Just like a nation, success of “Hamilton” rises from a strong, inclusive ensemble
By Abigail Knoop | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter
New Albany High School, Class of 2022
Sitting in the “Room Where It Happens” during last Wednesday’s touring production of “Hamilton” in the Kentucky Performing Arts Whitney Hall, I could clearly see how the musical reflects America.
"Hamilton," which premiered on Broadway in 2015, is now running here through June 19.
I’m no stranger to “Hamilton”, having seen various productions since 2017. I’m a huge fan. Before previous performances, I did research on the cast and at times became absolutely obsessed with one cast member in particular. This time, I decided to go into it with a non-biased outlook and it made the experience worthwhile.
Warren Egypt Franklin, Desmond Sean Ellington, Elijah Malcomb and Pierre Jean Gonzalez in “Hamilton.” Photo by Joan Marcus. | Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
The ensemble is what makes a musical as a whole — not one star or one character. They more than proved it time and time again.
And the inclusivity of this ensemble reflects the ideals of America, in an odd way. How the ensemble (us, the American public) and its many main characters (the government) sort of revolve around each other and need each other to keep moving. Without the ensemble, this show would be awkward. Without the main characters, the show wouldn’t make sense at all.
The ensemble is almost omnipresent — on stage in nearly every scene either dancing, singing, or acting as a metaphorical bullet. That bullet isn’t specified in the cast list but is played by an ensemble member who appears throughout the show each time death is mentioned surrounding Hamilton. Performers close-by interestingly transform into named characters that aren’t in every scene. They identify their new selves simply by switching jackets or putting on a hat. A good example of this was ensemble member Marcus John who played Philip Schuyler, James Reynolds, and a doctor. All came into being just with a change of costume.
Stephanie Jae Park in “Hamilton.” Photo by Joan Marcus. | Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
With the music sung by specific characters, I became awash in 90s R&B nostalgia, reminding me of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s confession that most songs were based on that era’s stars. I know that sounds crazy in a play written about a man from the 1700s. But the influence was absolutely there.
During the opening number, I was hyper-focused on Jared Dixon and his new and fresh take on Aaron Burr compared to the other performances I’ve seen. Through the first act, he delivers quick moves and witty lines. I was constantly reminded of Usher, with his smooth vocals. (It’s no surprise that Usher sang for Burr on the 2016 “Hamilton Mixtape.”) Dixon’s Burr also displayed how annoyed he was from the very beginning with Hamilton’s actions, giving the whole play a different outlook in the best possible way. It was nice to see a little change to such a familiar show.
Thomas Jefferson, played by Warren Egypt Franklin, had the entire audience in a fit of laughter — me included. The 90s came flooding back with his few references to The Notorious B.I.G. (“If you don’t know… now you know, Mr. President”) and his hilarious dance moves.
What was missing was the chemistry between several actors throughout the performance. It pains me to say, but I wasn’t convinced Alexander Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and Eliza Hamilton (Stephanie Jae Park) even liked each other based on their interactions. Specifically, during their wedding, the chemistry between the two was a little awkward. Almost all of his scenes with Eliza felt like filler. On the other hand, his scenes with Burr seemed heartfelt, angry, and meaningful.
Individually, however, Gonzalez and Park gave impressive performances. Gonzalez brought a fresh take (and a way deeper voice) to Hamilton’s character as well as charm. Park’s portrayal of Eliza was beautiful.
Chemistry did take the cake when Lafayette (Warren Egypt Franklin), Mulligan (Desmond Sean Ellington), and Laurens (Nick Sanchez) came on stage. As they were all prancing around smacking each other's behinds and laughing during “The Story of Tonight Reprise,” I was in shambles and laughing so hard.
This production proved to me that there is no character too small or no choice too bold when it comes to Broadway. I’ve seen four other casts in other cities and new casts continue to add new charisma to the familiar numbers all the while telling the same story Lin-Manuel so desperately wanted to share.
Abigail Knoop, a 2022 graduate of New Albany High School, was section editor for that school’s newspaper, The Blotter, and in numerous productions through NAHS Theatre Arts. She is planning to study Elementary Education and Journalism at Indiana University Southeast in the fall.