The Cast of “Hamilton.”

The Cast of “Hamilton.” 


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Consider two sides to the same story.

First, once in a blue moon, a show comes along that literally changes the face of history. Not only does the context of the show shed a whole new light on an often overlooked historical figure, and the events surrounding his life, but the style of the show itself pushes the boundaries of theater in a whole new way, setting the bar for innovation extremely high. The piece of theater is so daring that you would move mountains to see the original iteration, and many versions to follow.

Second, once in a blue moon, a show comes along that literally changes the face of history. And the hype surrounding this show is so great that you imagine that it could not possibly live up to its own reputation. You think to yourself that it is simply a play, and it is hard to justify spending the money to see the original cast that garnered 16 Tony Award nominations, winning 11. But, you think that any other cast would pale in comparison, so you decide to settle for going down the YouTube rabbit hole searching for bootleg clips of the Broadway cast in order to satisfy your curiosity.

Fast forward to December when “Hamilton” took the stage at Playhouse Square’s State Theater for the second time. The first time was in the summer of 2018 when the show was just a two-year-old “toddler.”

Which side of the story is your story?

Is this the second, third or fourth time you have been in “The Room Where It Happens?” Is this your first time seeing a live version of “Hamilton,” but perhaps you have caught parts of it on Disney+? Or are you still on the fence, trying to decide if all the buzz is worth the gelt during an expensive time of year?

Well, this review means to set the record straight, as it is written by … a first-timer. And the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. “Hamilton” the show, and “Hamilton” this particular touring production lives up to and deserves every bit of praise, and you do not want to “throw away your shot” to get a seat.

The story of founding father Alexander Hamilton is a rags to riches tale beginning with the very straightforward question, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and Scotsman … grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” Aaron Burr is constantly turning this evocative question over and over in his mind at every crossroads with Hamilton, which makes sense, since we learn in the opening song, and in the history books, that he’s the “damn fool that shot ‘em.” And we discover the answer to that question as we follow Hamilton’s journey from his humble beginnings to his turn as a Revolutionary War Hero to his untimely death at the hands of Burr, his friend turned rival. Also center stage is his marriage to Eliza Schuyler, his love for his son, and how those relationships, as well as others, have impacted his life.

Inspired by the Ron Chernow novel, “Alexander Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda began working on “The Hamilton Mixtape,” which was originally a concept album. In fact, Miranda had been asked to perform a number from his hit musical, “In the Heights,” for former President Barack Obama at the White House, and he performed the first number from “The Hamilton Mixtape” instead. It was this concept album that was eventually developed into the musical that we all now know to be a game-changer in every way, not to manage the fact that it is responsible for turning Broadway musical purists into hip-hop, R&B and rap fans.

The lyrics, as well as the way they are woven together with complicated rhythms and tricky melodies, are brilliant. The diverse casting is ingenious, spotlighting the fact that, as the “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons tell us, the United States of America is considered the “great American melting pot,” a country created by and for people of diverse backgrounds. And this cast is practically flawless across the board; a true ensemble functioning as a well-oiled machine.

Leading the pack is Pierre Jean Gonzalez, who is electrifying as Hamilton, embodying his line “and just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry.” He is driven and passionate, and is the glue of the show.

Nikisha Williams is absolutely stunning as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, and brings the house down with her gut-wrenching song “Burn.” Ta’rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler does a beautiful job of masking her desire for Hamilton which is brewing underneath her dignified, composed exterior. She has a huge vocal range, easily powering through the song “Satisfied,” which provides us with a stellar visual moment when the action of the play “rewinds” itself to show us details we were not privy to the first time around.

Marcus Choi brings a masterful presence to the role of George Washington, and his powerful voice is especially evident in his exciting rendition of “One Last Time.” Warren Egypt Franklin hams it up in Act One as Marquis de Lafayette with his thoroughly thick French accent, and in Act Two as Thomas Jefferson with his sass and snark.

The role of King George during this performance was played to perfection by Neil Haskell, whining like a jilted lover, and adding his own quirky, nasal, pouty interpretation to his hilarious portrayal.

Jared Dixon has some shining moments as Aaron Burr, and his vocals are strong and especially tender in “Dear Theodosia,” but he occasionally struggles to find the balance between the necessary restraint and subtlety that the character of Burr demands and the energy we expect from Dixon as an actor. It is evident from his facial expressions that he has a deep understanding of his character, and he makes some wonderfully surprising and important acting choices, but sometimes they are too small to see unless you are sitting up close.

But his chemistry with Gonzalez is palpable, which makes the inevitable shot heard ‘round the world even more emotional.

The truth is, it is hard not to get emotional when you realize that, as audience members, we are all a part of this show’s history, because barriers have been broken in the way that our own history is being told on stage, and by who is doing the telling. And with compelling lyrics that make your heart skip a beat, like “History has its eyes on you,” and “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” “Hamilton” is using our past to move us forward.

It is for this reason, as well as the fact that “Hamilton” is “non-stop” entertainment from beginning to end, with a spectacular score, creative choreography and an incredibly talented cast, that it is time to embrace the hype, because this is a production not to be missed.

Sheri Gross is the CJN theatre critic. She is a performer, director and freelance writer from Solon. She was the director of the Mandel JCC Playmakers Youth Theatre and Pilloff Performing Arts Camp for over 20 years and is the director of creative programs at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike.

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