Talk about a night to remember. Last night was a night of many firsts for me. It was my first time driving to and from Atlanta in less than 12 hours, my first time attending a show at the Fox Theatre, and my first time seeing “Hamilton” performed on stage.
Despite my fatigue, it was a fun ride.
For those who don’t follow musical theatre, “Hamilton” is a hip-hop musical about the life of founding father, Alexander Hamilton, mainly about how as the opening number says, “the bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence, impoverished, in squalor, (grew) up to be a hero and scholar…”, his relationships with his friends who helped him get there, and what he does once he’s at the top.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical was an instant success from its opening in 2015 and has managed to find a widespread cultural popularity in musical theatre lovers of all backgrounds and to appeal to a larger demographic of people who before had no interest in theatre. That’s something Broadway hasn’t accomplished arguably since “The Book of Mormon” came out in 2011, and even then, that show wasn’t as popular.
“Hamilton” is more successful honestly because it is one of the most unique and original works ever put on stage. It has so many elements that should not work but do beautifully. The colonial characters sing hip-hop lyrics the whole time, but instead of being jarring, it makes them more approachable and understandable. The set looks like the inside of a tavern and hardly changes during the show, but it is effective in putting the focus where it needs to be. I could go on. It is all these unique elements plus the stellar performances of the cast, particularly from Miranda himself who originally played Hamilton himself, that made this play work in its first run.
With all that said, the new cast for the traveling show had big shoes to fill. The attending audience, who, like me, had either been listening to the soundtrack non-stop or, unlike me, had already seen a bit of the show or all of it, is going to more critical of the new cast going into the performance. So, for the new cast, there’s a big pressure to match up to their predecessors and deliver the same impact. The good news is that they delivered…mostly.
The play was wonderful from beginning to end. The choreography was energetic and well-executed. The music was performed flawlessly. Most of the cast was perfect. They all performed just as well as their original counterparts while giving their own slight twists to make the performances their own. This is particularly true for Eliza, who came across as more genuine, kind and gentle to me in this version than in the original, and for Aaron Burr, who was sassier, more flamboyant, and more extroverted than in the original.
That personal touch worked for everyone, except, unfortunately, for Hamilton himself. Edred Utomi replaced Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton, and while he was not a bad performer, he felt miscast. When I listened to the “Hamilton” soundtrack on YouTube and heard Miranda sing, I heard the force of nature that was Hamilton. I heard his determination, his drive, and the fiery passion inside of him that gave him his temper and his relentless energy. I did not feel that in Utomi’s performance.
When Utomi performed, I saw Hamilton’s emotional vulnerability and his stubborn drive in the face of opposition, but in comparison to Miranda, he felt more subdued than his character needed to be. That would not be a problem if so much emphasis was not put on Hamilton’s volatility, but since that is a major facet of his character that others keep commenting on, its absence is striking. And since Hamilton is the main character in this story, Utomi’s acting choices hold the show back from being as amazing as it could have been.
Again, I will emphasize that Utomi is not a bad performer. He is a great dancer and singer who owns the difficult moves and lyrics like a pro. As an actor, he is also good. Utomi is completely believable when it comes to portraying Hamilton as insecure, thoughtful, and self-reflective, but he struggles when it comes to portraying Hamilton as loud-mouthed and hot-headed. Utomi is simply too self-controlled for most of the first act, and even though he improves in the second act, Utomi can only be that fiery character for moments at a time while Miranda was that character for the whole show.
Nevertheless, the show was well-worth the price of admission. The rest of the show was fantastic, and even though Utomi was struggling, he was still a good enough performer and had enough wonderful support from everyone else to keep the audience emotionally invested. As for me, I was “satisfied” to be “in the room where it happened.”