If you’ve listened to anything I’ve said in the past two years in regard to TPAC, you know I’ve been wary of Hamilton. I, as well as every other Nashvillian, it seems, have been anticipating its arrival at TPAC since it became a huge hit on Broadway. Well, dear reader, it’s finally here and the wait is over. If you were one of the lucky few who was able to get a ticket, you’re no doubt waiting with anticipation and excitement for your show night. And let me put your mind at ease. If you go into this show wanting to love it, you will.
If you are not familiar, Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s gift to mankind in a musical and, depending on who you ask, was the reason he was born in the first place. It tells the story of a forgotten Founding Father and his fall from grace.
Alexander Hamilton, born in the West Indies, came to America around the age of 11. The bastard child of an English merchant, his mother brought their family to America for a better life. He came of age in the American Revolution and became George Washington’s right hand man. He favored a strong central government and created the federalist party.
He also was the first Secretary of the Treasury and crafted the credit system we still use today. He probably should have been President, but an indiscretion left him unelectable.
Hamilton tells the story of his life with a very modern twist: Rap/R&B music with a colorblind cast. It is billed as “America then, told by America now.” The Founding Fathers are no longer old white men in wigs, but young men of color having rap battles in cabinet meetings.
When something has the kind of hype this show has generated, I become very suspicious. It’s something I’ve done all my life. When all the kids were buying iPod’s, I asked for a Zune on my birthday. I am the proud owner of a fossil hybrid watch because the Apple Watches are too modern. All that to say, I was totally ready to hate Hamilton just on sheer contrarian principle. I was really looking forward to ripping it to absolute shreds.
But after seeing the show on New Year’s Day, I can honestly say, I get it. I did not hate it, and to be quite honest, it was quite good. It was not the best show ever made, but an absolute delight of a show that I’m pleased I saw. It is easy to see why people love it, though.
Simply put, it’s not your run of the mill musical. It’s a historical piece put to something that is not boring. Think School House Rock for Millennials and Gen Z, put it on steroids, and you have it. It’s fresh, different, and a completely new way to look at how someone can do a musical.
The Story: History fans are going to be in hog heaven. The story of Alexander Hamilton has never been told well until this play. Yes, I know it is not the complete story, but it is a delightful way to tell it. It reminded me that Thomas Jefferson did not actually fight in the Revolution, but was the ambassador to France at the time. It really did make me want to pick up a book and read more about this history of Hamilton’s life, which is something that I was hoping for, a quality I do love in a historical piece.
The Cast: Standouts were Warren Egypt Franklin playing Thomas Jefferson and Ta’Rea Campbell playing Angelica. Franklin truly brought the second act to life with some well done sass that would make the fiercest queen stumbling for words. Jefferson is a bit of a villain in the show, and he poured it on thick. There was one point during The Reynolds Pamphlet number where he evoked such emotion, a sick part of me was rooting for someone to punch him in the throat. That’s about the highest compliment I can give a villain. Ta’Rea Campbell portrayed Hamilton’s sister in law Angelica Schuyler. She is absolute quality. Her previous credits include the starring role of the national tour of Sister Act, Broadway’s Lion King where she played Nala, and several other roles. She is one we will be looking back on in five years or less and be amazed we were lucky enough to see her.
The Lighting Design: Howell Binkley won the Tony for Lighting Design in Hamilton in 2016. He won the same award in 2006 for Jersey Boys. With this simple stage (which I’ll get to in just a minute), if the lighting was not absolute perfection, this show would have been a flop. It always makes a difference, but it really pulled out some miracles and even a couple laughs. It was well done at TPAC, so bravo to the lighting team.
The Stage: In an attempt to look like the interior of a ship, it is made nearly all out of wood with a brick wall in the background. It is immensely, almost obnoxiously, simple. For a show that is billed as the next great American musical, the stage felt intricately lazy. In the vein of Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, I kept thinking “Turntables… How original…” The cast does a good job with the space, but I was expecting a little more razzle dazzle rather than a spinning floor and moving staircases. It looks very low budget for a show that is not low budget at all. Maybe that’s the point, but I was just left wanting something that felt like it was missing.
Multiple Roles for the Same Actor: Five listed actors are playing dual roles. Most of it was seamless, but in the case of Philip Hamilton, that was a fourth wall broken quickly. The actor who is at least in his twenties was playing a nine year old boy. It did not work and made me wonder why they passed on the opportunity to have a child in the show. It was more of a distraction. It evoked a laugh from the audience, but made me groan more than chuckle. It was a missed opportunity to provide a kid with a shot (pun intended) in this show.
In all, this show is huge for a reason. Andrew Lloyd Weber made his mark with the Rock Operas. Lin-Manuel Miranda is making his with Hip-Hopera. It’s a fresh new idea that has not been done this well before. You’re going to love it because you have never seen anything like it. That is why it has been such a viral success. That and the music is truly catchy and well written. There are some things the seasoned theatre attendee might be perturbed with, but there is a reason this show is a hit. It is impeccably well written, it is a bold idea, and the music is fun and well performed.
You will love this show.
Tickets for the show which runs through January 19, 2020, at TPAC’s Jackson Hall are completely sold out. The only way to get in is by downloading the show's app and registering for the lottery, which allows a very limited number of winners to purchase tickets for $10 each. Thousands of people are registering so your chances are slim, but it’s still a good idea.
Download the Hamilton app in Play Store or Apple Store and sign up for an account and follow the instructions. Good luck! If you try and buy tickets online, they are more than likely a scam. TPAC has this one locked down tight. If you have your tickets, keep them. Do not miss the show or you will be mad at yourself for a while.
Eric A. Patton is a seventh generation Tennessean and has lived in Nashville since 2010. He serves as senior Entertainment Correspondent with Out & About Nashville. He is also on the Human Rights Campaign’s National Board of Governors and is a member of Belmont United Methodist Church and active with the Reconciling Ministries Network. He’s on Instagram and Twitter at @eapatton_tn, Facebook at @eapattontn, and you can email him at [email protected]