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Theater review: Why energetic ‘Hamilton’ matters to theater – and America

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‘Hamilton’ at Durham Performing Arts Center

A national tour of the award-winning, wildly popular “Hamilton” is presented at the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham, NC, Nov. 6 to Dec. 2, 2018. Here are our stories.

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Yeah, it’s all that.

A detailed history lesson. A romance full of emotional upheaval. Songs that utilize half a dozen styles without a single stale number in two hours and 40 minutes of sung-through music. Flowing showmanship that speeds up, slows down and occupies multiple levels of the single set. Whatever praise you have heard about “Hamilton” rings true for the Broadway Lights tour now at Belk Theater.

Two types of people won’t enjoy the Tony-winning musical conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda for his own tunes and lyrics: Those who want history depicted as literally as possible and those for whom any variant of hip-hop grates on the ear. Everyone else may be energized by this reimagining of a crucial series of moments in the American narrative.

A traditional review would analyze performances, set design, choreography, direction. Such a review matters less for this show than any that Blumenthal Performing Arts has presented: A rave wouldn’t change a single naysayer’s mind, and a savage pan wouldn’t deter a single fan. (There seem to be no undecided, “I’ll-drop-by-if-I get-in-the-mood” types.)

Let me tell you instead why “Hamilton” matters to theater – and America itself – as few shows have in my 52 years of playgoing.

Elijah Malcomb, Joseph Morales, Kyle Scatliffe and Fergie L. Philippe lead the cast of the national “Hamilton” tour. Joan Marcus

It reminds us of ideals on which our country is based, the reasons other countries wanted to emulate us for more than 200 years. Yes, the founding fathers were white men who mostly protected the freedom of white men and promoted democracy for the same. (The multiracial casting of this show helps redress that.) But the restrictive beginnings painfully morphed into a more inclusive America, and Miranda catches the fever that started that revolution.

It shows how countless influences come together into something fresh. The text refers not only to documents written by Hamilton and Jefferson but nursery rhymes, Gilbert and Sullivan, the Bible, “Macbeth” and other sources. Miranda favors hip-hop but includes traditional anthems, ballads that echo the Golden Age of Broadway and a tender duet for frenemies Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, orphans who’ve experienced the joy of fatherhood. King George III’s comic number could have come from the ’60s pop period called … The British Invasion.

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It presents people from other lands as assets, not liabilities. “Immigrants – we get the job done!” sings the Marquis de Lafayette with Hamilton at the Battle of Yorktown.

It expects the audience to be smart and/or do advance work. We’re meant to know who Lafayette, John Laurens andHercules Mulligan are, as well as briefing ourselves on lyrics if we want to catch every word. (I came to the show knowing none and understood 90-plus percent.)

And though it deals on a large scale with political issues, it develops key relationships in Hamilton’s life: His marriage to the trusting Eliza, his yearning for sister-in-law Angelica, his acceptance of George Washington as a surrogate father and especially his sparring with Aaron Burr. (Remember “Amadeus”? Here an established figure befriends a brilliant but immature interloper, acknowledges the spark of genius he’ll never possess, then grows envious and bitter and destroys his rival.)

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Do you really need to hear about performances? All are exemplary, especially Shoba Narayan’s plaintive Eliza, TaRea Campbell’s stalwart Angelica, Marcus Choi’s dignified Washington and Kyle Scatliffe’s strutting Lafayette and smirking Jefferson. Joseph Morales’ introspective yet impassioned Hamilton and Nik Walker’s sinuous Burr set each other off perfectly. Unheralded ensemble members make this complicated machinery run beautifully.

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Top Charlotte tickets cost nearly $600. (They’re $250 more on Broadway, though I can’t imagine the cast would be better.) I have no idea what a theatrical event is “worth” in abstract terms. Whatever the highest amount you’re willing to spend may be, use it for “Hamilton.”


WHEN: Oct. 10-Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Also 2 p.m. Oct. 11 and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 4.

WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

RUNNING TIME: 180 minutes, including one intermission.

TICKETS: $154.50-$599.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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