After years of anticipation and months of incessant promotion, Broadway megahit Hamilton has arrived at the Dr. Phillips Center, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's revolutionary musical about the Revolutionary War has divided Orlando's arts community. As an alt-weekly critic, you might expect me to join the growing chorus of naysayers and call this multiple Tony-winner overhyped, or at least overpriced. Surely I'll advise that it's smarter to save your money, stick with the soundtrack, and wait for amateur productions to pop up in a few years?
Well, at the risk of losing my street cred as a cynic, I'm here to say that Hamilton is the rare cultural phenomenon that lives up to all its accolades, and experiencing it in person is well worth the absurd amount of time and money many have spent securing seats. So, even though the last thing this touring titan needs is another glowing review, I simply must tell you three fundamental reasons why you want to be in the room where it happens:
Recently, several people on my social media feeds – including some professional musicians whom I respect – have professed an inability to appreciate Hamilton because it's "all rap" and "has no melodies." (Ironically, the same people swoon over Sweeney Todd and Evita, which are this show's direct ancestors.) On the contrary, Miranda's songs (orchestrated by Alex Lacamoire) draw on more than a century of American genres – including gospel, soul, R&B and hip-hop – and blend them with Broadway's familiar pop-operetta into an ingenious postmodern pastiche that will undoubtedly be adopted by decades of composers to come. Plus, one listen to Kelly Clarkson's cover of "It's Quiet Uptown" will show that Miranda can pen a heartbreaking ballad with the best of them.
Like all great works, it only improves with exposure, so listen to the cast album (it streams free for Amazon Prime members) and let your ear become accustomed to the intricate lyrics. But no headphones can compare to hearing Hamilton performed live through this production's pitch-perfect sound system.
Hamilton made stars out of its original cast members, with good reason, but this touring company is more than up to the task of filling those big black boots. Joseph Morales, who previously covered the title role in Chicago and headlined the national tour of In the Heights, somehow seems even younger, scrappier and hungrier as Alexander Hamilton than Lin-Manuel himself. He spits marathon tongue-twisters with deceptive ease (delivering more lines than King Lear does in the course of the show), while displaying a vulnerability that balances his brashness.
Shoba Narayan burns down the house as Hamilton's long-suffering wife Eliza, and Ta'rea Campbell is sharply sassy as Angelica, her quick-witted sister. The rapid-fire dual roles of Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson were written for Daveed Diggs' divine diction; if Kyle Scatliffe only makes 98 percent of the syllables sensible, that's still 95 percent better than most mere mortals could. Finally, Nik Walker steals the show as Aaron Burr, transforming Hamilton's deadly frenemy from a grasping hustler into a demonic force of nature through his hypnotic eyes and wicked humor.
As deservedly praised as Hamilton's audio is, its equally impressive visual achievements are vastly undervalued. The team of directors, Thomas Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler, invented a vocabulary of gestural movement that's equally rooted in urban and modern dance and used it to generate a hurricane of momentum that explodes off the stage from the first downbeat to the final curtain. Designer David Korins' backdrop of bare brick and rough-hewn wood allows the story to skip through dozens of years and locations without pausing for scene changes, with Howell Binkley's lighting subtly supporting the nonstop shifts.
But most of all, it's the ensemble (which includes UCF theater alumna Abby Jaros) that makes Hamilton's staging a must-see. The way that they acrobatically launch their bodies off walls, slide across the floor and spin muskets through the air – all while standing atop nested turntables that can spin in opposite directions simultaneously – would make the cast of Les Miz have heart attacks. Much like Jerome Robbins' West Side Story or Michael Bennett's Chorus Line, Kail and Blankenbuehler's staging should be studied for generations to come as a milestone in moving bodies through space.
Now that I've convinced you to go bankrupt buying seats, don't hate me when you discover that the entire run is virtually sold out, and don't turn to scalpers. Instead, download the official Ham4Ham smartphone app and log in daily to take your shot at $10 tickets. And if the lottery gods don't shine on you, check out Shine in the Limelight's master class with Hamilton cast member Krystal Mackie on Saturday, Feb. 9 (shop.inthelimelightorlando.com). Maybe you'll blow them all away and be up on stage the next time the tour is in town.