THE BASICS: HAMILTON, musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Angelica” version (first touring production) opened November 20 and runs through December 9 (24 Performances). Tuesday to Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8, Sundays at 1 and 7 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 650 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202. Shea’s Performing Arts Center cannot guarantee the validity of tickets purchased from outlets other than Ticketmaster and sheas.org. Tickets are still available for purchase. There is also a HAM4HAM lottery before each performance where you can get a HAMILTON ticket for a $10 bill (picturing you-know-who).
Runtime: a little under 3 hours.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: “HAMILTON is the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway, HAMILTON is the story of America then, as told by America now.” An impressively good read is the Wikipedia article on Hamilton the musical.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Perhaps it was that people didn’t have to go to work the next day (Thanksgiving) or perhaps everyone felt thankful to have scored tickets after months (years?) of wondering and waiting, but I’ve never seen a happier audience at Shea’s. It felt a little like the night that Pavarotti came to Kleinhans, when the heavens opened and shone a little glory on this rustbelt town.
So, what’s HAMILTON like? It’s a must-see. Sure, you can hear the music on the original album arguably sung a little better with the lyrics a little clearer by the original cast (including the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role), but whether you’ve got a state-of-the-art stereo (and let’s be honest, you don’t) or are just listening to an mp3 on your crappy little bluetooth earbuds, you can’t get the whole experience, including the dancing. OMG. The dancing. This is one non-stop swirl of activity using not only the cast but eleven high energy ensemble members. To name two: Jennifer Geller and Robbie Nicholson are so damn crisp and clean they really set a gold standard.
Speaking of a non-stop swirl, the choreography does literally revolve around two concentric turntables which are set in a raised stage. One signature move is a slide across the stage on your knees, ending up on a turntable which continues your forward momentum. Very slick.
Fun facts: The “Angelica tour” (which is in Buffalo, as opposed to the “Philip” tour currently in Durham, NC) requires 14 truckloads of cargo and a core group of over 60 traveling cast, crew, and musicians. Each tour completely duplicates the original Broadway show’s choreography, which required the construction of four portable sets, two for each tour, so that one set can be assembled well in advance at the next stop (Hartford, CT) while “our” tour is still playing at Shea’s.
More Fun Facts: Except for the actors, the HAMILTON that you’ll see is the same HAMILTON that scooped up all those awards back in 2016 including Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and all of the other “Bests” by the same team that designed the touring shows, including Best Costume Design of a Musical (Paul Tazewell), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Howell Binkley), Best Direction of a Musical, (Thomas Kail), Best Choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler), Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire), and, even though David Korins was nominated for Best Scenic Design of a Musical, that Tony went to David Rockwell for SHE LOVES ME. Hey it happens. I thought the set was effective and given the frantic or even frenetic pace of the musical, the large, imposing, mostly unchanging old wood and brick setting focused the attention on the humans.
The set also contrasted well with the appearances of zany King George III who, with his ermine cloak and glittering crown seemed out of place in an 18th century colonial warehouse. Peter Matthew Smith has such fun with this juicy role.
Other kudos go to Paul Oakley Stovall as a very tall, imposing, reflective, deliberate George Washington and Jon Victor Corpuz who goes from the soldier/statesman John Laurens in Act I to the wonderfully adolescent Hamiltons’ son Philip in Act II. And, if you don’t know, since its inception, HAMILTON has been a “melting pot” cast, completely color-blind.
One thing that separates HAMILTON from other musicals is that the music truly does move the story forward and it is what they call a “sung through” or “through composed” musical, meaning that there is no dialog. That’s rare and very satisfying.
The music truly does move the story forward and it is what they call a ‘sung through’ or ‘through composed’ musical, meaning that there is no dialog.
Another nice touch is that, along with the usual Broadway pit orchestra of sampling keyboards and drums, percussion, bass, and guitar the only other instruments used make up what is called a “string quartet” (Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello). This is an arrangement invented by classical composer Haydn right around the year of Alexander Hamilton’s birth. It was adopted by Mozart and then Beethoven, and was, along with the symphony, one of the most common musical combinations during the late 1700s to the early 1800s. In other words, 40% of the music we hear during HAMILTON is played on the EXACT SAME INSTRUMENTS that the Founding Fathers would have heard whenever they listened to music!
To sum it up, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, you know about HAMILTON the musical, and probably have heard the music, and just want to know if you should go. Again, everything except the cast is the same as Broadway– music, set, choreography – and the thing about Broadway actors is that they are a rarified group, so you’re getting a very, very high quality experience here with this tour.
Tickets ARE available and with the 40 tickets given away each day, you don’t want to miss your shot. You CAN be in the room when it happens.
UP NEXT: MISS SAIGON comes to Shea’s February 26 to March 3, 2019 as the new year also brings us DEAR EVAN HANSON as well as CATS, RENT, and THE BOOK OF MORMON.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS might enjoy BARCELÓ ON THE ROCKS by Marco Antonio Rodriguez about Nino Antonio Cruz, a Dominican man living in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood with his two sons forced to confront his mortality and the dark secrets that have plagued his family for generations which are intrinsically tied to the Caribbean island’s political history.” Presented by Raíces Theatre Company, it runs from November 30 to December 16 at the Manny Fried Theater.
If you’d like to see another super-talented cast, you should see August Wilson’s KING HEDLEY II, set in Pittsburgh’s African-American “Hill” district, presented by The Paul Robeson Theatre in Buffalo’s African American Cultural Center at 350 Masten Avenue, weekends through December 2.
And, if you were inspired back when the Broadway cast of HAMILTON made an impassioned plea to Vice-President Pence for tolerance, saying “We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir….” then you might enjoy A VERY, VERY TRUMPY CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Alleyway Theatre’s Main Street Cabaret, which will run from December 7 to December 23. (By the way, unlike his boss, Mike Pence was not offended at HAMILTON and remarked about the audience boos directed at him: “That’s what freedom sounds like.”)
Also, mark your calendars for a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, coming to the Kavinoky Theatre March 8 to 31.
Lead image courtesy Hamilton
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!