"Hamilton" returns to San Diego after nearly five years. Photo by Joan Marcus
Seeing and hearing “Hamilton” for the second time wasn’t as mind-blowing as it was the first. Back in January 2018 at the Civic Theatre, Back then, I realized in the first five minutes of the show that this was something -- if you’ll excuse the word -- revolutionary. Wednesday night, again at the Civic, I beheld a “Hamilton” that was no longer surprising or startling in its ambition but very much still dynamic theater.
I was reminded once more just how seamlessly creator Lin-Manuel Miranda infused the score with hip-hop beats, in essence creating a fresh language for musical theater that went beyond even his previous “In the Heights.” I was reminded too how compelling the story of Alexander Hamilton is, Miranda’s show having been based on a book by Ron Chernow. Not only is “Hamilton” damned entertaining, but what a way to learn some history at the same time.
Now as then, the second act of the show is a bit of a come-down, emphasizing back-door politics and the crumbling of Hamilton’s personal life following an often-electrifying first act focused on the revolution. There are moments after intermission when it descends into melodrama and even piety.
Present throughout, however, are richly drawn characters, products of Miranda’s brilliantly anarchic deconstruction of the Founding Fathers we are taught from childhood to revere (there’s another word to excuse me on): a scheming, vainglorious Thomas Jefferson; a near-Machiavellian James Madison; a Judas-like Aaron Burr. All are delicious in their way.
Then there’s Miranda’s George Washington, portrayed as every bit the firm but paternal leader he was, and of course Hamilton the immigrant revolutionary himself – profound, complex, fiercely committed to higher principles but undone by his failure to honor his personal ones.
This touring production of “Hamilton” is led by Deaundre Woods in the lead role, and he brings that ferocity and damage to the fore. There’s a nearly reckless commitment on display during the signature “My Shot” number that sets the tone for a tale that will be as propulsive as the beats beneath it.
Tre Frazier is just as charismatic as Washington as Isaiah Johnson was in the 2018 production. Paris Nix does marvelous double duty as Lafayette (in Act One) and Jefferson (in Act Two). Ellis C. Dawson’s turn as Burr, who is the show’s omnipresent counterpoint to Hamilton, is a sympathetic one – until the end of the story when all sympathy goes to our fallen protagonist. The comic relief of Alex Larson as a prissy and pouting King George is gold.
The other key role in “Hamilton” is that of his wife, Eliza, but Morgan Anita Wood oversings, at times to the point of being grating.
As before, the costumes and choreography of “Hamilton” are spectacular. The American Revolution never looked, sounded or moved so well.
I’m wondering if “Hamilton” will enjoy a historic legacy in the theater as have far less daring shows (take your pick). Time will take care of that. One thing’s for certain: no one’s been able to duplicate it, on any number of levels, since it premiered in 2015.
Don’t hold your breath, either.
“Hamilton” runs through Nov. 20 at the Civic Theatre, downtown.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.