The 'Hamilton' Cincinnati Staging is on Par with Broadway's Original

Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hip Hop musical phenomenon hit Aronoff Center's stage this week — and our critic was blown away

Feb 22, 2019 at 9:19 am
click to enlarge The company of the "Hamilton" national tour - Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus
The company of the "Hamilton" national tour


The pervasive, infectious, high-energy numbers that fuel Hamilton provide plenty of lines that aptly describe this phenomenal show. Let’s start with “The Story of Tonight” being in the “Room Where It Happens.” That’s the Aronoff’s Procter & Gamble Hall, where the rough-hewn set — ropes, wood beams, stone arches, stairways — fills the stage. It’s lit by hundreds of lights overhead and along the auditorium walls, which is certainly three times the number of instruments typically hung for touring productions.

For Hamilton’s three-week engagement in Cincinnati, that “room” will be jam-packed. Very few seats remain for some performances if you’re willing to pay the price; you can also take a chance on the daily lottery. But thousands of area theater fans will be there, witnessing the fact that history is happening. During intermission, I overheard at least a half-dozen conversations about American history, with the reoccurring theme of “I didn’t know that!” That’s one of the wonders of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s miraculous show.

The action of Hamilton, like its title character, Alexander Hamilton (and another song), is "Non-Stop." The two-dozen actors/singers/dancers are constantly in motion, thanks to the incredibly inventive choreography of Tony Award-winner Andy Blankenbuehler, who happens to be a Cincinnati native and a graduate of St. Xavier High School.

Because Miranda envisioned this story about America’s founders to be told by a highly diverse cast (“Immigrants,” point out Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette. “We get the job done”), the movement ranges from Hip Hop to Broadway choreography, from waltzes to gymnastics. In one scene, Hamilton recalls a “Hurricane” on the Caribbean island where he was born. In slow motion and pale blue light, cast members swirl about with furniture and boards, as if whipped by the wind. Every moment of the storytelling is punctuated by actors posing and gesturing to underscore the words spoken.

This touring production has an incredible cast. Edred Utomi does not miss his shot, making the role of Hamilton uniquely his own — argumentative, frenetic, brilliant and uncompromising — and not trying to recreate Miranda’s own Broadway performance. Utomi is contrasted with Josh Tower’s cautious, scheming Aaron Burr, always opting to “Wait for It,” until the opportunity is already gone. Bryson Bruce plays the eager Marquis de Lafayette (Act One) and confident Thomas Jefferson (Act Two); both are likable bounders, even when Jefferson profoundly disagrees about the Constitution with Hamilton. Jon Viktor Corpuz ably fills two roles, initially as a go-getter Revolutionary supporter John Laurens and later as Hamilton’s eager-to-please, sweet-voiced son Philip, who dies in a duel defending his father’s honor.

“The Schuyler Sisters” — Eliza (Hannah Cruz), Angelica (Stephanie Umoh) and Peggy (Isa Briones) — are neither “Helpless” nor entirely “Satisfied.” But they have the most beautifully harmonic vocal numbers in the show. Briones brings a sultry alto to her second role as Maria Reynolds, whose extramarital affair with Hamilton is his downfall.

As the Revolutionary War general and eventual first President George Washington, Paul Oakley Stovall has the imperiously commanding presence that makes having “Washington on Your Side” completely convincing. His efforts to mentor and shape the willful Hamilton and to offer advice “One Last Time” are heartfelt moments in the story.

Humor is delivered by Peter Matthew Smith as arrogant King George, who blithely observes that “You’ll Be Back” from his throne in England — and inviting the audience to sing along with his taunting remarks. When he does come back — dressed in brilliant red silk, an ermine-lined cape and a sparkling gown — for more sneering and then astonishment at the unfolding of events in the former colonies, he provides Hamilton’s best moments of comic relief.

This touring production of Hamilton is no modest knock-off of the Broadway original. The talent is top-notch and the production values are on a par with the show’s New York staging. The performers’ passionate commitment to the material is obvious. Performances are supported by a 13-musician orchestra with six string players, as well as a drummer and a percussionist who maintain the score’s throbbing pulse and infectious rhythms.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this one a 10 — the rare production that can “Blow Us All Away.”

Hamilton, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati at the Aronoff Center, continues through March 10. Read more here