Maybe you’re a Hamilfan: You’ve seen Hamilton multiple times. Or maybe you’ve succumbed to the hype and the awards (Pulitzer, Tony, Emmy, Grammy) and are seeing the show for the first time during its run this month at the Straz. Or perhaps you’re a hater: You despise Hamilton because a) It’s not true history! or b) It’s that hip-hop stuff and that’s not music! or c) It couldn’t possibly be that good!
Here are five reasons why this Hamilfan still believes.
If you’re a newbie, listen to the original cast album and read Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics, because there are lots of words, often sung or spoken really fast, and, in the hip-hop tradition, some brilliant rhyming. (I’m particularly fond of the exchange between young Alexander Hamilton and the man who will become his deadly rival, which moves from “Are you Aaron Burr, sir?” to “You punched the bursar.”) The sound mix at the Straz isn’t the best, either, so a little pre-show prep is useful.
It’s not just hip-hop. Miranda draws from multiple musical influences: I hear echoes of The Emotions, Beyoncé, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Gilbert & Sullivan, even ’60s pop rock. (King George’s infectious ditty “You’ll Be Back,” sung with gleeful ferocity by Peter Matthew Smith, recalls The Turtles’ “Happy Together.”) And there are songs — like “It’s Quiet Uptown,” sung after the loss of Hamilton’s young son — that are heartbreakingly lovely.
From my perch in the mezzanine, I was more aware than ever of the brilliance of Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography and the masterful staging by director Thomas Kail. Moving in a style that can shift in seconds from sinuous to military, the ensemble is remarkably in sync with the action and each other. And I will never cease being amazed by the “rewind” in “Satisfied,” in which script, actors, and music literally go backwards in time.
As Hamilton, Edred Utomi is a charismatic presence with a welcome light touch, and David Park’s prancing-dandy footwork as Thomas Jefferson was a delight. The women in this production were particularly strong; I was especially impressed by Yana Perrault as Peggy Schuyler, played not as the hapless tagalong sister, but as a woman with her own ironic point of view, and by her take on Maria Reynolds, so seductive that we understood how she could lure Hamilton to cheat on his wife.
Two of the standout performances on opening night were by local heroes. Deejay Young, a graduate of Tampa’s Blake High School, brought passion and urgency to the key role of Aaron Burr. Jon Victor Corpuz, a Patel Conservatory alum, played the dual roles of Jon Laurens and Philip Hamilton with convincing impetuousness and sharp, clear vocals.
And Yes, The History
OK, George Washington wasn’t Black. And maybe Alexander Hamilton wasn’t all that.
But Hamilton isn’t meant to be a history lesson. It does, with its intentionally race-blind casting and polyglot score, succeed in bringing new voices into the narrative. And I realized on watching it this time that it gets to a key dichotomy in American politics that, for better or worse, still obtains today: the tension between ambition and compromise.
Sometimes that tension can lead to monumental agreements, even if behind closed doors, as in the now-iconic “The Room Where It Happens.”
But sometimes it leads to a duel.
Hamilton Straz Center, Tampa. Through Jan. 22; times vary. strazcenter.org.