a kate west review
book, music & lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
based on the book by Rob Chernow
directed by Thomas Kail
choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running April - May 2017
contact: (888)746-1799 or www.shnsf.com
HAMILTON. The musical world will never be the same after this ultimately modern phenomenon premiered in New York in 2015. Winning 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, HAMILTON introduced a new era in theater accessibility by using rap, hip-hop, and color-blind casting to dramatically showcase the American founding fathers. Alexander Hamilton may not have been as well known as Thomas Jefferson or George Washington (although Hamilton is certainly now a household name - thanks Broadway!) but he was most certainly an interesting part of our revolutionary past. A prolific writer and an immigrant(!), Hamilton helped shape our roots, along with the legendary greats.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, genius creator of this stunning work of art, is also now a household name. Enchanted by Hamilton's story in the book by Ron Chernow, Miranda turned the tale into a brilliantly emotional and eloquent recounting of loss, envy and triumph. Who knew our own history could be so compelling, entertaining and well, so very ... educational? After taking New York by storm, HAMILTON is touring the country and is currently running in San Francisco. And yes, it's every bit as good as you've heard.
Aaron Burr, strongly portrayed by Joshua Henry in this production, is wildly and dangerously jealous of the successful Alexander Hamilton (Michael Luwoye), bringing to mind Salieri's frustration at Mozart's seemingly easy genius in AMADEUS. "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?" This opening number ("Alexander Hamilton") skillfully sets the intense tone for the bitterly tragic rivalry.
He soon becomes the vital right-hand man to George Washington himself, strongly portrayed by Isaiah Johnson. When Thomas Jefferson (played with relish and good fun by Jordan Donica) finally returns from France ("What'd I Miss?"), the political scene heats up, with one side playing the other, until Hamilton manages to win over Jefferson, leaving out Burr, once again, who is desperate to be a part of the action ("The Room Where It Happens").
Even knowing how the play ends, as it's all in the history books (duh) and Burr himself tells us at the start, "And me, I'm the damn fool who shot him", the duel scene is rivetingly suspenseful. And heartbreaking, as are a few other lovely gems (not to give it all away here). Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, in harmony with Thomas Kail's apt direction, holds our constant attention, in so many clever ways. There are slow-motion moments and rewinds and poignant portraits of isolated emotion, all amazingly effective and flawlessly expressed. King George (the delightful Rory O'Malley) even makes a few cameos here and there to ridicule the original patriots ("You'll be back ...Time will tell, You'll remember that I served you well ... We have seen each other through it all and when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love"). So we've got drama, love, lust, passion, comedy, tragedy, and oh, so much history. And all of it is palatable, fascinating, and brilliant.
Miranda has given us a modern world, framed by the old, using actors of color interchangeably, and it all works. Very, very well. The story of HAMILTON tells us that immigrants can be as important as everyone else, that equal rights matter, that the bigger picture matters most, and even better, that, as Burr eventually realizes, "The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me". If you can at all afford to, see it now.