Hamilton: A Review

Sophie Davis, Staff Writer

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Hamilton: An American Musical, has graced the stage of Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the past weeks. And the verdict: It is well deserving of the hype it earns. This show tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton, but our young immigrant hero is not the star. Rather, history itself. Being able to immerse oneself in the story of the founding of our country told by the people of our country today is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unlike any of its Broadway predecessors, Hamilton uses varied music styles, including rap, jazz, bluegrass, and R&B to express themes of love and loss, freedom of opportunity, hard work, and dedication.

From left to right; Eliza Schuyler/Hamilton (Shoba Narayan), Angelica Schuyler (Ta’Rea Campbell), and Peggy Schuyler (Nyla Sostre).

The show opens with Alexander Hamilton, the driven and forthcoming account of Hamilton’s journey to the colonies. Characters from further in his life, unknown by him, sing to the audience of young Alex’s hardships. His passage to America was not an easy one, an illegitimate child, an orphan, who wrote his way to the colonies.

As the show progresses, you meet Hamilton’s Revolutionary friends: Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and his soon-to-be enemy Aaron Burr. The early numbers are filled with passion and fun. Aaron Burr, Sir, My Shot, and The Story of Tonight highlight the playfulness and youth of our young heroes, leaving no doubt in your mind that these actors are not acting, they just are their characters; they’re just that good.

Pictured Right: King George III (Jon Patrick Walker).

Further down, The Schuyler Sisters plays, and you are introduced to the rest of Hamilton’s life. King George III dominates the stage and captivates the audience during You’ll Be Back, with a tinge of irony and comedic relief.

Canonfire during Right Hand Man is absolutely captivating. As the stage lights change to the sound of each cannon’s fire, I got chills, making this one of my personal favorite lighting aspects of the show.

Eliza Hamilton (Shoba Nayaran) and Alexander Hamilton (Joseph Morales).

As the show moves to Helpless and Satisfied, Hamilton falls in love with Eliza Schyuler and weds her. During Satisfied, Eliza’s sister, Angelica reminisces how she and Alexander met, sharing her side of the story. Using complicated stage elements, the show goes back in time to recount Angelica’s personal discourse. The audience seems to travel through time with her as Angelica belts out her inner dialogue.

Act I of the show ends with a series of powerhouse numbers, including Guns and Ships, Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down), and Non-Stop. French Revolutionary, Marquis de Lafayette raps at the speed of light, encouraging Washington to give Hamilton command in the war in Guns and Ships, highlighting a very distinct character arch, as Lafayette struggled with English pronunciation earlier in Aaron Burr, Sir. Bringing the end to the Revolutionary War, Yorktown is not only a turning point for American history but a turning point in the show as well. As America claims victory, the young Patriots sing and dance as a battalion, as Hamilton exclaims he’s “Gotta start a new nation gotta meet my son!”. The climax of this number is as the music hits a drop, the stage freezes, and spotlights highlight the battalion and their muskets, bringing chills to every audience member.

Non-Stop is another powerhouse number, engaging the audience members and highlighting Hamilton’s ‘non-stop’ work ethic and dedication. This song includes characters and lines from many other earlier songs and the overlap of all these numbers provides a sense of convenient chaos to the audience- almost as a glance into Hamilton’s mind.

Alexander Hamilton (Joesph Morales), and George Washington (Marcus Choi).

Act II opens with the entrance of Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s fellow founding father and soon-to-be political rival. With ragtime and jazz influences, What’d I Miss is a song fit for a man of Jefferson’s demeanor. Dramatic and diametrically opposed to Hamilton, Jefferson’s character was well played out through his songs, humor, and character levels.  

Act II is overshadowed by themes of loss, challenge, and grief, playing to the tune of the challenges Hamilton faces in his later life. These songs, like the rest of the show, enable a sense of perpetual motion, allowing the audience to feel Hamilton’s sense of urgency, and his desperate belief that he is running out of time.

Full of anguish and competition, both Cabinet Battles 1 and 2 exemplify Jefferson and Hamilton’s blatantly contrasting political ideologies in an unconventional way- a rap battle.  As Washington acts as a mediator, he engages the audience as he opens with “Are you ready for a cabinet meeting, huh?”.

The plot begins to take a turn as Angelica and Eliza beg Alexander to Take a Break. It is during this song in which you meet Hamilton’s son, Philip. The song’s entirety shows Hamilton’s drive and work ethic, as he tells the two women he loves the most that he has to prioritize his financial plan. Without his family, Hamilton falls down a rabbit hole- all the way to Maria Reynolds. This was a pivotal moment, specifically for Orlando’s Alexander, as up to this point, the audience had not seen this darker side of Hamilton, helpless and out of control. Say No to This is one of the few times in the show Hamilton loses control over his fate, and so begins the spiral of his political career.

As Washington leaves office and John Adams becomes President, Hamilton’s political career takes a turn. Under Adams, Hamilton poses no power, unlike his command under Washington. The songs in the latter half of Act II are filled with angst, anxiety, and grief. Hurricane, Hamilton’s solo, tells the audience the most you learn about his childhood, as he plots to protect his legacy against scandal and secrecy. The staging during this number is phenomenal, as Hamilton is literally standing in the eye of a hurricane, the stage appearing as water and furniture around him in the air. Through this deeply impactful staging, the audience truly understands the chaos that surrounds Hamilton’s life since he lost control.

The publishing of The Reynolds Pamphlet pleasantly surprises Hamilton’s political opponents Jefferson, Madison, and Burr and they exclaim he “ain’t ever gonna be president now!”. As copies of the Pamphlet flood the stage, King George III returns, celebrating the demise of Hamilton’s credibility in the public’s eyes. As Hamilton publishes his affair with Maria Reynolds, Eliza is left heartbroken, along with every audience member. She sings Burn, as she realizes Hamilton was no longer hers. Brokenhearted, Eliza burns the letters Hamilton wrote her, claiming “The world has no right to my heart”. With letters quite literally burning on the stage, you can’t help but feel sorry for Eliza, as she truly did deserve better than Hamilton and his affair. Through Burn, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre. As she pauses during the song, the audience remains dead silent, nervous to sniffle or even breathe.

Through the next few songs, Hamilton and his wife experience overwhelming grief with the loss of Philip, their son. The loss of a child deeply impacts Hamilton and Eliza. The audience was dead silent as Eliza sobs over her son’s body. These scenes were extraordinarily powerful, bringing nearly every audience member to tears, myself included. Contrasting the luck-go-happy first act, Act II has taken a turn down the hardships of Hamilton’s life, allowing the actors to show layers for their characters.

As Alexander and Eliza grieve over their son, the Election of 1800 is simultaneously occurring, Jefferson against Burr. Hamilton endorses Jefferson, his long-time rival. This is when you truly see the complexity of Burr’s character. Enraged by Hamilton’s endorsement, Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel. Through the final songs in the show, Burr becomes ‘the damn fool that shot him’, as he takes Hamilton’s life in the duel. The show ends with Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. Eliza recounts the years of her life after Alexander’s death, realizing she now has the responsibility of making sure she and her husband are not lost in history.  The audience is yet again moved to tears as the cast sings the final note, bringing the show full circle.

Alexander Hamilton (Joesph Morales), and George Washington (Marcus Choi).

The most outstanding character arch was that of Aaron Burr. His character was phenomenal and caught my attention through the show. The touring Aaron Burr was comparable to that of the original cast, as you see many layers and emotions from him, showing his diverse and complex life story, his willingness to Wait For It, and his discontent with Hamilton.

Seeing this show live adds a whole other layer of complexity and amusement. For the three hours that I sat in the theatre, I laughed, I cried, and I laughed until I cried. If anyone was given the opportunity to see this multi-faced Broadway show, they would be foolish to pass it up. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, allowing you to spend a night with history as your host, engulfed in the complex story of our country’s founding with one of the lesser known, yet more impactful founding fathers. Spending a night with Hamilton is not a night wasted and the amazingly talented cast and crew can be thanked for that.