Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

December 15, 2018

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Hamilton

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through December 30, 2018
by Shera Cohen

Did you realize that we look at the face of Alexander Hamilton at least a few times each week? There he is in the middle of a $10 bill. Other than this claim to fame, who was this man? He had probably done something important during the Revolutionary War? Doubtless that Hamilton knew George Washington on a first-name basis? And, wasn’t he the man who was killed in a duel? Is this enough subject matter for a musical, not to mention a game-changing, Tony Award winning, world-class musical on Broadway? Yes!

It was obvious that a large percentage of the Press Night audience at “Hamilton” at the Bushnell had seen this now-classic (even in its infancy as a musical production) before. It was eager with anticipation when many of the songs and movement began.

Photo by Joan Marcus
The unique music style is a trademark of “Hamilton.” Would a traditional theatre audience grasp, value, and literally understand the music, and especially the lyrics of rap? Do you have to be under age 30 to “get it”? Being a bit leery after the first five minutes of Aaron Burr’s opening number, which thankfully were not paced on warp speed, easily opened the door to an appreciation of the next two+ hours of rap. In many ways, “Hamilton” replicates the text of Shakespeare; it is not necessary to hear or recognize every word. The essence is there. No one need question, “Is ‘Hamilton’ for me?”

Lin-Manuel Miranda – writer of “Hamilton’s” book, music and lyrics -- has become a near-household name, defining creativity, innovation, and talent. Coupled with the genius of choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and director Thomas Kail, the visuals are remarkable. There are no static moments; the dance and songs never stop. Accentuating the steady beat of rap is discordant movement all about the stage. “Hamilton” is truly your atypical musical with juxtapositions of costumes and wigs of various eras, dialogue from the 1770’s and 2018 creating a joy in the experience.

The dark monstrous staging asks little of the audience’s imagination to “see” numerous indoor and outdoor settings. Strong flashes of lighting are synchronized with onstage movement to the timing of a millisecond.

Few musicals can pack in one dramatic song almost immediately followed by another; one superb voice after another. Austin Scott and Hannah Cruz (Alexander and Eliza Hamilton) lead the cast of approximately a dozen actors, each with exemplary voices. But, “Hamilton” is not merely a production of song upon song. The story is profound; the balance of one man’s adversity with the hardship of future Americans founding a new home. Exciting as it may be, this tremendous musical does not always paint a pretty picture of that era

Note: The Bushnell’s “Hamilton” run is longer than the one-week performances in the Broadway Series.