Finally! Hamilton, the hip-hop musical based on the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, has arrived in Miami.
The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2015 and swept the 2016 Tony Awards, has become an international sensation. It made a superstar out of its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who played the title role in the original production and won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. It also propelled the careers of many other original cast members, including recurring Black-ish actor Daveed Diggs (playing Lafayette and Jefferson), jazz artist Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), and Anthony Ramos (John Laurens and Philip Hamilton), who is set to star in the movie production of In the Heights (also written by Miranda).
Now that Hamilton is in Miami, the big question is: Is it worth the price of admission? Or to put it another way: Does it live up to the hype?
Full disclosure: I am a Hamil-fan. I've seen the musical in New York, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, London, and San Juan. I was lucky enough to catch Miranda in the role, and with the exception of Wednesday night's media preview at the Arsht Center, I paid for the tickets and travel costs for all of the shows out of my own pocket.
It is the energy of Hamilton that has kept me coming back to it year after year. In traditional musicals, stage lights might fade to black or the curtain may fall between scenes, but Hamilton's first act is as relentless as the "young, scrappy, and hungry" immigrant who would go on to become one of this nation's Founding Fathers. The cast — from the lead to the ensemble players — works tirelessly and seamlessly for almost the entire run time of nearly three hours, with only a single 15-minute intermission as a breather.
Though the show is billed as a hip-hop musical, Hamilton incorporates R&B and traditional ballads into the production. And the staging happens to be exceptional: The song "Hurricane," for example, sees the cast mimic the deadly storm that ravaged the Caribbean island of Saint Croix when Alexander Hamilton was a child. Using a turntable built into the stage and moving in slow motion, they twist and turn as if helpless in the wind.
In the current production at the Arsht Center, 28-year-old Edred Utomi takes on the title role with the recklessness and swagger of a young man who has nothing to lose and everything to prove. In the song "My Shot," Utomi, mouthing off a bit more than he can chew, brings the bravado of a fellow with maybe a few too many beers in him. In the second act, he portrays a more mature Hamilton, a man who by the end of his life will have endured as many losses as victories.
Utomi is just one of the many players who fully inhabit the historical figures they portray. Though Miami audiences won't see Miranda as Hamilton or Phillipa Soo as Eliza, they'll find equal quantities of skill and passion from the players on the stage. In fact, theatergoers should hold on to their Playbill: Many of these cast members are destined for great things.
Every era has its runaway musical hit. The '70s produced Grease; the '80s saw Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera became part of theatrical legend; the '90s birthed a scrappy musical about young artists dealing with love, life, and the fallout of AIDS in New York City, Rent. Each of these shows has achieved international fame and iconic status.
The 2010s is the age of Hamilton. It's a play that places nontraditional music and nontraditional casting within the framework of a traditional musical theater structure. The subject of the play — that of an immigrant striving to make good — is as relevant as ever, if not more so.
Hamilton isn't a perfect musical. But it's the musical that best speaks to our nation in this time and in our language. It's a marvel to see a diverse cast of actors perform roles that a decade ago would have gone to a stereotyped few. It's exhilarating to watch the ensemble reenact the Revolutionary War, get caught in a hurricane, and perform an entire scene backward. And it's heartbreaking to witness a man become so obsessed with his quest for power that he stands to lose everything he holds dear.
Yes. See Hamilton. Go for the hype; leave with a lesson in humanity.
Hamilton: An American Musical. Through Sunday, March 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $59 to $399.
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