angelofmusic: Jakub Wocial - Phantom of the Opera (pic#4869127)
[personal profile] angelofmusic
Musical: Hamilton
Production: Broadway
Theatre: Richard Rodgers Theatre
Date: 16th March 2016

_________________________


Once upon a time, I wrote in this blog. It’s been a while, ni? But I have a good reason for remembering it exists and that reason is because I am weak and have no self-control :)

So last year, a cast recording dropped. And it was very, very good. And for 16 years, I had resisted the siren’s call of Broadway, and I would have managed to keep resisting despite the flurry of great shows, right up until the moment that I listened to the bloody Hamilton album and decided that hey, it’s only money, maybe I should go the NYC and try and get a ticket, despite the fact they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

As you can see from the fact I am reviewing the show, I found a hen’s tooth ;)

To give my initial impression of Hamilton, I have to say it is easily the most well-executed musical I have ever seen. I’ve seen dozens, maybe hundreds, of performances and stagings of different shows on four continents, but I have never seen one where everything fitted so beautifully together.

The sets are kept simple. No massive fancy layers of backdrops swinging in from all sides throughout, just the u-shaped tier of wooden platforms and staircases with coils of heavy ropes and metal rings, reminiscent of 18th century ships, and a plain backdrop of rough red brick. Because of that, you don’t get distracted by them. If it makes sense, they enhance the mood of the piece without undermining by giving you too much to examine. Also, the stage revolve is used so beautifully. It allowed for so much action in a very limited space, and the way it was used during scenes like Hurricane and Satisfied to create flashbacks in a live performance blew my mind.

Accordingly, because of that, the whole focus is on the action, and whoever designed the lighting rigs for this show deserves a big hug and kiss, because the lighting is incredible. It is used in so many different ways: spotlighting, highlighting different parts of action which are happening simultaneously in different tones and textures, coloured spotting for mood moments, so many things.

The orchestrations are also subtly different from the album, mostly because it’s live theatre and hey, music is a living force. The frenetic pace and power in some of the action scenes were countered by the lilting and sudden stillness of the later parts of act two. The use of musical motifs that echoed through the show definitely helped weave all the strands of the plot together. Quiet Uptown, where so many motifs recur, will quite literally take your heart and put it through a blender.

I also loved the recurring visual themes that were used to draw the story together in a cohesive whole. The one that really stood out for me were when Washington offers Hamilton a quill: first when he offers him a position as right-hand man and the second when he’s asking Hamilton to write his address. The simplicity and power of the echo of their first meeting and the last time we see them together was breathtaking.

The show left a strong impression on me just from the soundtrack. I have a mental film that plays when I listen to it, and when I was watching the show, it felt like I wasn’t the only one. The whole thing gave the impression that it was designed for film but had been reworked to fit the stage. Everything about it screams that it could be a film: the pacing, the transitions between scenes, the flicking between multiple sections of action, the intimate moments. If this isn’t turned into a film, I will be tremendously sad.

Regarding the cast, the whole ensemble is so strong.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s energy permeates the whole show, and his Alexander Hamilton is a powerhouse. He’s managed to create a character who is both incredibly likeable and charismatic, but who you can easily understand why people would get annoyed/frustrated/a wee bit shooty with him.

In contrast, Leslie Odom Junior’s Aaron Burr is the calm, measured man who would appear to be the perfect kind of personality to be a Statesman, but who is gradually unravelling as his ambitions and plans are perpetually thwarted. His stillness and patience is such a counter to LMM’s Alexander, so when the moments of frustration, anger and just ARGH WTF MAN come, they are shockingly intense. Oh, and this man’s voice will give you goosebumps. Powerful, intense and beautiful.

Seth Stewart was on for Lafeyette and Jefferson when I saw it. Understandably, his rapping wasn’t quite as motor-mouthed as Daveed Diggs (that man raps at machine-gun pace), but he was still a charming and fun Lafeyette. However, in act two, when he came on as Jefferson, he owned the stage. His Jefferson was the perfect embodiment of the overconfident swaggering arrogance of the Southerners, convinced he was right and mocking and belittling Hamilton for his manners, dress and heritage. Against LMM’s Hamilton, the clash of personalities was spectacular.

Okieriete Onaodowan is another one of the actors in a split role. In act 1, he’s our Hercules Mulligan, an affable, lairy, cheerful tailor-turned-spy. In act 2, he’s the anxious, testy James Madison who works alongside Jefferson. The characters were such polar opposites, and Oak did a fantastic job of creating two very different personalities, right down to voice, physicality and expression.

Anthony Ramos as Laurens genuinely felt like the heart of the group. In only a few short scenes, he created a young man who is good and so well-intentioned, but still such a cheeky young lad when he has a drink in him, which makes his final scene so much more tragic. In act 2, his Philip was like an echo of his father, hot-headed, eager, proud and determined to do right, and tragically so. Again, his final scene was absolutely devastating.

Phillipa Soo as Eliza is wonderful as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Contrasted to Hamilton’s wildly unpredictable behaviour and reactive personality, Soo has created a woman who is his anchor, who provides him the support that he needs without ever seeming to be downtrodden. Her growth from flustered young woman with a crush to proud mother to dignified wife in the shadows of a sex scandal, to widow is beautiful to watch. The grace she brought to the character was incredibly moving.

If Hamilton has a personality foil in Burr, Renee Elise Goldsberry provides Eliza’s foil in Angelica Schuyler. Where Eliza is ‘helpless’ and passive in act 1, Angelica is a force of nature. She has ideas and passion and charisma. She knows what she wants, but will make sacrifices out of necessity despite her own desires. Goldsberry beautifully created this brilliant woman who is confined by the limits of her sex in the time she lives in, forced to fall into traditional roles and chafing eternally at the social bonds that restrain her. Like Hamilton, she’s frustrated, passionate and wants to make a difference, but where he can act, she can never be satisfied.

Jasmine Cephas Jones is the last of the Schuyler sisters, and also doubles up as Maria Reynolds in act 2. You wouldn’t recognise the characters as being played by the same person at all. Peggy Schuyler is the youngest of the Schuylers and made of impatience and teenage petulance, but Maria by contrast is a beautifully layered study of a woman marked as a whore and seductress. She brings such a wonderful vulnerability to Maria, especially in the Reynolds Pamphlet scene, where it is made clear that like Angelica, Maria is a woman who is trapped by convention and betrayed by both the men in her life, with the blame for the affair being ascribed to her.

Next up, in order of appearance, we have the incandescent Jonathan Groff. His George III is just this fantastically wild over-the-top villain, who struts and pouts and whose lapses in from coy cajoling to snarling possessiveness were brilliant to behold. Yes, this is a comic character, but the nuances of George III’s fraying sanity there made me so happy. I also love the contrast of his almost rigid, prim and proper body language contrasted with the natural and frenetic energy of the rest of the cast.

And of course, the show couldn’t go on without Chris Jackson’s George Washington. This performance was just amazing. It’s very difficult to bring to life a character who inspires loyalty and passion in his men, but this Washington was exactly that. This was a man you could follow and believe in, and Jackson gave him such gravitas and authority that you could see why people would fall in with him. And in his final big number, he practically raised the roof with that powerful voice of his.

Special note also given for Sydney Harcourt as Schuyler/James Reynolds/the doctor - minor roles, but each one a very distinctive personality and body language in the brief moments we got to see them. His James Reynolds especially was the kind of unpleasant guy you just want to kick.

And to Thayne Jasperson as the adorably flustered and awkward Seabury in a scene that made me snigger into my sleeve, and Jon Rua as a clearly out-of-his-depth Charles Lee. People bringing such small roles so vividly alive is one of the reasons this show is as brilliant as it is.

Kudos also to every other member of the ensemble for bringing their energy and passion to the performance. The ensemble routines, especially Right-Hand Man and Yorktown, were thrilling to watch and I’m so glad I had the chance to see it all.

(And if any of the cast happen to stumble on this review, thank you so much for making my holiday so memorable :) You have no idea how happy you all made me. And Sydney, thank you)
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