America’s founding fathers are written in our history books as heroes and pioneers of Democracy and freedom, but one thing our textbooks don’t usually explain is how inherently flawed they were. Most were misogynist racists, which isn’t far off from our current President, but, unlike 45, they were fiercely intelligent and had our nation at the forefront of their priorities. I believe the flaws of men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton is what makes Lin Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking and celebrated musical about these men so appealing.
Based somewhat loosely on Ron Chernow’s biography (Chernow is one of the show’s consultants) Alexander Hamilton, the musical follows the United States’ first Treasury Secretary from his arrival into the British-ruled American colonies in 1772 to his untimely death at the hand of his friend and rival, Aaron Burr. The show is cleverly and ceremoniously narrated by Burr, played with a calming sharpness by Tony nominee Daniel Breaker. He brought many to tears during the poignant “Wait For It.”
As someone who listened to the original New York Broadway cast recording of Hamilton ad-nauseam (and much to the chagrin of my better half), it was compelling to hear the show performed by Chicago’s apt and effective cast. For those of you living in a hole, the show is comprised of rap, hip hop, jazz, pop and several other music genres, including traditional musical theater numbers.
Stealing the show was the insanely talented marvel Chris De’Sean Lee, who plays the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Lee has ties to the Nashville area as he just completed his Junior year at Belmont, pursuing his BFA in Musical Theater. Do not let Lee’s age fool you, though. His instincts are sharp and his energy and contagious smile are bright spots in an already brilliant production. I see him starring on the Great White Way sooner than later.
In the title role is Broadway veteran Miguel Cervantes, who once installed car accessories in his native Texas. Paying his dues perhaps aided him in his portrayal of a tempered Hamilton without sacrificing the man’s faults or genius. His Hamilton is more thoughtful and subdued than Miranda’s while maintaining the rash undertones of the underrated statesmen.
Equally compelling is the breathtaking Karen Olivo as the fiercely intelligent Angelica Schuyler. With a Tony under her belt and an album coming out this year, Olivo appears to be literally molded from the epicenter of musical theater. She is a force matching and surpassing Burr’s confidence and Hamilton’s brilliance.
Under director Thomas Kail’s watchful eye, this cast is fun, impressive and gives new meaning to the term “bring it.” To say there is one dark spot in this show would be completely dishonest, but reality star and pageant queen Ari Afsar, in the leading role of Eliza Hamilton, came off a bit too inane for me in the first act. She had a dizzy smile on her face most of the time and while I am sure the real Eliza Hamilton could be silly, she was more kind than giddy. I suppose part of my snap judgement of the beautiful Afsar is her being in the shadow of Phillipa Soo, who originated the role on Broadway. Afsar is putting her stamp on Eliza and it’s just not the Schuyler sister in Chernow’s book.
Yes, Hamilton tickets are hard to get regardless of where you decide to see the show, though I was able to get my hands on a pair in the Windy City by booking around six months in advance. Plus, if you are in Chicago, there is a lottery to purchase a pair for just ten bucks each via this website. by going to. If you can secure a ticket, take my advice and hop the next plane to Chicago. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Head straight to the PrivateBank Theatre and prepare for historical magic.
Photo (L to R): Chris De’Sean Lee as the Marquis de Lafayette, Jose Ramos as John Laurens, Wallace Smith as Hercules Mulligan and Miguel Cervantes as Alexander Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.