In Review

Hamilton - An American Musical

5 out of 4 stars
5 out of 5 stars - 'Outstanding - Starkie!'
    SHN Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco
    Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
    Direction by Thomas Kail
    Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler
    Music supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire
    Review by Ilana Walder-Biesanz

    If you’re someone who follows theater at all (and presumably you are, if you’re reading this review), I don’t need to introduce Hamilton to you. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unlikely hit has long been commanding thousands of dollars a seat on the secondary market and prompting reviewers to suggest mortgaging your home for the chance to see it. While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I will say that the hype is well deserved. What’s more, the touring company does this remarkable show justice.

    The recording and lyrics of Hamilton are available online, a generous gift to the public because they are the magic. Elegant dresses and energetic dancing are background. The words and music come quickly, demanding all of your attention, covering decades of important events at a breakneck pace. The style veers from rap to classic musical theatre, with jokes for cognoscenti of both genres.

    Part of the joy of the Hamilton experience is the sheer, infectious enthusiasm of the crowds. Never have I seen an audience this excited.

    And yet while the staging is not what matters most, Hamilton is much richer seen live than listened to at home. That’s mostly thanks to the cast. Diehard fans were sad to learn that Lin-Manuel Miranda would not tour with his musical, but that’s a blessing in disguise: he’s a far better composer and lyricist than singer. (Cue the hate mail.) Our actors on this tour are not famous names, but they possess extraordinary vocal and dramatic talents.

    Emmy Raver-Lampman belts Angelica’s impossibly high notes with sultry tone, while Solea Pfeiffer shows off a milder, dulcet instrument as her sister Eliza. Rory O’Malley’s King George sacrifices lyricism to comedy, but manages both impeccably. In the revolutionary set, Jordan Donica shines as the overly French Lafayette and the foppish Jefferson. Mathenee Trecco shows versatility as both loud, vulgar Hercules Mulligan and staid, sickly James Madison. As John Laurens and later Philip Hamilton, Rubén J. Carbajal sings with strength and sweetness. Only George Washington disappoints: Isaiah Johnson bellows his part.

    IN PHOTOS: Hamilton – An American Musical

    Most importantly, our two stars own their difficult roles. Michael Luwoye’s Alexander Hamilton raps, sings, scribbles, and swaggers with perfect timing and heartbreaking emotion. As his narrator and enemy Aaron Burr, Joshua Henry is smooth of voice and manner.

    The production is crisply executed. Touring shows sometimes suffer from a lack of precision, but here every dance move and lighting cue is spot-on. (Nearly two weeks of previews before the official opening surely helped.) Alex Lacamoire’s creative orchestration sounds lush in the Orpheum Theater. The ten-piece orchestra plays it with good timing and balance, though the heavy reliance on synthesized sounds is sometimes grating.

    This is a show worthy of such attention—and worth attending in person.

    Part of the joy of the Hamilton experience is the sheer, infectious enthusiasm of the crowds. Never have I seen an audience this excited. They whooped and hollered for their favorite lines and numbers so long that they inevitably covered the next bit of music. The cast sometimes couldn’t quite articulate the ceaseless stream of lyrics. It didn’t matter; most of the people in this theater knew them by heart.

    This is a show worthy of such attention—and worth attending in person.

    Hamilton – An American Musical

    SHN Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco

    5 out of 5 stars

    Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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    Ilana Walder-Biesanz
    Ilana is an Associate Product Manager at Yahoo! and a freelance theater and opera critic. She holds a B.S. in Engineering from Olin College and an M.Phil. in European Literature from the University of Cambridge. She currently reviews for Stark Insider, Bachtrack, and San Francisco Classical Voice. [Web Site]