As one of the countless fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s theatrical masterpiece, Hamilton, I was exalted to finally be able to see the show I had become so familiar with through the original cast recordings and short-lived YouTube clips. Looking at the show without the starstruck hue of rose-colored glasses, it’s easy to see the hurdle this production is up against — but does it live up to the hype?
To give a quick summary, Alexander Hamilton was the nation’s first treasury secretary. He effectively created the American economy and helped to shape the U.S. Constitution. He often doesn’t get the same renown as George Washington, Andrew Jackson or Benjamin Franklin, but like those men, he earned his place in your pocket — check your $10 bill. Miranda’s musical tells Hamilton’s life story, loosely based on the biography by historian Ron Chernow.
Understandably, it's difficult to live up to the fame of the original cast, given the widespread popularity of the production, but it’s troubling how short Joseph Morales falls in the titular role compared to the rest of the cast. While he attempts to convey the charisma we’ve come to know and love, it’s far from adequate. It becomes more apparent throughout the show as Morales continues to bobble his head and use hand gestures to stay on beat; this lack of confidence in lyrical timing is hard to ignore. Couple that with a lack of emotional range — particularly when expressing moments of tension and excitement — and it’s difficult to understand how these flaws went unnoticed in preparations.
Erin Clemons brings the heart of the story through her depiction of Eliza Hamilton with a booming voice, full of passion and pain. I wouldn’t expect less from someone that’s been with the show since 2015.
Nik Walker does exceedingly well bringing Aaron Burr to life. Rather than attempting to give audiences his best impression of Leslie Odom Jr.’s Burr, Walker takes the character in his own direction with confidence, displaying range that brings new emotion to Burr throughout the show that reveals his evolution into the villian in a great way. His depiction is of a man inching ever closer to his breaking point, only ever stopping to beg the question ‘how does this guy keep succeeding?’
Visually, the production is impressive, making use of practically every inch of the stage while maintaining a fairly simple set design. David Korins has done a fantastic job with scenic design, and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography was great. I do wish there was more attention given to the visual appeal of big songs like “Wait for it” and “Dear Theodosia” rather than having the actors primarily stationary. The entire cast delivers an impressive performance overall, despite seemingly scrambling through some lyrical sections and Morales’s near-flat delivery mentioned earlier. There are some great standout performances among the cast, including Marcus Choi as George Washington and Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler, and even Jon Patrick Walker who makes the most of one of the smallest roles in the show as King George.
Above all else, this musical is still a breath of fresh air in the world of theatre, and has proven to be a catalyst for new generations to fall in love with the stage. Would I recommend you see Hamilton while it’s in Texas, despite my seemingly harsh review? Absolutely. Overall, I would have to say that the touring production of Hamilton lives up to the hype. While the Founding Father has no control who tells his story, I’d say this team did not throw away their shot.
Hamilton runs in Austin through June 16 at Bass Concert Hall. For more information, visit the Texas Performing Arts website.
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set unafraid to take on topics head on. He now resides in Austin, TX and continues to create content on a daily basis.