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Conclusion: Hamilton’s emotional center, brilliant details and refined distribution allow it to soar


The mighty production’s Edmonton debut shows why it’s become a cultural landmark and the most popular musical of all time

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If you’re old enough to remember Schoolhouse Rock, then Hamilton is the perfect fit for you.

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The Broadway sensation, set in motion by multi-hyphenated artist Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2015 and now one of the most popular musicals of all time, sounds like a nearly three-hour version of the beloved 20th century musical short film series. Except that instead of skipping math, science and grammar, Hamilton focuses on one thing: history. In particular the history of the American Revolutionary War and one of its most overlooked figures, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

That and the fact that these historical figures are played by African Americans and the dialogue is mostly rapped has made Hamilton something of a cultural touchstone. The use of rap is also not done in a lazy way; Hip-hop heads will have a field day finding vocal parallels between the likes of Hercules Mulligan (Brandon Louis Armstrong) and Busta Rhymes, or nodding appreciatively at the occasional hat-tip to classics like Grandmaster Flash. & the Furious Five’s The Message. But the actor’s skillful spitting, ranting, chanting and rapping wouldn’t work if Miranda wasn’t so determined to dig into the details.

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The fact that he is able to do this and hold your interest is just amazing. Here’s a dive into the historical details of Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr (played by Donald Webber, Jr.), from the song Non-Stop: “Alexander teams up with James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays, defending the new Constitution of the United States entitled The Federalist Papers. The plan was to write a total of 25 essays, with the work divided equally among the three men. In the end, they wrote 85 essays in the space of six months. John Jay fell ill after writing five, James Madison wrote 29, Hamilton wrote the other 51. Plus, Ghostface Killah!

You might want to do some research after the show to catch up on a few plot points, like the first cabinet battle, set as a scene from the movie 8 Mile. It’s a rap battle between the sinister Thomas Jefferson (Justin Showell, who also plays French aristocrat the Marquis de Lafayette) and Hamilton (Julius Thomas III), over Hamilton’s plans for the country’s finances. The Adams administration, which condenses the presidency of John Adams into one short, concise number, is interrupted by Hamilton dropping a large book from the upper part of the stage, stating laconically, “Sit down, John, fat mother…” while he does. .

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Hamilton himself is portrayed as fiery, passionate, clinging to his upbringing as an orphan. He immediately bonds with Lafayette, Mulligan and John Laurens (Eean S. Cochran, doubling as Hamilton’s son Philip) in their eagerness to overthrow their British overlords. Burr, however, is a slippery client, lacking any set of firm beliefs; he advises Hamilton to “talk less” and be more circumspect in what he says. This establishes a relationship between the two that is sometimes confrontational, sometimes cautiously friendly, but inevitably results in tragedy.

If this was just a witty hip-hop tale of America’s birth, it would just be fun novelty, but there’s an emotional core in Hamilton that resonates strongly. It’s in his marriage to Eliza Schuyler (Victoria Ann Scovens) and his friendship, perhaps more with his sister Angelica (Milika Cheree). Both are counterweights to Hamilton’s workaholic tendencies and his oft-stated discontent, both sadly underserved by his weaknesses.

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Speaking of weaknesses, there are none in this cast, many of whom have been playing their roles for quite some time. Thomas III is a whirlwind of energy and lucid ambition, while Webber, Jr. shows the complicated side of a man now considered a villain in American history. Darnell Abraham is suitably grave and cautious as George Washington, the man around whom many plot and plot, while Cheree shines in her one-piece, pining for the man she introduced to her sister. Showell and Armstrong stand out in their roles, often threatening to steal the show, while Rick Negron, who makes occasional appearances as the foppish King George, is a gem.

It is Scovens, however, who deserves special attention in all of this as a faithful and badly treated wife. If at the very end you aren’t moved by both his testimony and his future actions, you’re probably not breathing.

For more on the background to the production, read the preview in the Arts section of edmontonjournal.com.

yegarts@postmedia.com

EXAM

hamilton

When: Until July 10

Where: Jubilee Auditorium

Tickets: Starting at $59 before taxes, available at the door or in advance on Ticketmaster.ca

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