PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Is the excitement about “Hamilton” justified? Yes, unequivocally!
The touring production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, now at the Providence Performing Arts Center, is a visual, aural and emotional knockout. Entertainment rating: 10.
It’s even a history lesson. Sticking broadly to facts, “Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, previously famous, albeit dryly, as one of America’s founding fathers whose image is on the $10 bill.
Now he’s a celebrity.
His story is interesting. An orphaned immigrant from the West Indies, Hamilton parlayed ambition and hard work into becoming George Washington’s close adviser during the Revolutionary War, and later, the new nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury.
All the political maneuvering it took to get there, including a “frenenemy” relationship with Aaron Burr, is represented in the show; parts, especially references to “chaos” in the government, seem only too similar to current events.
But there also is a love story between Hamilton and his wife, Eliza; the affection he shared with Eliza’s sister, Angelica; and an opportunistic affair with Maria Reynolds.
Miranda, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for the show, brings depth to both the political and the personal stories. He is clever, funny and serious when called for. No wonder the play received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and its Broadway production won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
The cast of this production is top notch, across the board. Edred Utomi deserves center stage as Hamilton, but everyone around him – Paul Oakley Stovall as a commanding George Washington; Josh Tower as the guileful Burr, Bryson Bruce as both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette – have gorgeous voices and commanding stage presence.
Hannah Cruz sings the role of Eliza Hamilton in a crystalline soprano and capitalizes on brief scenes to create a palpable bond with her sister Angelica, played by a heartfelt Stephanie Umoh. For comic relief, Peter Matthew Smith is a hoot as a fey King George III.
At the end of the performance, the entire ensemble takes its bows as one, and rightly so because they’re all memorable.
Equally memorable are the music, the dancing, the set and lighting. The show is, like opera, sung through – or rapped through – and the music always suits the moods. The score draws on hip-hop, jazz, blues, R&B as well as traditional musical-theater style, and it’s fun to hear the historical icons express themselves in rap.
But there are plenty of toe-tappers, like “You’ll Be Back,” sung with glee by King George about the revolutionary Colonies (“Oceans rise, empires fall/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!”), as well as gorgeously mournful instrumentals at Hamilton’s demise, and rousing anthems like “Yorktown.” The portrayal of that battleground victory is actually stirring.
The choreography is inventive; it’s more about movement than specific “dances,” and that movement can be complex or as simple as everyone raising their arms in unison. The rustic-looking, two-level set doesn’t change, except for the addition of a few props, but magically changes character via a variety of lighting techniques, which – good news for folks in the balcony – may be appreciated best from above the stage.
An attention to details, like the way a letter is delivered, make the production fascinating, as do attention-getting costumes, from soldiers’ Red Coats to the dancers’ more abstractly “historical” boots, vests and tights. The show is so rich with visuals, it’s nearly overwhelming.
No question, “Hamilton” delivers.
“Hamilton” is at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Aug. 11, and PPAC notes a number of tickets are released daily for upcoming performances; visit ppacri.org or the box office in the theater or at (401) 421-ARTS (2787). There also is a digital lottery for $10 tickets that begins two days before each performance; use the app http://hamiltonmusical.com/app or visit http://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery to register.