Lin-Manuel Miranda is to theater what Ken Burns is to television -- a writer able to make history come alive.
With “Hamilton,” that toughest ticket on Broadway, he imposes 21st-century attributes on 18th-century characters and makes audiences care about the way he tells their story.
Combining hip-hop, pop and traditional theater music, he emerges with a dazzling account that’s accessible on so many levels. Bolstered by Thomas Kail’s kinetic direction, the words and music register the same way those in “Rent,” “A Chorus Line” and “Les Miserables” did. This is a musical that isn't disappearing any time soon.
The Mozart/Salieri relationship between Alexander Hamilton (Miranda) and Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) is played out on a number of levels. Extremely similar, the two jockey for position in the new country, hoping to win Washington’s favor, determined to make their mark in America’s history.
Told by Burr, the story covers their military, personal and governmental lives and, get this, pulls us in better than a best-selling beach read.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography serves as the glue, marrying one scene to the next as the characters roll into play. Lafayette, the Schuyler sisters, Washington, Jefferson and Madison become much more than names in a history book. They’re dynamic characters who jump off the stage and into contemporary times. Current politicians, social media celebrities and headline-grabbing stars have nothing over them.
When they debate, it’s a rap battle. When they duel, it’s a cinematic action scene, complete with slow-mo choreography.
Miranda, wearing his writer’s hat, makes sure each figure registers. Daveed Diggs gets the best moments -- first as Lafayette, then as an above-the-fray Thomas Jefferson. He gets a wowser introduction with “What’d I Miss?,” bringing the wealthy Monticello master into play with the scrappy immigrant.
Details audience never knew resonate, particularly since Miranda parsed Ron Chernow’s biography in fascinating ways.
The three rich sisters (an early day trio of Kardashians) pull Hamilton into their world and give him immediate credibility. He marries Eliza (Phillipa Soo), but has a soft spot for Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry), who wonders how she let this man get away. She, too, has a memorable solo (“Satisfied”) that bolsters the idea Hamilton is a man with a definite sell-by date.
While Christopher Jackson’s stoic Washington is the adult in the room, Rory O’Malley’s King George is its jester, getting big laughs with brief moments on stage. His “You’ll Be Back” is a comic highlight that’s a tribute to Miranda’s writing.
Odom gets the show’s big numbers (“Alexander Hamilton” and “Room Where It Happens”); Miranda has the most dramatic scenes. They’re both great, both deserving of the Best Actor Tony.
“Hamilton,” though, isn’t a show that’s dependent on the actors who play the roles. It’s so dense there’s room for many interpretations, many reactions. It’s the kind of musical that changes the game and galvanizes a generation.
It’s an original and, yes, it’s worth the hype.