Review: ‘Hamilton’ at the Kennedy Center Lives Up to the Hype

This Hamilton is sharp. It’s energetic. It’s youthful. And it’s as poignant as ever.

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Legacy. It is the central theme of Hamilton. One has to ask—could Lin-Manuel Miranda have known while penning this masterpiece that Hamilton would one day become his legacy? If so, that is quite the existential legacy within a legacy head trip.

On June 14, Hamilton finally landed in DC almost three years after opening on Broadway. The energy in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center was palpable. This one has been a long time coming.

Hamilton National Tour (performers are not necessarily those performing in Washington, DC). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Hamilton National Tour (performers are not necessarily those performing in Washington, DC). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Let me start with a confession: I have seen Hamilton once before. I saw the original Broadway cast in February of 2016. In some ways it feels like just a moment ago (how could two years have possibly passed?) and yet, it struck me while watching this performance that politically and culturally we live in a very different time than we did when Hamilton premiered in New York. The show is more relevant than ever and the energy from the audience is much less light-hearted than it was in winter of 2016 in New York. We live in difficult times and the audience watches the political musical through a much more serious lens.

We ask: what happens when deals are struck in back rooms between a handful of politicians? What are they bargaining away for their own purposes? Do our elected officials really have the best interest of their constituents in mind? Are they more concerned with how they will be remembered, or how much power they can accrue, than how their actions hurt the people closest to them? Seriously, is this 1800 or 2018?

Turns out, even after having seen the original cast, there is much to say about the “Angelica Tour.” First, it is packed with fresh faces. Most of the principal cast do not have Broadway credits. Some cast members come to the production straight from college. One principal cast member even notes in his bio that this is his first equity contract. (Not a bad first union gig, eh?) What does this mean? The audience at this Hamilton gets to watch stars on the rise. Remember these names, folks.

The show’s leading player, Austin Scott—in his mid-twenties I learned upon doing some post-show research—brings a charismatic mix of charm, swagger, and depth to the complex Hamilton. After having seen Miranda originate the role, dare I say, Scott is a better fit? When Scott enters the stage and all eyes turn to him, it makes perfect sense. He’s a tall, dashing, boyish, and articulate Hamilton. The fact that Angelica, played by the sharp and grounded Sabrina Sloan, gets lost in his eyes? Well, let’s just say it’s believable.

The company of Hamilton (performers may not be those performing in Washington, DC). Photo by Joan Marcus.
The company of Hamilton (performers may not be those performing in Washington, DC). Photo by Joan Marcus.

An additional benefit in having seen the original cast and getting a fresh look at Hamilton is getting to pay even closer to attention to the details that make Hamilton a better show than all the rest. The set. The lighting. The orchestrations. And, my word, the choreography. Longtime fans of Hamilton are quick to call Miranda a “genius” for his book, music, and lyrics. But what may be even more genius? The ability to assemble a perfect creative team. Thomas Kail’s direction paired with Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography ideally complements and heightens Miranda’s work. I was struck by how precise the machine of staging is executed in Hamilton. The choreography and blocking of the ensemble is symphonic. The use of the turntable could not be improved upon. Every piece of this show just works. You can’t help but be tempted by the thought ‘if only this team was working on all the Broadway shows. How good could a show like Amelie have been?’ I digress.

This Hamilton is sharp. It’s energetic. It’s youthful. And it’s as poignant as ever in the nation’s capital where Eliza Hamilton once helped raise funds to build the Washington Monument. Now that is a legacy.

“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me. America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me. You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.”

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission

Hamilton plays through September 16, 2018, at the Kennedy Center–  2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. Tickets are being released daily for upcoming performances. There is a four (4) ticket limit per household for Hamilton. Please note that www.kennedy-center.org is the only authorized source for Hamilton tickets in Washington, DC. There are also forty $10 orchestra seats offered for all performances via lottery at hamiltonmuiscal.com/lottery.

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