By ANNE SIEGEL
It has been a long wait, but the people of southeast Wisconsin finally get to be in the room where it happens.
Hamilton has arrived.
And what a reception it’s getting. The mostly sold-out performances in this three-week run offer a top-ranked professional tour, which is also visiting two other Wisconsin cities (Appleton, then Madison) during its time in America’s Dairyland.
From the buzz heard among the pre-theater crowd on press night in Milwaukee, it’s clear that people have been waiting for this moment. It has been almost two years since the show’s appearance in the 2019-2020 Broadway series season was announced. On the day single tickets went on sale, long lines extended from the box office outside to the rainy sidewalk.
Although many other fine shows also populate this season’s offerings – Dear Evan Hansen appeared last month and The Band’s Visit arrives before the holidays – none can come close to the anticipation that Hamilton has evoked.
Broadway’s most-beloved musical (still playing to sold-out houses at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre) won 11 Tony Awards in 2016 and has become a cultural phenomenon. Even though this is the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ 50th anniversary, hosting Hamilton will always rank among its most significant Milwaukee events.
Ticket prices here aren’t quite as astronomical as what it costs to see Hamilton in New York. However, budget-conscious Milwaukeeans aren’t used to paying several hundred dollars for a seat unless it’s for the Green Bay Packers football team. Nonetheless, judging by the audience reaction on the show’s second performance, Hamilton was worth the sky-high ticket price.
The stamp of writer-songwriter-actor Lin-Manuel Miranda is so embedded into Hamilton that one almost expects him to show up unannounced to lead the cast in the role of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. After all, the idea for turning Ron Chernow’s biography about Hamilton into a rap and hip-hop inspired musical first happened inside Miranda’s fertile brain. He went on to star in the show during its early Broadway run, and has returned to the show several times.
However, Milwaukee audiences were not disappointed to discover Joseph Morales playing the role of Hamilton. Morales, who joined the tour in Chicago, also appeared in Miranda’s previous musical, In the Heights. Morales does a fine job; he handles the character’s personal and professional sides with equal parts humor and gravitas.
Speaking of heights, Morales makes his first impression in terms of his short stature. He isn’t even close to being the tallest man in the cast. In fact, Hamilton’s friend and rival, Aaron Burr (Nik Walker), is more than a head taller and therefore more dominating in their scenes together. One can easily see why a young Hamilton, upon meeting the well-known Burr for the first time, peppers his speech with repeated referrals to “sir.”
However, as many audiences already know, Alexander Hamilton isn’t going to stand on the sidelines for long. He quickly impresses George Washington with his literary skill, to the point where a frustrated Hamilton must beg him to become a commander on the field of the American Revolution. Washington eventually gives in, but not before making him serve time as an aide-de-camp. Washington’s loyalty to Hamilton proves key in raising Hamilton’s influence (as profiled in the song, “History Has Its Eyes on You”). As most people know, Hamilton is responsible for creating the U.S. treasury.
Although a sense of humor permeates Hamilton, the key comic figure is King George (Neil Haskell). He appeared as a glimmering figure dressed in an ermine-trimmed crown, brocaded red coat and pants, and white tights (costumes by Paul Tazewell). His signature number, “You’ll Be Back,” was a surefire crowd pleaser. For those who are familiar with Hamilton, the mere sight of the ridiculously dressed Haskell was enough to elicit whoops of recognition. Every subsequent appearance by Haskell was greeted enthusiastically by the audience.
In addition to the actors playing Hamilton, Burr and King George, exceptionally strong performances were turned in by Marcus Choi as a strong and steady George Washington, Warren Egypt Franklin as a flamboyant Marquis de Lafayette and a scheming Thomas Jefferson, Erin Clemons as Hamilton’s loyal wife, Eliza, and Ta’rea Campbell as Eliza’s sister, Angelica Schuyler. All the actors’ diction made the rapid-fire song lyrics understandable, with the loss of only a few words for those hearing Hamilton’s songs for the first time.
Backing the main performers are a large group of dancers, who punctuated each movement with immense skill (choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler).
The choice of non-traditional casting serves the show well, mixing actors of many races. The overall visual effect reminds us that the American Revolution and the founding of this country involved all people, not just the Caucasian men who framed the Constitution. <BK>
Although Hamilton hits hard on politics, there is far more to this story than a civics textbook provides. The musical’s narrative is a well-rounded one, painting Hamilton as a man with strong feelings about his family as well as a man with simple human needs and failings.
Before the final curtain, Hamilton and his political friends/rivals have survived heartache, loss, and frustration (particularly poignant in the show’s most well-known song, “The Room Where It Happens”). Although romance is in short supply here, one realizes the love Hamilton has for his family and comrades. (One side comment: His courtship of Eliza Schuyler is relatively shortchanged in the show, as more time is given over to news of battlefield skirmishes and political backbiting.)
The final scene, in which Hamilton faces his tragic end, seemed to be more thoughtful as presented in the Milwaukee tour. Hamilton finally slowed his pace long enough to contemplate both sides of the life/death continuum. Hamilton is keenly aware that life doesn’t last forever, a fact he reinforces throughout the performance with his feverish work schedule.
Hamilton reminds us, above all, to pay attention to the things that really matter. For Hamilton, that meant creating a professional legacy. Although he would not live to see the results of his life’s work, he must surely know that his hand affects us to this very day.
Parental guidance: Adult subject matter.
The national tour of Hamilton continues at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through November 17. For tickets, call 414-273-7121.
Cast: Joseph Morales (Alexander Hamilton), Erin Clemons (Eliza Hamilton), Nik Walker (Aaron Burr), Ta’rea Campbell (Angelica Schuyler), Marcus Choi (George Washington), Warren Egypt Franklin (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson).
Theater: Marcus Center for the Performing Arts
Theater Address: 929 N. Water St.
Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Author: Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Inspired by the book, “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow.
Director: Thomas Kail
Technical: Set: David Corins; Costumes: Paul Tazewell; Lighting: Howell Binkley; Sound: Nevin Steinberg.