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“Hamilton An American Musical” At Richard Rodgers Theatre, Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 Reviewed


Last night, I finally got around to catching the biggest Broadway Musical at least since “The Producers” – the production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” currently breaking all kinda records at the Richard Rogers on Broadway, after a sold out run at the Public.

I am very late because I really hadn’t much cared for Miranda’s earlier “In The Heights” and, to be honest, I am not particularly interested in American history, the Hamilton in question being founding father cum Federalist paper writing, current ten buck cover boy  Alexander.

What I knew about him is, I suppose, just about what you know about him: he was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr. And now I know a lot more, a lot more than I really want to know but, again, I am less enthralled not being from here originally. It is like if some work friend used “Family Tree Ancestry” and discovered his Great Grandfather was a carpenter. Yeah, interesting… sort of. That’s how I feel about all that USA founding father’s , interesting, to a degree.

So, a story that doesn’t interest  by an artist who doesn’t thrill.  But then “Hamilton” went exothermic and I buckled down and got a ticket with the assumption that I would agree with no one. And I agree with no one. But not as badly as I thought I would.

The problem with this hip hop retelling of the story of Hamilton, George Washington’s right hand man, an impoverished orphan, who immigrated to the US before it was the US,fought in the war of Independence, most often with his pen, and died in a stupid duel, is the hip hop . In what world is this a great score? Wherein lies its greatness? Where is there great songs? I couldn’t find one, not one. The story filled rap crazy, one shot metaphor R&B flava in your ear is exciting, but is it great? I mean is it great compared to, say, Jay Z? For all its loaded with intelligence and rhymes cleverness, it sounds ordinary. And the ballads are worse. You will leave the Richard Rogers singing nothing, remembering not one song, and if you pick up the soundtrack you will wonder why you loved the musical so much.

Indeed, it is so rotten you can’t help but wonder if there is a racial subtext to the raves –raves, in fact, don’t begin to describe it, testimonials. Not that the Ben Brantley’s of the world are even subconsciously liars but that the rest of us are worried about being labeled if we voice dissent. It makes you too aware that Miranda is Puerto Rican… and that the cast, with the exception of Rory O’Malley’s comedic turn as King George  III, are people of color, whenare forced to love it.

So catching “Hamilton” for the first time, you are stuck between the miracle of getting a ticket, Miranda’s recently won Pulitzer prize, the multi-culti oh so American company maelstrom, and just trying to watch it honestly. The question is: “Are you enjoying yourself?”. The answer is, the first act was good, a sort of 1776 for the 1990s, and the second act was spectacular. Put together, and yes you will certainly enjoy yourself and they still aren’t  “Showboat”-that masterpiece os miscegenation that rattled everything around it. They still aren’t a true  game changer.

Act One opens with a cue to what we are getting ourselves into, “Alexander Hamilton” –as much exposition as one song can handle without fainting, followed quickly by the awful “One Shot” –the worst thing about Miranda’s entire “Hamilton”  is that “One Shot” palaver. One shot for fame and fortune (surely the antithesis of the American Dream, the US is all second and third and fourth shots), and also the one shot that would kill a loved one, and finally kill Hamilton as well. After that,  it settles down with a smoldering one man Greek chorus Leslie Odom Jr as Aaron Burr, befriending the newly immigrated Hamilton (Miranda wrote himself the role he was born to play), while George Washington lead them both into war against the British.

As has been noted plenty of times, these aren’t the old bewigged Hamiltons and Washingtons on your hard cash currency, but vibrant, excited men of war and destiny. Everything is a flurry of movement and excitement, it is a great though oft told ride, and while it is no better than “1776”, even with the score as we know it, it is a thrill. By the halfway of the first first act, we are overwhelmed by plot: Miranda falls in love and marries (to too good to be true Phillippa Soo –saddled with one too many soppy ballad) , Miranda fights with Washington (a strong, smart Christopher Jackson), Miranda has an affair with his wife’s sister (attractive, ambiguous Renee Elise Goldsberry),   on and on the plots accrue, 75 minutes of nonstop story (followed by another 75 minutes of nonstop story). Musically, it is like there is a hidden Biggie Smalls tribute going on behind the story as well. The shouts of “Ladies” during the army goes a-courtin ‘ “Right Hand Man” claims Junior Mafia as surely as “Ten Duel Commandments” nods to Life After Death.

It is all a whole lot, maybe too much, and in the end Miranda would have been better off with less story to tell. Hewed a little closer to history. Still, he gave the best song,  “Helpless” to Hamilton’s wife Eliza, and the top dance number of the entire evening to the entire company (some 20 souls). “Yorktown”.

The second act is better, the Americans win (hope I didn’t too much away there) and Miranda is a workaholic lawyer, and also the head speechwriter for Washington, the secretary of the treasury and protected by Washington, who loves him greatly. However, jealousy is filling the air as Madison, the greatest Thomas Jefferson of all time, and still glowering after all these years  Aaron Burr, hate on Washington’s blue eyed boy. A little more about Daveed Diggs, extravagant, dressed in Purple, Jefferson, a  one of the boys eccentric like not Prince but Keith or something , every time he comes on stage I want to laugh out loud, he exudes absolute cool and passion and smarts, his “What Did I Miss” is a thriller and the rap battle between Jefferson and Hamilton is the best moment of the evening.  “The Room Where It Happens”, Burr’s best moment, is Albany politics three men in a room transplanted into art, and Jefferson is so interesting, he feels presidential.

Jefferson, and Miranda, and the rest of these wild nation building guys, are absolute perfection. This in itself might not make “Hamilton” the game changer people are claiming for it, but what it does, as Larry Schneiderman noted , is  make history come to life. It tears it out of textbooks, and makes it a vibrant colorful thing.  In theory, changing the founding fathers from middle aged white men of money to scrappy multi-cultural wannabes, seems like PC gone wrong. But the reality is, Hamilton was a 17 year old orphan from Le Croix via Scotland, he had much more in common with Miranda than he does with Donald Trump.  Indeed, they both have more in common with rap stars who came from the projects to world fame, to quote Biggie Small.. It is a deeper truth than you find in history books.

So, yes, “Hamilton” is great but not that great. Between the Presidential election, care against being called racist, and simply little knowledge of great rap, there has been an overreaction.  It is still a great musical, a lot of fun and a huge credit to Miranda.  I am not sure how much of it rests on Miranda’s performance. , my friend Jessica Theisen de Gonzalez who works at the theatre, claims with understudy (and probably taking the role over in July) Javier Muñoz, it  is really technically a better show. But either way “Hamilton”  should stay as long as “Jersey Boys”, “Lion King”  or “Wicked” (and much longer than “The Producers” did), hey it is better than socials studies.

Grade: A-

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