New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

Richard Rodgers Theatre, Broadway

Where to begin with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show now on Broadway? “Hamilton” is so different in format and style that one is struck by the launching of a new era. Indeed the gifted young Miranda (who wrote the music/lyrics and plays the title role) is making theater history. No longer the old Broadway style which intersperses production numbers with songs and dialogues!….”Hamilton” is a play-through production where the choreography never stops, where separate scenes roll into each other, where Hamilton ages as the drama grows darker.

And, above all, the racially-mixed performers reflect not only brave new casting, but the world in which we live today. In this age every family, in our experience, has its share of hybrids—of Asians mixed with Caucasians or Latinos or African Americans. Only a few years—or decades—ago, critics debated the question of cross-racial casting. Would it make sense for a black man to play the role of a white character, we critics debated? Could Juliet or Desdamona be a black woman? But Miranda courageously mixes it up—in fact, moves right past these ancient debates--and it all feels right.

And though “Hamilton” has been referred to as a hip-hop musical, but Miranda mixes the music as well…..stirring the pot with a variety of musical genres and Miranda himself, playing the verbose Hamilton, launches into wondrous, lengthy, rapid-fire dialogues in the hip-hop style. It’s appropriate, as his comrades comment that he talks too much.

Miranda was fascinated with Hamilton’s background—an illegitimate child born in the Caribbean with parents of mixed heritage. And he saw it as the immigrant experience, which is applicable even today. But, more dramatically, Hamilton this bastard child grew up to be the brilliant Secretary of the Treasury, and indeed a founding father. Miranda has a way of weaving yesterday and today.

But even more effective is the dynamic choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler…..This relentless, hard-working, beautifully-performing troupe of dancers never lets up….knitting the story together as it builds in pace and intensity. And director Thomas Kail keeps it running smoothly like a well-oiled machine.

The weakest aspect of this unusual show are its feature actors, uneven in performance. But Renee Elise Goldsberry, as Hamilton’s sister-in-law, gives a strong, moving performance. And Jonathan Groff, playing King George as a sulky, childish monarch, adds a delicious note of comedy.

Yet, on balance, “Hamilton” is exciting, offbeat, innovative and in-your-face. It moves from the Public Theatre (having first played off-Broadway), on to the Broadway stage, and into history.

--Irene Backalenick
August 14, 2015

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