American Masterpiece ‘Hamilton’ Alights at the Kennedy Center


For years, when we had special visitors at our New Jersey home, we’d drive toward the Lincoln Tunnel to go to Manhattan, but not before diverting to Weehawken as a surprise. There, our guests would be shown a bust of Alexander Hamilton and the Rock of Death — up the hill from the dueling grounds, where Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shot the first Secretary of the Treasury, who adorns the 10-dollar bill. Just as importantly, from these western heights above the Hudson our visitors took in a stunning, panoramic view of midtown Manhattan. It got them every time. The drama remains to this day.

So, too, does the American masterpiece, “Hamilton,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which made its debut in 2015. This national tour production performs at the Kennedy Center through Oct. 9.

The musical was inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, “Alexander Hamilton.” The theatrical, musical, cultural juggernaut, winning 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy and Pulitzer, has something literally for everyone. With its hip-hop lyrics and rap vibe — though most songs are simply sung — and actors of color taking on the roles of the white founding fathers, “Hamilton” re-energizes the telling of American history which should make many teachers smile. Miranda has said he wrote “Hamilton” to be “America then, as told by America now.”

Before attending the musical at the Kennedy Center, I saw a boy wearing a cap, embroidered with “A. Ham” on the front. Oh, I get it — his shortened signature, part of a song which celebrates Hamilton’s writing skills. Yes, there is “Hamilton” merch.

In two acts, the musical begins as Hamilton, an immigrant (the audience applauded at the sound of the word) from Nevis in the Caribbean, who arrives in New York, as a man in a hurry (“Aaron Burr, Sir” and “My Shot”) and ends, after the famous duel, with his tearful widow Eliza singing “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” into the hearts of the audience.

In between all of this, the United States of America is born, along with its growing pains. Along the way, we meet George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Marquis de Lafayette, Aaron Burr, John Laurens and Hercules Mulligan — and the women, Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds — all part of the life of Hamilton, who died at the age of 49.

Directed by Thomas Kail, this high-powered national tour production is full of talent. At the center, Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Hamilton never stops. Marcus Choi as George Washington shows great range. Warren Egypt Franklin as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis De Lafayette almost steals the show as does Neil Haskell as the hilarious King George III. Jared Dixon as Aaron Burr is both strong and vulnerable. Marcus John as John Laurens is amped up. The women get their due and bring balance to the story. Most impressive are Vanessa Magula as Eliza Hamilton and Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler.

So many songs are memorable, “Yorktown,” “What’d I Miss” and especially “The Room Where It Happens,” which among other things tells of how Washington, D.C., came to be — all this sung to an audience sitting in a performing arts center dedicated to the memory of our 35th president in the nation’s capital.

American history has become part of our personal stories as has “Hamilton.” 

Oh, one more thing: After a day of sightseeing, before heading home through the Holland Tunnel, we’d often stop downtown at Wall Street, where Hamilton is buried in the cemetery next to Trinity Church, along with wife Elizabeth and her sisters.

“Hamilton” runs through Oct. 9 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. 

Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Alexander Hamilton and Marcus Choi as George Washington in “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Warren Egypt Franklin as Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Stephanie Jae Park, Ta’Rea Campbell and Paige Smallwood as the Schuyler sisters in “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Neil Haskell as King George III in “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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