The Bushnell, Hartford: With little hope of even getting in to see the show on Broadway because of sky high ticket prices and sold-out performances, along comes The Bushnell in Hartford with a professional touring company and suddenly Connecticut has an epidemic of “Hamilton” fever. What’s more there’s no cure for it. Once you see it, you want to see it again and again or at least listen to the score over and over again. For those who have not seen the show, you may wonder if “Hamilton” is really that good? The answer is a resounding “yes.” It is better than anything else out there. It is better than “The Phantom of the Opera” during its heyday, and (hold your breath) it is even better than “Les Miserables.” At least that’s how I see it.
“But,” you may ask, “why”? Inspired by Ron Chernow’s book “Alexander Hamilton,” the musical is the perfect balance of song, dance, story, and history, but not just any songs, dance or story — they’re great songs with one better than the next. The lyrics are punctuated perfectly in rapid fire rap. If the songs and lyrics are empowered poetry, first about the brilliant immigrant Hamilton and later about him as the unfaithful husband and tragic father, then the dance is emoted movement.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is crisply clean in subtly white costumes. The dance is internalized emotion popping out and pushing forward in stylized syncopation. On a rotating stage that requires the most seasoned dancer to be more sure footed than ever, lest they get hit by a lifted chair or other prop, these dancers move more precisely than mean machines. The dance could be a show unto itself, except that the story is so powerful.
Here, in this musical, the story of our founding fathers becomes an exciting cloak and dagger drama with a love-laced romance to boot. Aaron Burr is jealous of Hamilton. He wants to be Washington’s right-hand man. He wants to be in the back room planning maneuvers and building a country. He doesn’t understand how Hamilton manages to do all that he does or how he gets ahead so quickly. He is stunned that Hamilton even marries the beautiful Eliza Schuyler of a well-regarded and high society family.
Eliza and her sister Angelica both love Hamilton and when he’s at a low point in his ever upward spiraling career, there’s another woman as well. Considering the political scheming, the revolutionary battles, and the love stories, there’s never a dull moment in this play.
If there are flaws in the actors, the vocalists, the musicians or the directing, this reviewer could not find them. Austin Scott as Hamilton is a strapping figure of a man, worthy to play the heroic lead. Hanna Cruz, who hails from my hometown of Newtown, brings tears to your eyes when she discovers her husband’s infidelity, while Josh Tower plays a formidable foe of Hamilton. Stephanie Umoh is a stoic Angelica and Paul Oakley Stovall as George Washington has the poise to pull off the role. Everyone in this cast does a phenomenal job. Peter Matthew Smith as the hilarious King George never fails to brighten a moment and Bryson Bruce as Lafayette and Jefferson plays the dual roles well.
Right now, there’s a bidding war going on in Hollywood for “Hamilton.” It has been reported that Hollywood wants to film a staged production of the hit Broadway musical. But why wait, when “Hamilton” is right here in Hartford. Whether you opt for the lottery or can find a seat in the house, you will not be disappointed. Don’t think “I hate rap music.” Think of this music as perfect punctuation to rhyming poetry. Even though shows are sold out, there are always cancellations. This is a wonderful opportunity to see a phenomenal show. It plays at The Bushnell until Dec. 30. Box office: 860-987-6000.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected].