Rise Up and Experience Hamilton

This national touring company has all the elements of the original production—yes, the one we’ve all seen on Disney Plus—but seeing “Hamilton” in person is a different experience. 

Yes, experiencing Hamilton at Bass Performance Hall was everything I’d hoped. Since its premiere in 2015, I’ve watched bootleg videos, memorized the book, and waited for the film version’s “capture” of the original Tony award-winning cast and show. But now, finally, Hamilton is here in my hometown—and there is something grand and glorious in experiencing this world-changer of a musical as it should be: onstage.

In Hamilton, every element—performers, music, dance, design, and music—comes together to make a “whole” that you can’t replicate in any other medium. Pardon me, readers, if I go on a bit about the experience.

I want to extend a grateful “huzzah!” to Performing Arts Fort Worth and all those who made this show happen—and who is keeping Hamilton on tour through these challenging times. Some Houston and all Austin performances were recently canceled; so far, Fort Worth seems to be having better luck. It’s obvious they are playing musical chairs to fill the roles with regulars, understudies, and “swing” performers—but the cast has a deep bench of talent.)

What we see here is a production that feels like we’re opening the original wrapper around Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unforgettable music & lyrics, Alex Lacamoire’s fabulous orchestrations, and Andy Blankenbuehler’s astonishing choreography. It feels familiar, fresh, and still revolutionary in its vision of an all-inclusive American history.

In the audience: Plenty of eager kids, including a boy of eight or 10 wearing full “Alexander”—the blue-and-buff coat of an officer of the Continental Army. Two women with their hair dyed the same shade of Revolutionary Red. And seatmates who agreed it would be fun to beam in “some of those guys from the old days” to watch the show. (Gilbert & Sullivan? Rodgers & Hammerstein?) “I know they’d love it!” said one.

What struck me most about seeing Hamilton in real space, not virtual? In live performance, Miranda’s raid of the American songbook feels organic, as though each song style (hip hop, show tunes, military marches, swing, jazz, even a bit with a banjo) is paired perfectly with the scene and characters.

 

(Raise a glass to music director/conductor Patrick Fanning and his tireless, top-form players.)

But more than anything else, I was stunned by having a whole-stage, panoramic view of Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography—mainly as used to animate the dozen or so members of the ensemble, unified by their form-fitting cream tunics and knee pants. I’d thought of dance as an imaginative add-on to the story. But it’s so much more. In Hamilton, dance and movement travel alongside the story and songs, almost as a second language speaking onstage. As both actors and ensemble move the plot forward, so much is told, so much detail added by the non-speaking ensemble it would take multiple viewings to catch it all. One of the most famous split-seconds, the slo-mo catch of a British bullet speeding from a rifle straight for young Hamilton’s head. A woman of the ensemble whirls to snatch it in mid-air. Not yet, Alexander, not yet. I would go back, again and again, to think about all the ways Blankenbuehler’s work expands and enlivens this story. It’s breathtaking and not truly seeable on video or film.

The second-night cast included one TCU theater grad, Class of ’12’s John Devereaux, who played General George Washington with real presence—and a firm hand on the excitable Hamilton. He becomes his “right-hand man” during and after the Revolution. Edred Utomi made an excellent Alexander, growing him from puppyish (he jumps in delight at suddenly being “in” with the budding revolutionaries) to the driven, flawed man who writes and lives like he’s “running out of time.” And on the night reviewed, Kameron Richardson landed well as Hamilton’s jealous rival Aaron Burr—ultimately blowing the roof off with his soaring “The Room Where It Happens.”

The three Schuyler sisters are delightful in their swirling skirts, out for a downtown evening that their Daddy does not know. Eliza (Zoe Jensen), who becomes Hamilton’s wife, brings a bell-clear voice and a beautiful stillness in moments where her lively, sometimes troubled life with Alexander reaches a crisis. Angelica (Stephanie Umoh), the brilliant, edgy oldest sister who loves Alexander (but her sister more), fills the hall with “Satisfied,” a toast to the bride and groom that rewinds to her first meeting with Hamilton. And Lencie Kebede ably plays “other” sister Peggy plus the tempting Maria Reynolds, the distressed damsel who asks Hamilton for help.

David Park is a hyper-kinetic word machine as the rapping, rat-a-tat Marquis de Lafayette (Act One), who comes and goes from France, bringing guns and ships, and salvation. He has one of the night’s best lines: “Immigrants: We get the job done!” In Act Two, he’s adorable. As Thomas Jefferson in the showstopping “What’d I Miss,” a jazzy, lounge-act special, a prancing song that shows off his Paris clothes and catches him up with the Revolution he (kind of) started, and almost missed being overseas. And Peter Matthew Smith is an intense hoot as King George III, just a regular royal slowly going mad over the loss of his favorite subjects. No matter how angry he gets, we laugh—even when he stomps his bejeweled foot.

Tickets are selling fast, but go if you can arrange it. We cheered for the show makers earlier, but here’s another for the patient and determined audience—who’ve never given up hope for live theater—and who came out on a freezing night (tweaking a line from King George) “to remind you of our love.”

 

Where:   Bass Performance Hall | 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth

When:  Now through Sunday, February 6

Web:    www.basshall.com

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