Bold casting choices make Broadway in Austin’s ‘Hamilton’ a whole new beast.

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

‘Hamilton’: Historic hip hop Broadway mainstay gets powerful, poignant production

It’s been over a decade since Lin-Manuel Miranda stood before the president to perform a hip hop song about the life of Alexander Hamilton. Little did he know that one day that simple song would lead to one of the most celebrated pieces of media of the 21st Century, the record-breaking Tony, Grammy, and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Hamilton, which netted upwards of thousands of dollars a seat in its prime. After nearly a decade, this musical wonder has finally made its way to Austin audiences thanks to Broadway in Austin, who bring in a talented cast of Broadway vets along with other talented touring players, to create a polished, powerful production that will take audiences on an emotional, engaging journey through the life of one of the most underappreciated founding fathers, full of witty, raw, and well-written tunes, clever, subtle choreography, and smart direction that’s sure to satisfy even the most ardent Hamilton fan.

Even with the best tunes and finest supporting cast, the piece would fall apart without a steady force at its center, and thankfully Joseph Morales imbues the titular protagonist with a sensitivity that makes him likable, even in his darkest moments, all leveled out with a cocky confidence that makes him a believable Lothario. His soulful voice also gives his songs a different flavor than fans may be familiar with, a style that keeps the flair of Miranda’s delivery, while injecting a touch of extra heart into some of the more emotional moments. Morales makes smart choices throughout, creating a performance something distinctive, effervescent, and riveting.

Of course, Hamilton’s gonna need his right hand men (and women), and the major actors with whom he surrounds himself all bring something brilliant and unique to the table. Though he lacks the powerful, belting prowess of Leslie Odom Jr (what actor doesn’t), what Nik Walker brings to the roll of Aaron Burr is an emotional verisimilitude, a staunch confidence of character that helps the audience connect with his spirit. In many ways the musical Hamilton paints Burr as a very sympathetic character, and through his vulnerable performance, Walker helps the audience see into Burr’s heart and soul. Speaking of vulnerability, Erin Clemons brings tears of many shapes and sizes throughout, thanks to her sensitive performance as Hamilton’s wife Eliza. Her arc is one of the most heartbreaking in the show, and Clemons carries it with aplomb, selling each feeling as if it she’s ripping it from her own chest. When she belts out “Burn” in one of the show’s most gut-wrenching moments, prepare for the aisles to become flooded with the audience’s tears.

The production is also littered with several winning supporting performances. In particular, Fergie L. Phillipe, in the dual role of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, steals most of the scenes he’s in, even if he’s only in them for a moment. He’s fantastic at bringing out the humor in every situation, even if it’s just a single word. Another show-stopper is Jon Patrick Walker as King George, who’s over-the-top personality is perfect for the haughty king, and every time he appears on stage one can’t help but smile. We also mustn’t forget Kyle Scatliffe, playing the dual role of the talented revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette, as well as the cocky Congressman Thomas Jefferson, and he flounces into both with a cock-of-the walk confidence that makes him instantly likable. He also has the talent to balance this cockiness with the believability, never straying into over-the-top caricature.

Hamilton has become a legend in its time, a modern masterpiece, beloved by people around the world, so this touring production has a lot to live up, but luckily Broadway in Austin has brought us a polished production of this Broadway wonder. Full of toe-tapping tunes, pitch-perfect performances, and some real heart, this production will surprise any audience, whether they’re super-fans who’ve memorized every word of the cast album, or newcomers who barely know the play’s historical backbone.

Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.