With Hamilton coming to a major streaming service, it’s become a cultural touchstone available to millions worldwide, giving producer of the live show a decision to make. They could bring in similar performers and soundalikes and make plenty of money, or they could create new opportunities for performers to make these characters their own. For their newest production, Broadway Across America’s latest tour has thankfully chosen the latter, and we are better off for it, as the cast creates new dynamics and relationships that create a new and intriguing experience, even as we enjoy the tunes and moves we love. This version of Hamilton doesn’t try to re-write the book, but makes enough small changes that to keep the experience fresh and powerful, no matter how many times you’ve seen the show.
Of course, we can’t start talking about Hamilton without mentioning its central character. Though I love Lin-Manuel Miranda for his raw energy and vigor, Edred Utomi brings what may be the most cool and charismatic Hamilton I’ve come across. Carrying both his youthful, spirited moments in the early stages and the more somber moments near the play’s end, throughout there’s a sense of charm that’s refreshing. This is a Hamilton that’s believably reliable with the ladies, someone with such raw magnetism that it makes sense that so many people would be drawn to this historical figure.
One of the more intriguing changes this production makes is casting an older actor as George Washington. Casting a more seasoned performer like Paul Oakley Stovall completely changes the dynamic between Washington and Hamilton, changing what’s usually a brotherly relationship into more of a paternal one, creating new opportunities for exploration of both the characters and their relationship, and making moments like “One Last Time” even more powerful. You’d be hard-pressed to find a dry eye in the house when Stovall smoothly teaches the audience how to say goodbye. It helps that Stovall is such a powerful presence, his regal bearing and smooth, velvety voice making him instantly likable and respected presence, and truly one of the highlights of the piece.
Few performers can match the raw charisma of Leslie Odom, Jr., so it’s a smart choice that Josh Tower chose to take a different direction for Burr. This Burr is a much more subdued character, meeker and more easily overpowered by the cool, collected Hamilton, making his Burr slightly more villainous. This doesn’t mean he’s without his sympathetic moments, as his rendition of “Dear Theodosia” is sure to bring a few tears to a few eyes, and his work in the later stages of the play is heartbreaking, but he’s at his best when he’s plotting to better his station, and the explosive vigor he brings to “Room Where it Happens”is a riot. Being a more reserved character makes his scenes with Hamilton and the crew in the early stages especially fun, as his stature of an outcast is even further solidified.
I could continue for another fifteen paragraphs about the smart choices made among the cast, from the slick, boy-band-esque confidence of David Park as Jefferson; the crystalline beauty and perfection of Zoe Jensen’s Eliza; the vitriol and fury of Peter Matthew Smith’s King George; to the invigorating stage presence of Stephanie Umoh’s Angelica, there’s hardly a bad apple in the bunch, all set against the same wonder and polish that we’ve come to love from the musical. If the production can keep creating these kind of smart, new choices and creating these kind of dynamics in the future, there’s potential for Hamilton to keep delighting audiences for decades to come, as no matter how many times you see the show, there’s always new moments to discover from a talented cast and smart crew.
Thanks to making a few small tweaks, while keeping all the elements people love from the Original Broadway Production, creators of this rendition of Hamilton were able to create something fun for newcomers and diehards alike. Even if you’ve already experienced Lin Manual Miranda’s musical masterpiece, there’s still plenty of room for new experiences with this cast and crew.
Hamilton is playing at the Bass Concert Hall through December 19th.
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus