Yesterday afternoon, I had the joyous experience of watching a preview of the Chicago production of HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL. After listening to the soundtrack countless times, reading numerous articles, and generally submitting myself to the (much deserved) HAMILTON hype, I went into this experience with high expectations…and the Chicago production honestly blew me away. While there’s certainly nothing I can say about this brilliant musical that will reinvent the wheel, I can’t help but feel compelled to write my reactions to this magical theatrical moment like I’m running out of time. I will never, however, run out of love for #HamiltonCHI. Here’s a few thoughts on this non-stop show that offers 2 hours and 45 minutes of pure elation.
- That choreography, though!
While I was intimately familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius soundtrack going into this experience, I had only seen a snippet of HAMILTON’S choreography courtesy of the Tony Awards. Watching Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography truly allowed me to see Miranda’s score in a new, surprising light. HAMILTON’s choreography artfully incorporates so many hip-hop elements, as is fitting of the score, and Blankenbuehler plays with the dancer’s line in so many interesting ways. This choreography, again like the score, is also just exceeding clever in the ways that it mirrors the show’s narrative. And it was, naturally, all beautifully executed by the company.
- The cast is FLAWLESS. This is perhaps an unsurprising observation, but it needs to be said: this cast delivers big-time. I was floored by each and every performer on that stage, and the roles are impeccably cast across the board. In Miguel Cervantes, Lin-Manuel Miranda has surely found a worthy onstage successor who sings beautifully and manages to add his own twist on the role. Joshua Henry performs as if he was born to play Aaron Burr, with a voice as smooth as butter. He consistently exudes that uneasy charm that defines Burr but also gives us moments of real empathy (see: his heart-wrenching rendition of “Dear Theodosia”). I’ve long admired Karen Olivo as a Broadway performer so to see her as Angelica Schuyler was a thrill—and she naturally did not disappoint. Ari Afsar absolutely nails it as Eliza, and her emotional performance and astounding vocals were definitely among the highest highlights of HAMILTON. She truly has the voice of an angel. Samantha Marie Ware milks the role of Peggy for maximum comedic effect, then brings down the house with her powerful vocals on “Say No to This” in the second act. Jonathan Kirkland lends gravitas as George Washington, Chris Lee tears it up as Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Gemignani had the entire theater laughing non-stop as King George III. I could go on…the entire company consistently made my jaw drop.
- The vocal harmonies are astounding.
Not only do each of the actors bring it individually, but the ensemble harmonizes expertly and beautifully. The use of harmony in HAMILTON is incredible; the sound truly feels the entire theater. The Act One finale “Non-Stop” was a particularly magnificent treat to hear on this front.
- I experienced so many different emotions watching HAMILTON. This show gives new meaning to the expression “all of the feels.”
Watching HAMILTON was a consistently revelatory and delightful experience, but I was surprised that it was ultimately such a heart-wrenching one, too. The more somber tone of the second act really hit me as I was watching it unfold; tears were shed. Not only did I marvel in the sheer genius of Miranda’s work, but HAMILTON also was such a raw, emotional show to watch.
- And finally…a shout-out to the Schuyler Sisters!
I mentioned the dynamic trio of Ari Afsar, Karen Olivo, and Samantha Marie Ware earlier, but they also deserve a spot all their own. While HAMILTON is certainly a very male-centric show in a number of ways (as the Founding Fathers were, indeed, all men), these three women were a highlight. “The Schuyler Sisters” number was phenomenal, but my jaw really fell on the floor during the entirety of the “Helpless/Satisfied” sequence. Watching and hearing that unfold was truly unreal. This tweet really sums it up; icing on the cake of an overall fantastic theatrical experience.
The #HamiltonCHI Schuyler Sisters are flawlessly BRILLIANT! @ariannaafsar, @Karenolivo, and @Sammie_Ware, you are blowing me away! #werk
— Rachel Weinberg (@RachelRWeinberg) October 8, 2016