By Larry Laneer
August 2, 2019
That juggernaut of musical theater known as Hamilton has landed here. So, the question is does this critically acclaimed, lavishly awarded Midas of a show live up to the hype. Considering that the hype was over the top to the point of ridiculousness, I say it does.
Now at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway series, the show depicts events around the founding of our country, focused on the story of a mixed-race immigrant, Alexander Hamilton. With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Thomas Kail, this is the touring version of the show that has been dominating Broadway and other areas of popular culture since 2015.
I can’t confirm all cast members are triple threats, because the lines of dialog in this sung-through musical wouldn’t fill one page of college-ruled notebook paper. But they’re sharp singers and dancers, even when some lyrics speed by at a mile a minute.
Joseph Morales plays the title role. The actors playing Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson are tall men who tower over Morales. That makes him more effective showing Hamilton’s bantam ambitiousness and self-confidence, which he had in excess and sometimes to his disadvantage. As Burr, Nik Walker makes a formidable rival of Hamilton. Kyle Scatliffe does a fine job as Jefferson, who’s mainly vexed by Hamilton. Marcus Choi’s President George Washington has to act like a referee in contentious cabinet meetings.
As the Schuyler sisters, one of whom becomes Hamilton’s wife, Erin Clemons, Ta’Rea Campbell, and Nyla Sostre first resemble a Motown girl group, and I mean that has a high compliment. Jon Patrick Walker is a droll King George in an oversized crown.
Andy Blankenbuehler did the detailed choreography, a study in constant motion. Every dance move, hip thrust, high step, and head turn appear refined to the finest degree.
David Korins’s towering scenic design in red brick and wood looks like the inside of an 18th-century warehouse. Lighting designer Howell Binkley bathes the stage in blood red, ice blue, and sunburst orange, among other effects. Paul Tazewell’s heightened, 18th-century-style costumes jibe with the contemporary music and staging.
So, why has Hamilton achieved such skyrocket success? First is Miranda’s score. He has an extraordinary ability to adapt contemporary vernacular musical styles to theater. The show has been labeled a hip-hop musical, and it contains plenty of the genre, but Miranda employs rock (both hard and soft), rhythm-and-blues, pop ballads, Motown, and even some gospel stylings to fine effect. At one point, a synthesizer in the orchestra pit imitates a harpsichord for a few Mozartian bars.
Next, Miranda is an adept storyteller. But we knew that from In the Heights. In Hamilton, he deals with a much larger story: the founding of our country and some of the founders. And he tells the story through the person of a mixed-race immigrant by humanizing Hamilton, albeit in a notably 21st-century way. Recent musical blockbusters, such as The Producers and The Book of Mormon, have been comedies. Hamilton deals with serious subject matter.
Finally, the show took advantage of a perfect storm of circumstances. New York critics heaped praise on the off-Broadway and Broadway productions. That buzz created news, leading to audience interest and ticket sales. The producers found they could charge exorbitant ticket prices for the show, which OKC Broadway is also doing here. As tickets got hard-to-get and expensive, it became prestigious to have them. Thus, the Hamilton snowball rolled downhill picking up speed and publicity. This is not to take away anything from Miranda’s work or the early productions. This phenomenon just happened.
A talented, professional, multi-racial cast performs this production of Hamilton, an unconventionally done story about the founding of our country. It is a pleasure to see their work at a time we have an inept, racist, despicable human being in Washington, D.C., as President. The show may give you some hope.
|Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda (book, music, and lyrics)
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sundays, through August 18
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.