Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton may get even better with age: REVIEW
You already know how Hamilton ends, with its titular character shot down in duel with our young nation’s sitting vice president.
You also probably know a lot more about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash, the hottest ticket in American theater since it premiered off-Broadway in January 2015. The hip-hop telling of the Revolutionary era through the eyes of “an arrogant immigrant, orphan, bastard, son of a whore” who became a hero of Revolution and the architect of the American economy, Hamilton has been lauded in all quarters — when a filmed version of Miranda’s theatrical production hits theaters in 2020, Miranda will likely become only the third PEGOT-winner who has a P from Pulitzer, from one project alone.
It’s not often any play arrives in Kansas City with as much hype as Hamilton. Truth be told, for the first couple of numbers, I found myself wondering whether it was a pastiche that would fail to stand the test of time — what is “My Shot” if not “Lose Yourself” meets The Patriot?
Well, for whatever another opinion is worth, the touring version of Hamilton produced by Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and The Public Theater exceeds the hype — you’ve heard how good it is for years, and it’s somehow better than you expect.
Hamilton opens slowly, establishing its unique style with dense rapped verses that provide exposition about Alexander Hamilton’s tumultuous early years on the tiny Carribean island of Nevis, and setting up the tension with Hamilton’s eventual killer, Aaron Burr.
The full breadth of the show emerges in a change-of-pace solo by the character of King George III of the United Kingdom. In this production, actor Jon Patrick Walker steals the show with his version of “You’ll Be Back,” the Beatlesesque stalker anthem, a version better than the much-praised Broadway original as sung by Jonathan Groff on the cast recording.
Nick Sanchez, who plays both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, also shows himself a scene-stealer when he appears as a flamboyant Prince-inspired Jefferson to deliver the rollicking “What’d I Miss” after returning from Paris following the Revolution.
From there, Hamilton successfully builds and deftly navigates what could be a boggy storyline involving charges of currency speculation. The untimely death of Hamilton’s oldest son, who was killed in a duel defending his dad’s honor, is presented in heart-wrenching fashion and foreshadows the death of Hamilton in a duel with his longtime foe.
The play’s end left me thinking about Hamilton’s honor and mindful of the dilemma facing Constitutional originalists in our present age.
In the time of our framers, a man who behaved dishonorably by unfairly slurring an opponent or threatening to do something like spilling the beans on his wife would be called upon to provide satisfaction through apology or blood. This practice faded from polite society soon after Burr slew Hamilton and was completely forgotten by the time Hessians emigrated to avoid their own nation’s wars.
This long-lost code helps explain the loopholes in our system of government, the one for which Hamilton forcefully advocated in the Federalist papers — in his era, any man who ran his mouth too much would be summoned to New Jersey and handed a single-round pistol to defend every utterance which gave offense, or die trying.
It feels so far away now, of course. Hamilton is very much an artifact of an earlier era — up to and including the era where it was born, 2015.
From our present perspective, the closing words of King George III in the song “I Know Him” seem strangely prescient instead of pathetic, as they did originally:
Next to Washington, they all look small
Watch them run
They will tear each other into pieces
Jesus Christ, this will be fun!
To that end, rather than looking campy, from a future vantage, Hamilton may well grow better with age.