"Hamilton" is the hottest ticket in town, and deservedly so. Photo by Joan Marcus
From the night it debuted nearly three years ago Off Broadway at The Public Theater, Hamilton, the Musical has been rightly acclaimed for its innovative, propulsive approach to the American musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s nearly completely sung-through (much of it in rap) bio of Alexander Hamilton is a stirring, immersive experience that reinvents the art of lyrical storytelling.
Yet as Broadway San Diego’s presentation of Hamilton’s national tour underlines, Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize-winning creation is also a trenchant evocation of American history from the time of the Revolution (the focus of Act 1) through the turbulent formation and development of a new nation (along with Hamilton’s personal-life travails the crux of Act 2). Hamilton takes liberties with its broad characterizations of Jefferson (Jordon Donica) and Madison (Mathenee Treco), both depicted as antagonists, and a prissy, buffoonish King George (Rory O’Malley) recurs throughout for comic relief. But while focusing on the immigrant Hamilton’s (Austin Scott) tireless determination and keen mind, Miranda does not gloss over the man’s frailties. This humanizing of character connects Hamilton the man, and the show, with the here and now.
Scott is dashing and undaunted in this production’s title role, stepping into the shoes Miranda filled for so long on Broadway. The self-empowering “My Shot” is his fitting anthem. Isaiah Johnson, who played George Washington in the recently ended Los Angeles run of Hamilton, reprises his portrayal at the Civic Theatre (the sound at which, happily, is crisp). Johnson is appropriately charismatic and his “One Last Time” a dramatic high point of the second act. As Hamilton’s rival Aaron Burr, Ryan Vasquez exudes more smugness than heat, and likely as intended, the character is not a sympathetic, tortured foe. He’s just the winner of a duel where Hamilton nobly lost his life.
While the rapped numbers of the score are electrifying, the breaths Hamilton takes for balladry, however central to the story, pale by comparison. But this is an extraordinary theater experience worthy of the plaudits that it has received. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 1/17/18.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat