Produced by: Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and The Public Theater
Directed by: Thomas Kail
Choreographed by: Andy Blankenbuehler
Stage manager: Kimberly Fisk
Scenic design: David Korins
Costume design: Paul Tazewell
Lighting design: Howell Binkley
Sound design: Nevin Steinberg
Featuring: Brandon Louis Armstrong, Ruben J. Carbajal, Darilyn Castillo, Julia K. Harriman, Isaiah Johnson, Simon Longnight, Rick Negron, Sabrina Sloan, Julius Thomas III and Donald Webber Jr.
Running time: 165 minutes, one intermission
When: Through September 8, 2019
Where: SHN Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco
Tickets: $111-$686 (subject to change). Call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com
really is all that great
Is there really a way to review “Hamilton” at this stage of its extraordinary, unbelievably successful run, since it first debuted on Broadway in 2015?
The answer is, of course, no. Yet Lin-Manuel Miranda, the phenom who not only wrote the book, lyrics and music for “Hamilton” but also played that role for three years on Broadway, deserves every mention he gets. It’s that good. No; it’s that great.
And, strangely enough, whether you’re seeing it for the first time (yea for you!), the second, the third or the 10th, you’ll discover new riches, nuances, subtle references and circuitous leitmotifs that float through “Hamilton” effortlessly. Did we mention it’s that great?
While not quite matching Miranda’s distinct style and grace, Julius Thomas III is a credible Hamilton, capable of capturing a woman’s heart with ease and brandishing his words about as if he’s lecturing a graduate class in politics. As his sweet, loyal and loving Eliza, Julia K. Harriman demonstrates precisely the reasons why Hamilton marries her. But it’s Eliza’s smart, elegant sister Angelica (a marvelous Sabrina Sloan) who, though she, too, loves Hamilton, willingly subverts her own desires for the good of her sister.
Two other actors make their characters larger than life this go-round (this is “Hamilton’s” second run in San Francisco and it’s here for seven more months — possibly longer). There’s Rick Negron’s wildly perverse take on King George, the foppish, narcissist British King, who “allowed” the colonists to leave and now wants them to come back under English rule. He has a real hissy-fit when they refuse.
Simon Longnight’s portrayal of the Marquis de Lafayette, Hamilton’s friend who later becomes a leader in France, also stands out for with his posturing, dramatic poses and two of the largest eyes west of Broadway. He’s a keeper.
Isaiah Johnson, who portrayed George Washington in the 2017 San Francisco “Hamilton” run, makes a very strong, steady leader indeed. He’s not only a commanding commander, but he’s … presidential! And isn’t it fortuitous that he had the foresight to step down from the presidency when he did? If not, it’s not out of the question to think that the fledging little country might have become a monarchy.
It all starts when a talkative upstart immigrant from Charleston, Nevis (in the British Leeward Islands), arrives in New York and seeks out Aaron Burr, a fellow orphan who has already made a name for himself as a lawyer and politician. After overwhelming Burr with his nonstop discourse, Burr gives him some good advice: “Talk less … smile more.” Then he tells him, “You want to get ahead? Guys who run their mouths off end up dead.”
A very entertaining thing about “Hamilton” is how Miranda seems to rhyme nearly every line. He even wraps one rhyme inside another. It’s unparalleled. Did we say it’s that great?
Here are a few examples of his rhyming couplets:
As Elisa sings “Take a Break,” she tells him, “Your son is nine years old today. He has something he’d like to say. He’s been practicing all day. Phillip, take it away.”
Hamilton bemoans the fact that he falls under the spell of Maria Reynolds, a married woman whose husband later blackmails him. He achingly sings, “The last time … became a pastime.”
King George gleefully sings:
“You'll be back ... soon you'll see
You'll remember you belong to me.
You'll be back … time will tell
You'll remember that I served you well.”
And that’s only the tip of the rhyming iceberg.
How fortunate for all of us that Miranda studied Hamilton in such detail that he could create this masterpiece. Obviously it wasn’t easy — even for him. In a 2015 interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Miranda acknowledged that it took him a year just to write the song “My Shot.” The interviewer, Charlie Rose, was dumbfounded and said, “It took you a year.”
Miranda’s reply: “Yeah, because every couplet needed to be the best couplet I ever wrote. That’s how seriously I was taking it.”
There are so many other riches in “Hamilton” so attention must be paid to them as well. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is brilliant, often making the entire ensemble swing and sway as if they are all part of some kind of precision marching band. Yet their fluid movements are anything but rigid and are, in fact, as pliable as that twisty little green childhood character, Mr. Gumby.
And when lighting is as exhilarating and rich as Howell Binkley’s, it’s another time to issue a shout-out. Fortunately, Nevin Steinberg’s sound is clear and understandable — even in the far back seats — or those wondrous bon mots of Miranda’s would be left somewhere in the netherworld.
Scenic designer David Korins’ astonishingly versatile set morphs effortlessly from a beer hall to the decks of a ship, to a cozy bedroom, an office, a Revolutionary War battlefield — and much more. Whoever came up with the idea of putting in not one, but two revolving floors, also deserves mention, because it allows the ensemble to jump, dance and do athletic lifts and flips while whirling about on the moving circles.
Paul Tazewell’s Revolutionary Era military uniforms are particularly handsome. He cleverly created costumes for the ensemble that were both functional (for dancing and acrobatic moves) but also had a patina of connection to that time in history.
Was it perfect? No. For one thing, Ruben J. Carbajal, the young actor playing Hamilton’s 9-year-old (and, later, college age) son, is way too large to be in that role. He played the same part in 2017, which might have worked, but now he’s a man and it stretches credibility to imagine him as a schoolboy. In fact, when Elisa said he was turning 10, the audience had a good laugh.
Another nit: “Hamilton’s” first act is chock full of color, action, big dance sequences and fun. But when the audience returns from intermission, it’s as if someone threw a pale on everyone and everything. Granted, this is certainly dictated by what happened in Hamilton’s life. He loses his son, he loses one of his best friends, he gets pushed out of government when John Adams wins the presidency over Thomas Jefferson, whom Hamilton backed. And then there’s the matter of that duel with Aaron Burr which was, ah, fatal.
So yes, it is true that Hamilton seemed to be in a downward spiral that he couldn’t overcome. A real downer. Still, couldn’t Miranda find a way to pay a tribute to his entire life in a rousing finale? That would send off audiences humming a tune or at least musically repeating “(No one else was in) The Room where it Happens”… the room where it happens … the room where it happens. No one else ...” And on, ad infinitum.
No matter. It’s a sad state of affair that this brilliant, abrasive man could slip away in such a manner. The play’s unanswered question: “How in the world did this happen?”
Email Joanne Engelhardt at email@example.com.