Review: Hamilton Returns to Remind Us That Today’s Politics Is History

Hamilton has landed in Chicago and I was not prepared for the mania that was opening night. The line wound down State Street from the Nederlander on Randolph for people who already had tickets. It was a sold-out house and there was a buzz in the air. Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda has crafted an entirely different take on the historical musical and it is a rare jewel in an array of jukebox musicals that have been big hits on Broadway. This touring production of Hamilton is flawlessly directed by Thomas Kail, who directed the Broadway productions of Hamilton and In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda. After its three-year sitdown in Chicago from late 2016 to January 2020, Hamilton is back for another three-plus months.

I was truly impressed at how Miranda crafted a musical with such historical accuracy. Hamilton is more than just the facts of the lives of Alexander Hamilton and his great rival Aaron Burr. The story is told with passion and an operatic hip-hop-flavored score. The moment Deon'Te Goodman took the stage as Aaron Burr to sing of his friend and great American patriot, the crowd erupted in applause. I knew that I was a newbie to the Hamilton fervor, but I felt that I was witnessing a new standard for original musicals to try and follow.

Jean Pierre Gonzalez and Marcus Choi. Photo By Joan Marcus.

Goodman is compelling as the pompous and glowering Burr. The rivalry between Burr and Hamilton was due to the arrogance and hubris that is a hallmark of American politics and an often toxic exceptionalism. Burr was considered a prodigy having graduated from Princeton at a younger age. Goodman skillfully allows the character's envy to simmer as Burr watches the man he mentored advance further and do everything better.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez is equally compelling as Alexander Hamilton. Gonzalez projects the passion and zeal to form the new republic and break free of King George III. His voice is smooth and he is nimble as a rapper. He does an excellent job of showing the humanity and weaknesses of Hamilton's ambition. Gonzalez has great chemistry with Nikisha Williams playing Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Williams has a beautiful voice and solid stage presence to hold her own in the story of a Founding Father. There is also an electric chemistry between Hamilton and Lencia Kebede as Eliza's sister Angelica. The passion between Angelica and Alexander is the intellect and a mutual love of Eliza. Kebede is a fine singer harmonizing with Williams and Jen Sese as the third Schuyler sister Peggy.

Marcus Choi and company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Miranda was inspired to write Hamilton after reading the superb Ron Chernow biography while on vacation. He approaches the story with a sharp eye on the relationships among the Founding Fathers. George Washington is played with operatic sex appeal by Marcus Choi. His physicality is quite different from what I have always imagined the first president to have. The Gilbert portrait of Washington with the powdered wig, tight lips, and the dollar bill is the decidedly unsexy view I have always had. Choi erases that vision projecting a rugged masculinity and depth to the character. The Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson are portrayed with humorous arrogance by the very talented Jared Howelton.

Howelton performs a rapid-fire rap of "Guns and Ships" as Marquis de Lafayette. I have never heard any rap that fast where I could decipher the words. Howelton's masterpiece is his version of Thomas Jefferson who was known as a shrewd and competitive politician. This Jefferson has a good portion of Morris Day and Jack-legged Preacher with the best comic performance in the show. Neil Haskell as King George is also comic gold. Royal attire and ceremony have always struck me as foppish and absurd. Haskell plays those characteristics with a delightful sneer and comic timing. "You'll Be Back" and "What Comes Next?" have a taunting 'nyah-nyah' vibe with Haskell's trills and biting enunciation.

Neil Haskell. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Eddie Ortega is a petulant and conniving James Madison, who helped Jefferson become president for his own political gain. American political intrigue and the smoke-filled room reputation were born of the Founding Fathers. Hamilton makes American history more real by bringing contemporary actions to a blazing score and lyrics. The ensemble and dancers are perfect. They add to the action without being a distraction, which is something that I criticized in Jagged Little Pill. The choreography by Tony Award winner Andy Blanenbuehler enhances the story like a Greek Chorus of dance. The orchestra is perfect under conductor Emmanuel Schvartzman with top musicians from the Chicago Federation of Musicians, local 10-208. We really do have the finest musical talent here on the Third Coast.

Hamilton gives an authentic and accessible view of the founding of the United States of America. The intrigue, backstabbing, backroom deals, and sexual scandals of today's political landscape are woven into the culture. Miranda made the people real and of the flesh with faults, astonishing achievements, and spectacular failures, all set to a bumping score. I now understand why people were wearing buttons telling how many times they had seen Hamilton. Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.

Hamilton runs 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermissio. The show is running through December 30 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets range from $42.50 to $152.50 with premium-priced seating from $182.50. For best availability and info on the HAM4HAM lottery, check www.BroadwayinChicago.com

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.