Photo: Joan Marcus
Like every other city, Charlotte played its part in the frenzy surrounding “Hamilton.” Winner of 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, the musical chronicles the life of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury Secretary, set to a hip-hop backdrop.
The Broadway smash has been lauded for its diversity among the cast and the audience it attracts — mainly, audience diversity across generations rather than non-white faces. Contributor Patsy Pressley recently attended a performance with her daughter Adriana and walked away confirming that the musical is worth the hype.
What was your connection to Hamilton coming into it?
Adriana: I had watched the performance on YouTube and I downloaded the soundtrack two years ago. I knew the lyrics pretty well.
Patsy: I read the book it was based on, “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow.
Which performances stood out to you–good or bad?
Adriana: The sisters Eliza and Angelica Schuyler (played respectively by Shoba Narayan and Ta’Rea Campbell) were fantastic and you could feel the connection between Madison and Jefferson (Fergie L. Philippe and Kyle Scatliffe). Nik Walker’s Aaron Burr brought a different character than Leslie Odom Jr. from the original production. At first, I was thinking how Odom’s portrayal of Burr was more subtle than Walker’s as his hatred grew. And while Joseph Morales’ Hamilton was fair enough, there were points he could have come across stronger and times he didn’t enunciate the lyrics well.
Patsy: For my taste, Nik Walker’s portrayal of Aaron Burr was the heart of the musical even beyond his narrator role. Walker was wickedly smooth, appropriately arrogant and simmeringly sleazy throughout as the protagonist Aaron Burr. Ta’Rea Campbell’s Angelica was strong, sexy and proof positive why Hamilton might be attracted to his wife’s flashier sister. Unfortunately, the one weak spot was Joseph Morales in the lead role of Hamilton. Morales’ rap enunciation was a tad robotic and hard to follow, and it took time for his portrayal to grow in strength and charisma. But with such strong supporting cast members as the versatile Fergie Philippe and energy-busting Kyle Scatliffe in their dual stage roles, the musical marched on.
Were there any parallels or symbolism that struck you?
Adriana: I was struck by the passage of time throughout the performance, especially with the song “Satisfied” where Angelica reminisces about the party when she met Hamilton right after we see her sister Eliza’s view of the same scene. The rotating oval sphere embedded in the stage was used to show the bustling characters moving about New York City, as well as one character actually moving along with a bullet during the song “The World Was Wide Enough.”
Patsy: It took a little mental adjusting, but the casting turned American racial stereotypes on its head. There was a Latino playing the Founding Father Hamilton, a tall Black man portraying the delicate Marquis De Lafayette, an Asian Indian warbling as the young debutante Eliza, a commanding Asian portraying George Washington and three black guys singing about the “freedom” promised in the American Revolution.
How was the audience’s reaction?
Adriana: It wasn’t as diverse as I was expecting. It was an older, mostly white crowd but they really seemed to enjoy it. It was interesting seeing people completely different from me enjoying the show.
Patsy: During intermission I heard a woman say she couldn’t follow all the rapping—and I thought: “You weren’t the only one!” That’s when I started wishing there were more young people present because Hamilton was really the perfect way to introduce history to a young audience with its musical mish-mash of rap, hip-hop, ballads and dance
What was your overall reaction to Hamilton?
Adriana: Towards the second half I wasn’t measuring actors as much as I was enjoying the performances. I was mouthing along the entire time. The actor portraying Hamilton could have been better, but I think they all did a good job. It was different from seeing it on YouTube compared to being with an audience reacting together. YouTube also couldn’t do justice to seeing King George dancing around and papers flying around during the “Reynolds Pamphlet” song.
Patsy: I finally get what all the fuss is about. Hamilton is rewriting the script on how to keep musicals relevant and attractive to old and new audiences. I give Lin-Manual Miranda credit for taking the very best of Broadway musicals with great songs, performers and storylines, and updating it with a very modern sound and look that helps us see what our country and the Great White Way could and should soon look like.
“Hamilton” plays at the Belk Theater through Nov. 4. Click here for tickets and information about the daily lottery.