to ascend.  As Alexander Hamilton, Miquel Cervantes is in fine voice and reserved physique. Tossing in lines like “Burr, I’d rather be divisive than indecisive” this Hamilton may be diminutive in stature, but he is large in ideals. His character may be the title, but his is hardly the showiest role. Joshua Henry’s Aaron Burr, a personal and professional rival who told Hamilton to “talk less, smile more” and Chris De’Sean Lee, in the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette & Thomas Jefferson, were allotted the most opportunity for grand showboating. Jonathan Kirkland’s George Washington was elegant and statesmanlike. Standing a foot and a half taller than Cervantes, Washington was an imposing mentor and father figure. As for the ladies, the affluent Schuyler Sisters were placed in very capable hands. Eliza (Ari Afsar), Alexander’s eventual bride, has a smooth and gorgeous voice, her chemistry with Cervantes quite palpable.  As for her intellectual and commanding sister, Angelica Schuyler, Karen Olivo is a spitfire. “Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now! History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city I the world.” Insert hands snapping defiantly in the air here please. Bent comic relief was supplied by very British, King George (Alexander Gemignani) and his wispy  “You’ll Be Back”  a taunt at the colonies and the perceived problems of crafting an emerging new government.

 Karen Olivo, Ari Afsar,  Samantha Marie Ware

Karen Olivo, Ari Afsar,
Samantha Marie Ware

The parallels between Hamilton’s unequaled ambition, mixed with a personality many characters referred to as someone who “could never be satisfied,” and the show’s creative driving force, Lin-Manuel Miranda, are abundant. Miranda served as book, music and lyric writer, as well as star of the New York production. Based on the complex novel Hamilton by Ron Chernow, both men were personally in the house on opening night.  Receiving an unprecedented ovation, Miranda shared heartfelt thanks to the people of Chicago for accepting this cast and story with such grace and love. He promised “we will keep running as long as you keep buying tickets.” Being a man of his word, the first six months of this run are virtually sold out, and extensions are being teased. Just like in New York, the existing Broadway in Chicago box office records and ticket prices for this show are busting through uncharted glass ceilings. “I’ve never seen anything like this” shared a friendly face who routinely regularly works that ticket window. Supply and demand at its best, I am sure.  Believe me, this show is worth it.  Witnessing Congressional debates told through old-school rap battles, passionate love triangles, betrayal & murder has never been so enthralling. The non-traditional casting proved riveting, inspired, wholly original and wondrous. You will be so glad you took the time to be in “The Room Where It Happened.” Toward the end of the show, it was asked, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”  Luckily Miranda and company are alive and well, at the epicenter of the burgeoning future of American Theater. Both Miranda and Hamilton An American Musical proving to be this industry’s “Right Hand Man.”

Chris De’Sean Lee

Chris De’Sean Lee

Hamilton An American Musical is playing at the PrivateBank Theatre for an open-ended run.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Out of Town

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

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