Hamilton is here. Finally! Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical certainly took its time getting to Alabama.
“Hamilton” made its Broadway debut in 2015 after a successful off-Broadway performance at The Public Theatre. The musical embarked on its first national tour in 2017 in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago and slowly began to break new ground.
Now – eight years after “Hamilton” became a theatrical sensation – fans in Birmingham can be in the room where it happens. “Hamilton” has settled into the Magic City for 16 performances from January 24th to February 2nd. 4, and is in its second week at the BJCC Concert Hall. The show presented here is part of the Broadway in Birmingham series presented by the American Theater Guild.
If some background is ok:
“Hamilton” focuses on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, his career during the American Revolutionary War, and his political and philosophical feud with a rival and contemporary, Aaron Burr. The musical also chronicles Hamilton’s relationship with his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and her sister, Angelica Schuyler Church.
“Hamilton” is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of the Founding Father, who was known for his intellectual ability and outspoken manner. Hamilton was a prolific and influential writer who wrote tracts on many subjects, helped draft the US Constitution, and served as first Secretary of the Treasury in George Washington’s cabinet. He was also the founder and chief architect of the American financial system.
If Hamilton’s capsule bio sounds rather dry and musty, fret not. The musical “Hamilton” is known for its fast pace, catchy songs and colorful characters. There’s plenty of action and conflict, along with romance and tragedy.
TIED TOGETHER: ‘Hamilton’ in Alabama: What you should know before you go
The enormous fame of the musical in the United States and abroad cannot be denied. The hype surrounding the show seems to be correspondingly high. So we have to ask: Is the Hamilton national tour worth your time and attention?
Here are five great reasons to see the show in Birmingham, all derived from attending an evening performance at the BJCC during the first week of the tour.
There are two types of theater fans: those who have seen “Hamilton” on stage and those who have not. If you want to be in the coveted “have-seen” category, here’s your chance.
Fact: Not everyone has the time and/or money to travel to New York City to see “Hamilton,” though it’s easier to get seats than it used to be. The nationwide tour gives the people of Alabama the opportunity to witness a pop culture phenomenon, post a selfie of the audience and proudly wave their printed programs.
“Hamilton” has won a plethora of awards — 11 Tonys, a Grammy, a Pulitzer Prize and more — and rightly so. Miranda’s creative genius is evident in the groundbreaking score, which blends hip-hop with R&B, pop, soul and the styles of traditional show tunes. It’s a pleasure to dive into the fast-moving, intricate flow while the show is set in Birmingham.
Correct: You have to pay close attention to the actors and what is happening on stage. But “Hamilton” rewards your attention and is memorable. Days after you’ve seen the show, you’ll likely be singing snippets of “My Shot,” “Helpless,” “What’d I Miss,” “You’ll Be Back,” or “The Room Where It Happens.”
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Have you ever watched a famous musical tour nationally and been disappointed by the canned sound, humming microphones, flimsy sets and cheap costumes? Well, that won’t happen here. The production values of the “Hamilton” tour are top notch. Everything looks great, sounds good and exudes quality.
There is an orchestra in the pit – a high-tech orchestra with musicians and conductor, instruments and electronics – and the atmospheric stage design is strongly reminiscent of that on Broadway. Don’t take our word for it; Watch the Disney+ film version of Hamilton filmed at the Richard Rodgers Theater in 2016 and you will see.
Important: The touring set includes a central turntable that smoothly transports the actors onto the stage, creating an illusion of movement through time and space. While the turntable in “Hamilton” isn’t as flashy as the revolving stage that was a key element of “Les Miserables,” it subtly gets the job done.
A CAST THAT CAN
Actors must be up to the challenge and demonstrate vocal ability and stamina when appearing in “Hamilton.” The musical, which runs for almost three hours, is sung through, with some spoken dialogue. Tongue-twisting rap lyrics make things even more difficult — and delightful — when the show is performed well.
Three different line-ups appear on “Hamilton” national tours; Each cast is named after a character on the show. Birmingham has the talented Angelica cast, with Edred Utomi as Alexander Hamilton, Josh Tower as Aaron Burr, Stephanie Umoh as Angelica Schuyler, Alysha Deslorieux as Eliza Hamilton, David Park as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson and Carvens Lissaint as George Washington. (In the performance we attended, Jorrel Javier took on the dual role of John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, and Bryson Bruce took on King George III.)
It’s tempting to compare the touring executives to the original Broadway cast, but it’s clear the Angelica actors have what it takes to fulfill Miranda’s vision. There are no weak links in the chain. About 20 actors appear on the stage, including a diligent cast that slips into various minor roles, dancing with graceful enthusiasm and providing dramatic scenes.
HAMFAM IN THE HOUSE
Hamilton fans are legion and it’s great fun watching the show surrounded by people who know and love the musical. The followers (known as HamFam) range from beaming children who gasp during the opening number to amused adults grinning at an elaborately costumed King George.
Laughter, cheers and warm applause enhance the “Hamilton” experience. You can get that rush in Alabama, which obviously has its share of HamFam. They show up in Birmingham happy, which adds to the excitement of attending a live theater.