Hamilton Gets The Job Done

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The Company with Pierre Jean Gonzalez as American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The Company with Pierre Jean Gonzalez as American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Hamilton, tour presented by Broadway in Boston at Citizen Bank Opera House, through March 12. BroadwayinBoston.com

Alexander Hamilton was as great in his own way as any of the Founding Fathers. The primary author of the Federalist Papers also played a crucial part in the establishment of America's strong financial status—particularly as the first secretary of the treasury. In 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda captured his amazing achievements in a landmark Tony Award-winning musical fittingly entitled "Hamilton." At a time when many polarizing so-called leaders threaten democracy and politicize the national debt, a second strong Hub visit of this show—more timely than ever—is providing a powerful reminder of its subject's impact.

Miranda sees Hamilton as a diamond in the rough, and the description is more than apt. In giving the curious title "Ten Duel Commandments" to a first act number, he may have known that Nevis-born Hamilton actually studied the Ten Commandments in Hebrew at a Jewish school on that Caribbean island (recent research suggesting he may have actually been Jewish). The musical's smart book does portray its complex hero as a man who defied easy labeling among both admirers and detractors.

Even his reserved nemesis Aaron Burr—probably better known for killing him in a duel in 1804 than for serving as vice president under Thomas Jefferson—recognizes Hamilton's writing and speaking talents in the vivid first-act closing number "Non-Stop." Envious of Hamilton's position as a kind of right hand man for Washington, Burr also marvels at his ability to enlist the likes of John Jay and James Madison to collaborate on the Federalist Papers. The Hamilton-Burr conflict may call to mind the Mozart-Salieri face-off in Peter Shaffer's imaginative drama "Amadeus," though Mozart actually died from tuberculosis, not at the hand of the court composer.

The other major contrast in Miranda's play emerges with the second act return of Jefferson from his ambassadorial post in France—wonderfully evoked in the jazzy opener "What'd I Miss." When Jefferson complains about the sizable financial needs of Hamilton's New York, the latter tellingly points to the slavery profits of Jefferson's Virginia. Hamilton also speaks of a black regiment. Even so, he will eventually side with Jefferson rather than Burr at a pivotal political moment. If Hamilton's life--political and personal—is admittedly messy, the same proves true for independence.

Still, Hamilton proclaims, "Immigrants—we get the job done." To emphasize the ideal of American diversity, the New York and touring companies have purposely included many African-American and Hispanic actors. Pierre Jean Gonzalez may not be quite as riveting as Miranda himself in the Broadway original, but he does capture Hamilton's energy and self-assuredness—especially on the fiery "My Shot." Gonzalez also does full justice to Hamilton's vulnerability with regard to personal failings. Jared Dixon has all of Burr's caginess and attitude. He sings with robust intensity—most notably as Burr presses to be in "The Room Where It Happens."

In this richly sung and strongly danced tour—under the sharp direction of Thomas Kail and sporting Andy Blankenbuehler's inspired choreographic combination of modern dance and ballet, some of the best performances come in support. Marcus Choi catches Washington's remarkable humanity as he fights British forces and later becomes a leader among equals. Nikisha Williams brings great heart and caring to Hamilton's intrepid wife Eliza—especially as she demonstrates uncommon understanding for her very busy husband in "That Would Be Enough." Ta'Rea Campbell has her sister Angelica (Schuyler)'s wit and insight about her brother-in-law and herself.

Jared Howelton—as eye-catching in his own way as Daveed Diggs on Broadway—captures both Lafayette's bravery and Jefferson's grandiose demeanor and body language. Neil Haskell is a big-voiced hoot as buffoonish King George deluding himself about the return of the revolutionaries on "You'll Be Back." Conductor Emmanuel Schvartzman brings out the exuberance and wide-ranging musicality—rap, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop and folk—of Miranda's memorably eclectic score.

Hamilton speaks of "smashin' every expectation." Miranda's wide-sweeping musical more than lives up to that description as brilliant stagecraft and an exciting history lesson.