CORRECTION 8/31: The below review identifies Josh Tower as the actor who portrayed Aaron Burr during the 8/24 performance of Hamilton at the Stranahan Theater. The role was actually portrayed by one of Mr. Tower’s understudies, Bryson Bruce or DeeJay Young. We sincerely regret the error.
One of the biggest challenges a performer can face is to play a role that another individual has already made iconic. That must be doubly true for anyone performing in a production of Hamilton, now playing at the Stranahan Theater for a two week run through September 4.
Originally performed in 2015, Lin Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop/R&B take on American history quickly captured the zeitgeist and became a cultural phenomenon with “Hamil-fans” the world over. By now, many audiences know the songs almost as well as the performers do.
Then, add in the fact that a film version of the original Broadway production was captured and then released on Disney+ two years ago, and the task of living up to an audience’s expectations becomes even more challenging.
It is a high compliment, then, to say that the members of the “Angelica” touring cast of Hamilton deliver an experience that lives up to the sights, sounds and emotions audiences expect of the show. In addition, the performers find ways to add small touches and choices that bring new joys from the production. This is Hamilton as you remember and love it— but also a bit more.
The story is well known by now. Combining modern musical styles with a period story and minimalist set design, the show tells the tale of (relatively) little-heralded founding father Alexander Hamilton (played in this production by Edred Utomi, taking the role Miranda played himself on Broadway), following his journey from the early days of the American Revolution through the date of the infamous duel with Aaron Burr (played here by Josh Tower).
The show is fast-paced, exciting and engaging. With intermission, the performance lasts nearly three hours, but it never feels like it. From the rapid-fire lyrics and dazzling choreography to the breathtaking use of lighting effects to punctuate scenes of pathos and war, Hamilton is an expertly crafted piece of theater, with so many moving parts it takes an expert cast to keep up with it.
Fortunately, the members of the “Angelica” cast are clearly experts at it. (There are three North American touring casts, “Angelica,” “Philip” and “And Peggy”– if you’ve seen the show you’ll get the joke of that last name.) Every bit of challenging choreography and precision is met to seeming perfection by the ensemble. For audiences who have only seen the show on a screen, watching these artists bring the spectacle to life is nothing short of astonishing.
Blending fresh and familiar
The lead performers also embody their roles brilliantly, while at the same time bringing new interpretations to the characters in subtle ways that preserve the structure of the show while giving audiences fresh moments that they hadn’t seen before.
Edred Utomi brings an energy to his portrayal of the title role that has moments of quiet maturity, while also featuring explosive energy in his physical performance, This Hamilton can seem more world-weary at points than Miranda’s did, but also more energetic at others. We can feel the emotional journey Utomi is going through as his character faces triumph and tragedies.
By contrast, Josh Tower’s Aaron Burr has more wry humor than Leslie Odom Jr.’s own powerful performance, which makes his character arc tragic in a different way. We can see the growing frustration of Burr as his rival continues to succeed, while knowing that a more energetic soul sits just underneath Burr’s surface, buried by his desire to “wait for it.”
Zoe Jenson’s long-suffering Eliza is the emotional core of the piece, and she brings a stirring sadness to her character (her performance of “Burn” is a highlight). Stephanie Umoh lights up the early numbers with her take on Angelica, and Paul Oakley Stoval brings a grand presence to his George Washington. To an individual, this cast captures the high-flying spirit of Hamilton as fans know it.
Get the job done
Balanced against these positives, a few small technical hiccups aren’t much to complain about, but they are there. On the night of our performance, the audio seemed a bit unbalanced between Utomi and the other performers and music, making his voice sound significantly quieter than the rest at points. The spotlight also seemed to miss some performers at times, leaving crucial moments darker than they should have been.
But such are the challenges of live theater. At the end of the day, this is Hamilton in all its glory, put on by an expert cast who bring classic and new flavors to this production. If you love the show, you won’t want to miss it. And if you haven’t seen Hamilton yet, you’re in for a treat.
7:30pm, Tuesdays-Thursdays through September 1.
8pm, Fridays & Saturdays, August 26-September 3.
2pm, Saturdays, August 27 & September 3.
1pm & 7pm, Sundays, August 28 & September 4.
4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.