How does the musical Hamilton “go on and on, grow into more of a phenomenon?” I ventured to the Chicago production of “Hamilton An American Musical” in April 2017, full of wonder for something exceedingly familiar.
I would be “delighted and distracted” in this third viewing after two in NY (cast contrast later in this post), but more aware of lighting, scenery, costumes, and movements that combine with words I knew well and discussed in previous posts:
Mezzanine seating in Private Bank Theatre differed from orchestra level in NYC, particularly for observation of complex and varied lighting schemes. Spotlights can be squared rather than rounded. Red on the stage can represent blood spilled in battle. A character can be illuminated differently than any other “loyal, royal subject” because every aspect of his appearance is unlike any other role.
The show is the show, from one stage to the next. However, this acting troupe was making its initial impression on me. I knew their names through press releases and reactions of fans on Twitter feeds, particularly #HamiltonCHI.
My brief observations of the main cast:
- Daniel Breaker is a fine Burr under the saddle of A. Ham’s ambition.
- Miguel Cervantes has highlights worthy of Hamilton’s better life moments.
- Ari Afsar evolves Eliza with great efficacy through the span of scenes.
- Chris De’Sean Lee elevates entertainment with each step, note, and facial expression as Lafayette, but particularly as Thomas Jefferson in Act II.
- The voice of Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Washington (understudy) resonates through all available air space, filling the theater so completely it could reverberate from a matinee to the evening’s performance.
- Aubin Wise looks into the audience at every seating level and throws her marvelous voice into every lap. As Angelica (understudy) she owned the theater like no other on the stage. A treat!
Let me preface a few comments about the ensemble by saying that these are not “extras” – they are notable performers. The women outshone the men in the Windy City, the opposite of my sense in the Big Apple:
- Justice Moore froze time (twice) as “the bullet” in a mesmerizing manner. Ariana DeBose of NC originated that role in NY.
- Amber Ardolino fans favor her every move and I saw why; captivating! I felt this with Thayne Jasperson in NY.
- Samantha Pollino seizes attention without trying, as Betsy Struxness did for the NY audience.
I am a fan, not a theater critic (obvious from these writings) “he says in parentheses.” But I’ll venture this critique because, of course, “I’m not throwing away my shot:” The portrayal of Hamilton has not been perfected by either actor I have seen. Someone will be cast who maximizes vocals and passion while approaching the stage presence and charisma of Lin-Manuel. There is that opportunity to take this show forward.
The show is the show. Do not fret over the troupe in one locale versus another. They continue to change and all will entertain. Casts will differ, but rather than “good” and “bad” it will be like vinyl versus digital, or perhaps like an original song compared to a later cover by another artist. There may be a preference, but no reason for disdain.
I perceived aggregate performance differences between the Chicago cast and the original cast at Richard Rodgers. “And so in summary:”
|Tight OBC Family||Solid Cast|
|Pin-point Precision||Glee-Club Enjoyment|
New York: The Original Broadway Cast was a tight-knit family raising their creation to have all the success they dreamed for it. Their backstories are well chronicled (refer to Jeremy McCarter’s book “Hamilton The Revolution“). Lin-Manuel Miranda was the obvious headliner with boundless energy and ambition that mirrors Hamilton himself. Each performance seemed honed to project the finest point from the stage. It was sharp and commanded rapt audience attention, but also carried the warmth of family. The show was precisely crafted, like a piece of fine art is expected to be.
The Chicago cast is full of talent, vigor, skill, and the ability to light up the night like flaming arrows shot into the dark theater air. The doors open and they seem delighted for this opportunity to entertain. The audience has fun. The show is exciting and enjoyable, the way a major production is expected to be.
It seems that turnover in the Chicago cast has left it with a less-honed sharpness than it could have. The actor playing Burr has changed at least three times in seven months. There is more time off by lead actors than seemed to be true on Broadway, yet I found understudies superb in substitute roles.
The NYC cast knew that Tony awards were in the offing; they stretched every night to reach them, perfecting their performances.
In Chicago, the cast seems well aware of the opportunity this high-profile stage has given them to shine in the spotlight. The reach of these actors marvelously stretches their characters and personalities into the anticipating audience.
Crowd reactions are more subtle in Chicago. An example is that Hamilton’s introduction of himself in the first song of the first act was wildly cheered on the East Coast and “met with indifference” in the Midwest. I suppose that contrast is a reaction to the creator Miranda taking the Richard Rodgers stage rather than the character Hamilton.
I’m hooked on a two-act hip-hop pop operetta! I’ve seen it thrice and perhaps, “I will never be satisfied.”
*Note: Italicized quotes are from “Hamilton An American Musical.”