HAMILTON Storms the Stage at the Aronoff
Review by Liz Eichler, LCT
Understudies–they get the job done.
Hamilton stormed the stage last night at the Aronoff, and can declare a victory for Hamilton-philes and Hamilton virgins alike. Yes, there will certainly be audience members who never saw the live show or film who 100% understand the hype now. There will also be others who have seen it live at least once, on Disney+ on repeat, possibly dressed up as one of the characters or included “to the groom, to the bride” in a sibling’s wedding speech–who will still rave about this iteration. This tour brings it, and the highlight is Bryson Bruce as Burr–an understudy, they get the job done.
Hamilton is a theatrical experience like no other. Powerful singing, dancing, and a story that is uniquely ours telling the story of the beginning of America (warts and all), delivered by a cast that reflects the diversity of America. This “Angelica Tour” of Hamilton transports you to Broadway, although it is presented by Broadway in Cincinnati. From the performances to the scenery (the turntable is always genius), lighting, and for the most part sound. See it again to watch the ensemble, and watch the interactions in the background. There is still so much to move you in this rich intersection of American theatre and American history.
Hamilton hit Broadway in 2015 and promptly became one of the winningest American Musicals and the hardest ticket to procure. The show revolutionized the musical, inspiring the vision and audience for Six, the new version of 1776, and others. Book, music and lyrics are by the multi-award winning (Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, two Emmy Awards, a MacArthur Fellowship Award, and a Pulitzer Prize among others) Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton (Miranda picked it up during a vacation after In the Heights and was smitten). Directed by Thomas Kail, with stunning and moveable period costumes by Paul Tazewell, architectural and eye-catching lighting by Howell Binkley, clever scenic design by David Korins– all highlighted by Cincinnati’s own Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography. As the theatre lover next to me said, “this is the best troupe of dancers” she’s ever seen in a musical, as the choreography is both simple, challenging, and a highly effective way to elevate, energize and personalize this story.
Musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire feature Miranda’s varied modern and classic stylings, beautiful harmonies, and a live orchestra whose “booms” reverberate in your soul, waking up a heart that needs live music, after too much time in isolation.
The show begins with impeccable articulation–and immediate goosebumps. With every cast certain songs and lines hit differently, so your attention is drawn to new things in this multilayered musical.
This is Burr’s show this time. Understudy Bryson Bruce delivers powerfully from the first moment to the end. His electric current is transmitted into the audience and by “Rise Up” you know you’re seeing a star. He has previously stepped into other roles in the show, including Lafayette/Jefferson. Hamilton (Edred Utomi) strongly carries us throughout his story in his own powerful way and own rhythms, and you may hear him channel Miranda in “Dear Theodosia.” His mic may need to be turned up a tad. Eliza (Zoe Jensen) is absolutely sweet and loveable yet whips up such a tornado of passion in “Burn” that–wow, just wow. This version of Peggy (Yana Perrault) is tall and awkward (by design) and brings in a new perspective (and hope for tall performers). Perrault is amazing as both Peggy and the steamy Maria Reynolds. Angelica (Stephanie Umoh) is everything you want Angelica to be, strong, fearless and fierce. Lafayette and Jefferson (David Park) are big shoes to fill and the performer almost does. Hercules Mulligan/James Madison (Deejay Young) is power wrapped in a small package. Laurens/Philip (Jon Viktor Corpuz) is fully of energy. George Washington (Neptune) is strong and stately. King George (Peter Matthew Smith) gets new laughs in his interpretation of spoiled royalty.
It’s so hard to pick a favorite number. The first time I heard the CD– way back in 2015–it connected that Miranda is America’s Shakespeare, with a keen understanding of people (fathers and sons, immigrants, orphans) and their motivations. While some may dismiss his musical stylings, his gift with language continues to deliver, and this story of America will (eventually) be successfully translated by professional, community, and future Hamilton Jr companies for many years to come.
Go see Hamilton. It should be part of all American’s required viewing, like Shakespeare. See what your country can do for you, how musicals can lift you up, and how immigrants and understudies get the job done. Hamilton runs through October 2 and you can get tickets here–at the OFFICIAL ticketing site (be careful–there are a lot of third party websites with exorbitant prices.)
Liz Eichler has a BA and MTA in Theatre, and an MBA in Marketing. She’s been both a Professional Costumer and Marketer, and has taught at multiple colleges and universities in multiple states for over 20 years. Liz is a past-president of LCT and has been involved for over 10 years. She is currently obsessed with “Ted Lasso”–ask her about it.