Powerful relationships deepen the authentic portrayals in poignant production of “Hamilton"
By Phoebe Haverstick | Art Angle Vantage Reporter
duPont Manual, Class of 2023
“History has its eyes on you” is a lyric so influential most people know whether or not they've had the opportunity to see the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” The musical reflects this as it grows its audience and has changed the status quo of what an American musical is — and what a musical has the ability to be.
Last Wednesday at Kentucky Performing Arts Whitney Hall just after curtain, a quickly darkening theater held the promise of something incredible. Whether or not “Hamilton” would live up to its large reputation was yet to be seen. The stage was set, the music began, and excitement filled the theater. A simple “Lights up” started one of the most influential musicals ever to grace Broadway. But “Hamilton” is anything but simple.
Pierre Jean Gonzalez and company in “Hamilton.” Photo by Joan Marcus. | Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
What stands out in “Hamilton” are the relationships. Director Thomas Kail focuses intently on creating the environment of the play through the relationships between characters. From the largest roles to the smallest ensemble characters, every movement and word is methodical but feels genuine. John Laurens (Nick Sanchez) and Hercules Mulligan (Desmond Sean Ellington) have a distinct relationship with each other that isn't particularly necessary to the historic storytelling, but crucial to the show’s environment. This personal relationship forces the audience to relate to the characters as they struggle throughout different events in their lives. For instance, the boyish jokes create humor during the bachelor party scenes to make relatable characters while also continuing the timeline of the story. Similarly, the captivating relationship between Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and his wife Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park) feels real and authentic. Specifically, when Eliza and Hamilton become astray after his affair, Eliza comes to terms with betrayal and grief. These aspects make it easy to see the attention to detail Kail paid to even the smallest of scenes, making “Hamilton” such an influential show.
The detail extends to applying music to storytelling and history. Here, hip hop creates a space where history and humor can thrive together. Although some critics have voiced doubts about the ability of rap to act as a historical mouthpiece, here it just works. The different rap styles in “Hamilton” take liberties with the tempos and rhythms and make way for easily discussing more complex and difficult topics. During the rap battle in the song “Cabinet Battle #1.” George Washington (Marcus Choi) acts as a referee of the contest between Jefferson (Warren Egypt Franklin) and Hamilton during the continental congress's meeting. Washington's announcement, “... are you ready for a cabinet meeting, huh?” solicits a reaction of roaring screams and claps from the audience. The hip-hop song with its perfect mix of humor and history showcases Jefferson's conservative fear of big government and Hamilton's more liberal approach to finances as the two battle it out by throwing out humorous sarcasm laced with clever insults.
Jared Dixon in “Hamilton.” Photo by Joan Marcus. | Courtesy PNC Broadway in Louisville.
In each song, “Hamilton” exemplifies topics such as early colonial politics, grief, the effect of striving to leave a legacy, and even lust as it shows its characters struggling with all of these. Throughout, politics is the underlying theme, directing every character’s course of action and even deciding the fate of some. John Laurens fought to end slavery. Because of his politics and voice, Hamilton, Mulligan, and Lafayette ended up mourning his death halfway through the musical.
Fatherhood is also a large theme as it drives Hamilton to be something bigger than what his father was and create a legacy through his son. The song “Dear Theodosia,” widely considered to be Hamilton’s tear-jerker, was beautifully executed by the cast. The song had a palpable effect as tension among the audience grew with a sense that an interruption was coming to this lullaby. “Dear Theodosia” is intimate, personal and a lovely tribute that allows the audience to see a different side of the founders’ personalities. Here actors Gonzalez and Jared Dixon as Aaron Burr expertly enthrall. Watching the drama of Hamilton's scandal, you find yourself on the edge of your seat watching Hamilton betray not only Eliza but his entire family.
Though controversial, the casting of “Hamilton” works to make sure Broadway knows that this revolution, as a lyric from Hamilton implies, “is not a moment, but a movement.” The emotions represented by all of the characters are authentic, and real, and force reactions from everyone in the audience to the point that each viewer feels like they themself, are a part of this amazing story. The musical's imprint on Broadway musicals as a whole is impossible to ignore as it has revolutionized casting to include all people no matter their race, gender, or sexuality.
Through authenticity and a unique environment, “Hamilton” creates a different approach to Broadway and a legacy of its own. I ended Wednesday thinking about the zeitgeist of “Hamilton” bringing a more diverse cast to the stage and a diverse audience to the seats. “Hamilton” is the start of something magnificent. While “history has its eyes on” “Hamilton,” I wonder will what follows, live up to “Hamilton.” Will this musical truly be, as one of its lyrics state, “not a moment, but a movement”?
Phoebe Haverstick is a rising senior at duPont Manual/Youth Performing Arts School and a student in the creative writing cohort of the 2022 Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. As a theater technician, they have stage-managed multiple high school productions including an entirely student-produced “New Works 2022.”