When a show gets as much hype as the musical phenomenon Hamilton, playing tonight through Sunday, Dec. 2nd, at the Durham Performing Arts Center, as part of DPAC‘s 2018-19 SunTrust Broadway Series, audiences walk into the theater with expectations. Sometimes, the performance doesn’t live up to those expectations. Sometimes, a show surprises you. Sometimes, a musical delights you in ways that you didn’t realize it would. Hamilton not only justifies all of its hype — it surpasses it! There’s a reason why seats are hard to get for this musical — they’re pure gold!
As a reviewer, I tend to have an affinity for stage productions that began their lives between the covers of a book. The inspiration for this musical came from Ron Chernow’s New York Times bestseller, Alexander Hamilton, a book that has received renewed attention from the audience delighted by the musical. Chernow, a National Book Award winner, has written historical nonfiction/biographies throughout his career, and admitted in an interview with History Extra that, “It’s a fairy-tale story and I think one aspect that [playwright, composer, and lyricist] Lin[-Manuel Miranda] captures extremely well in the show is [Alexander] Hamilton’s driven nature, just how determined he was — in every respect: in the social, the political, the economic spheres — to obtain his place in the world, which he does by dint of his talent.”
The genius behind the musical itself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is only 38 years old, yet he’s won a Pulitzer, three Grammys, three Tonys®, a MacArthur Fellowship, and an Emmy. He wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the show, which opened in 2015 and took Broadway by storm, earning 11 Tony Awards.
Miranda is a hip-hop artist himself; and he has infused the show with the musical genres that he knows and loves, partially because hip-hop allows him more beats per line to deliver lyrics, and because hip-hop is the music of the streets. Alexander Hamilton himself is the poster child for that street-to-success message.
Hamilton’s life was certainly an interesting one and more complicated than anyone familiar with his face on the $10 bill might realize, with ongoing feuds with presidents and other politicians, bed-hopping, and several wars. All that might be enough to create a musical. But Lin-Manuel Miranda wasn’t satisfied to make just any musical. Instead, he layered in contemporary music and dance and used the philosophies of today to reflect on the historical events that Ron Chernow wrote about in the book and came up with a stunning tour de force, a whirlwind of a show, with multifaceted characters who are both three-dimensional and cartoonish, and which uses more musical genres than a night at the Grammys.
Suffice it to say that the actors in this show have an enormous responsibility in simply remembering their songs, never mind the choreography, and the necessity of actually projecting a character in a memorable manner. The show itself is brilliant, but you need actors who can pull it off. Miranda himself starred in Hamilton on Broadway, so he knows how demanding the roles are, and the traveling cast currently performing at DPAC is a well-seasoned one.
This cast, most of whom are Broadway veterans (if not from the original Hamilton, then with other major shows), is a stunning one. Each of the actors and dancers has an intricate role to play, both singing and dancing; and almost the whole cast is onstage during the whole performance. But even though they’re all stars, there are some that are simply more memorable than others.
Hamilton (played by Joseph Morales), the original immigrant who pulled himself out of poverty to get “a place at the table,” is a scrappy firebrand of a character, with several big moments in the show. He handles the big songs like “My Shot,” as well as the tense arguments when he must face off with his nemesis (the rapping cabinet meetings are amazing!), Aaron Burr (Nik Walker), with the ease of someone quite used to rapping with the best of them.
Morales handles the hip-hop, rapidity of the lyrics with an Eminem style, but Walker’s ability to smoothly move from rap to hip-hop, jazz to reggae steals the show in more than one scene. His commanding presence, absolutely stunning delivery, and ability to connect with the audience bring Aaron Burr to life in a rather sinister manner that reaches out beyond the stage’s perimeter.
Eliza Hamilton, played by Shoba Narayan, is Alexander’s wife, yet she’s not the only love our first Treasurer had. Who knew he was a bit on the randy side and in love with his own sister-in-law? To her benefit, Narayan’s moments onstage are as punchy and direct as her male counterparts. Another actress might be too “show tune” for this particular role, but Narayan combines fantastic runs with her own style of hip-hop in a voice with the smoky undertones of Rhianna or Alicia Keys.
Comic relief, provided by King George III (Jon Patrick Walker) and Thomas Jefferson (Kyle Scatliffe), reminds us that the political moments in history have always been both serious and earth-shattering, as well as completely ridiculous and scary-foolish. Walker is over-the-top hilarious as a swishy King George, who’s obviously insane and truly okay with that. Scatliffe, on the other hand, brings a Jefferson to the stage that is a bit surprising. Though most know of Jefferson’s slave-owning history, it may come as a surprise to see this president played as someone utterly clueless about what had gone on while he was in France (“What did I miss”).
With a show this large, active, and complicated, this reviewer would be amiss to forget to mention the rest of the cast, all of whom were top-notch, whether dancing in the corps or singing back-up. Not one moment of the show was an empty one. Whether the corps members were acting as revolutionaries, politicians, or common folk, their job was to fill the stage with dance and song, and they did so stunningly.
In short, this show is superb. Hamilton is the best show to come to DPAC yet. It exceeds all expectations!
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 8th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-HAMILTON-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20181108; Nov. 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by David Menconi: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article221206715.html, Nov. 2nd preview by David Menconi and Jessica Banov: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article221024345.html, Oct. 29th preview by David Menconi: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article220537790.html, and Sept 20th preview by David Menconi: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article217792195.html; Nov. 8th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/11/dpacs-hamilton-lives-up-to-the-hype/; Nov. 8th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com review by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: https://www.wral.com/review-hamilton-lives-up-to-the-hype/17974654/ and Nov. 1st Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Debra Morgan: https://www.wral.com/durham-teacher-uses-hamilton-to-teach-history/17961762/; Nov. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/hamilton/; and Nov. 1st Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Catherine Wiggins for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/elon-university-grad-a-part-of-hamilton-tour/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents HAMILTON at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8, 8 p.m. Nov. 9, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 10, 1 and 7 p.m. Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-15, 8 p.m. Nov. 16, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 17, 1 and 7 p.m. Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20-22, 8 p.m. Nov. 23, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 24, 1 and 7 p.m. Nov. 25, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27-29, 8 p.m. Nov. 30, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 1, and 1 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District. TICKETS: $78.50-$188.50, plus taxes and fees. Click here for instructions on how to enter the Ham4Ham Lottery for each performance. Winners may purchase two tickets for $10 apiece. BOX OFFICE: DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy. Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/2336213. GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services. SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/hamilton, https://www.dpacnc.com/home/hamilton-dpac-complete-faq/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/2144733375770751/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhSqWRvBtjlivrs_xeT5aQ.
DPAC NEWS RELEASES: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-ham4ham-lottery, https://www.dpacnc.com/home/hamilton-coming-in-the-2018-2019-season, and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/national-tour-of-hamilton-coming-to-dpac-in-2018-as-part-of-the-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2018-2019-season.
DPAC‘S 2018-19 “IT’S OUR NEW YORK, NEW YORK” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2018-19.
THE TOUR: https://hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/hamilton-philip-514073, https://www.facebook.com/HamiltonMusical/, https://twitter.com/HamiltonMusical/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_(musical)#U.S._touring_productions_(2017%E2%80%93present), and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKhSqWRvBtjlivrs_xeT5aQ.
TOUR CAST and CREATIVE TEAM: https://hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour/cast.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Alexander Hamilton (First U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and one of three key authors of The Federalist Papers, 1755/57-1804): https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Hamilton-United-States-statesman (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Hamilton (Wikipedia).
Hamilton: An American Musical (2015 Off-Broadway, 2015 Broadway, and 2017 West End musical): https://hamiltonmusical.com/ (official website), http://www.linmanuel.com/yayhamlet (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s web page), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5911 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/hamilton-499520 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6868646/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Lin-Manuel Miranda (playwright, composer, and lyricist): http://www.linmanuel.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/34364 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lin-manuel-miranda-459893 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0592135/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lin-Manuel_Miranda (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.