Review: ‘Hamilton’ at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre

The notion that “history has its eyes on you” animates and obsesses the title character in Hamilton. A similar shadow of destiny heralded the Maryland debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unstoppable, bobsled rush of a musical.

Bryson Bruce, center, with cast of Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Bryson Bruce, center, with cast of ‘Hamilton.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Not to worry. The packed opening night crowd at Baltimore’s historic Hippodrome Theatre found no reason to regret its collective ticket investment. From the first dum-diddy-dee-dum dum beat of the orchestra and the initial volley of words, the eventual triumph of this 11-time Tony Award-winner appeared virtually in the bag.

Perhaps this should have not been a surprise given that supervision over this national touring company is credited to Director Thomas Kail and Music Supervisor Alex Lacamoire, both with the show since its workshop days. Also on board is the play’s Tony-winning Broadway choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, keeping the stage hip-hopping with a few choice juggled props and a platoon of gung-ho troupers.

While the cast itself is new, the talent pool is virtually bottomless for a show of this magnitude. The performers all measure up to the standards of mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda in terms of energy, crispness of articulation and the sheer love of performing.

Edred Utomi submerges himself in the role of Alexander Hamilton, the young West Indies immigrant who comes to New York City hoping to become “a new man.” Utomi has the right amount of charisma and humor to finesse the jagged edges of the politician’s steely opportunism. He more than sells himself in his big reinvention solo, “My Shot,” and reveals a sweet musicality in “The Story of Tonight” and elsewhere.

In many ways the juicier role belongs to Hamilton’s lifelong rival, Aaron Burr. In that part, Josh Tower wields perhaps the show’s most impressively grand voice, overpowering the audience with showstopping turns in “The World Was Wide Enough” and “Guns and Ships.” He is equally impressive, though, in more tender lyrical passages during “Dear Theodosia,” for instance.

Hannah Cruz is another notable discovery in the role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. Swishing around in her colonial mint-green dresses with her striking, partly-shaven head she is a living time machine set to evoke the universal plights and replenishments of womanhood. Time and again she lulls the audience with her unerring musicality in “Helpless” and “That Would Be Enough,” to name only two.

Through all the talk of war and politics by the men, it’s the female characters who are often the strongest presence in Hamilton. Stephanie Umoh gives strong support as Angelica, the second Schuyler sister capable of turning Hamilton’s head (note her first-rate “Satisfied”). Olivia Puckett also steals the spotlight for a time as the vixen-ish Maria Reynolds, whose embraces threaten to cut short Hamilton’s career.

Peter Matthew Smith as King George in Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Peter Matthew Smith as King George in Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Again and again, the male performers register with wonderfully indelible characterizations. Tré Frazier dominates several scenes with his thrilling bass delivery as George Washington, and Peter Matthew Smith delights each time he appears as the petty King George, alternating between hatred and gloating over the turmoil inside his former colonies.

Also standing out as comic relief are both Bryson Bruce as a prancing, dilettantish Thomas Jefferson and Robbie Nicholson as the backstabbing General Charles Lee.

All questions of open casting and anachronism and stylistic caprices aside, Hamilton turns out to be a rather straightforward work of historical storytelling. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrestles with the eternal questions that dog all historians when they go to turn raw data into a coherent narrative. He makes the need for educated guessing an important thread in his play: “No One Else Was in the Room Where It Happens,” sing the observers before offering us their own assumptions.

Miranda’s greatest achievement, in fact, may be in proving to modern audiences that taking the right liberties can still bring dusty old stories to life. His generous applications of rap, hip-hop, Britpop and traditional Broadway styles unleash all the latent vitality in the historical record. What could make a more lasting and memorable impression than that?

Running Time: About 165 minutes, with one intermission.

Hamilton plays through July 21, 2019, at the Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center — 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (800) 982-ARTS, or purchase them here.

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John Harding
Born and raised in Los Angeles, John Harding is an award-winning writer and editor. His features and reviews on film and theater have been published in the Washington Post and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Since 1982 he has covered D.C. and Maryland theater for Patuxent Publishing, and was arts editor for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He hosted a long-running cable-TV cultural affairs program and served numerous terms as chair of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Also known for his fiction as John W. Harding, his newest novel is “The Ben-Hur Murders: Inside the 1925 'Hollywood Games.'” It grew out of his lifelong love of early Hollywood lore. It is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets.