Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Lin-Manuel Miranda based his Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning show on Ron Chernow's award-winning biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda's book, music and lyrics create a rich, fact-based story that covers over a quarter of a century in the life of Hamilton, from 1776 to 1804, and features such other historical figures as King George, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Hamilton's friend and rival Aaron Burr. The plot details Hamilton's rise to fame and his influence on American politics while also documenting the ups and downs of his personal life.
Miranda combines traditional musical theatre ballads, comical songs, and upbeat ensemble numbers with rap, hip-hop, jazz, soul and pop to form a cohesive score that speaks to the emotions and actions of the characters. His lyrics are clear, concise, descriptive, and character specific, and his book does an exceptional job of making the historical elements of the story understandable while also beautifully depicting both the passion and successes that Hamilton had as well as his shortfalls and failures. The book and score combine to perfectly propel the plot forward while also highlighting Hamilton's rise to fame and fortune, his reckless behavior, Burr's more cautious approach to life, and the inner struggles of the other characters. Miranda knows how to write memorable music, and the many catchy musical hooks, reprised themes, and musical motifs used here result in numerous unforgettable tunes.
Thomas Kail's impressive direction and well thought out staging makes great use of the gorgeous and immense set design by David Korins, with stairs, a second story walkway, and turntables that help to add variety and whisk the show along from one location to the next. The lighting by Howell Binkley uses a wide range of colors and hues, shadows and light to add a layer of elegance, while Paul Tazewell's costumes are period and character specific. The choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler uses modern steps and a variety of angles and dance styles which are performed with precision by the ensemble. The direction, choreography, lighting, and costume and set design create many striking and memorable stage images.
The multi-racial cast (specifically, casting the main white characters all with non-white actors) perfectly aligns with the fact that America was a nation built by immigrants and that the United States has always been a place where people come to succeed, no matter the color of their skin. The multi-racial casting, the energetic, epic score, and the modern sensibilities in the show also make the historical context easily accessible while also depicting famous people in the history books in a whole new light.
Edred Utomi infuses Hamilton with a high level of passion that helps to depict the ambition, eagerness, and rambunctious and reckless nature that Hamilton has when he first comes to America, yet Utomi also allows us to see how years of personal setbacks and pain also made Hamilton introspective. Utomi has a rich, deep singing voice that not only delivers beautiful notes but also, in a song such as "It's Quiet Uptown," allows us to see the pathos of the character and how his past actions have made him become more understanding. Utomi is delivering a moving, strong, and energetic performance. As Burr, Josh Tower is appropriately subdued with a portrayal that is reserved with even measured delivery of his lyrics and dialogue, which works perfectly to show that Burr is practically the opposite of the passionate and boisterous Hamilton. However, Tower's performance is still powerful, especially in his songs "Wait for It" and "The Room Where it Happens," which are exceptional, and his duet with Utomi of "Dear Theodosia" is gorgeous.
Hamilton's wife Eliza serves as the emotional center of the show and Zoe Jensen does an excellent job depicting both the purity and elegance of the role along with the suffering and pain that Hamilton causes her to experience. Eliza is also a strong woman and Jensen beautifully shows the strength her character finds throughout her journey. As Washington, Paul Oakley Stovall exhibits the perfect combination of power and passion, along with reservation and doubt. His towering stature also brings a larger-than-life persona to this well-known man. Stephanie Umoh is superb as Eliza's witty and wise sister Angelica and, as the intolerable King George, Peter Matthew Smith is hilarious, with flawless comic delivery. As Hamilton's three close friends who, in act two, also play Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Hamilton's son Philip, Bryson Bruce, Tyler Belo, and Jon Viktor Corpuz, respectively, form a winning trio who are excellent in both the comical and dramatic moments their roles require. While her two roles are small, Olivia Puckett is both humorous and heartbreaking as one of Eliza's sisters and a woman who has a scandalous relationship with Hamilton.
While it's now been several years since Hamilton first took the world by storm, racking up 11 Tony wins and record-breaking ticket sales, and the filmed version of the original Broadway cast is still readily available on Disney+, seeing this musical live with more than 3,000 enthusiastic and appreciative audience members made me feel like things are finally getting back to normal.
Hamilton runs through October 10, 2021, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. Additional information on the tour can be found at hamiltonmusical.com/us-tour.
Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on Ron Chernow's biography