When Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” first hit the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in 2015, it was a revolution and a revelation for musical theater in general. Nothing like it had ever been done before. The show would go on to win the hearts of a legion of devoted “Hamilfans,” along with 11 Tony awards.
Six years later, in the wake of a pandemic that put performances of every type on hold, “Hamilton” has returned to off-Broadway stages across the country for its North American Tour. On Aug. 22, it opened at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, where it will reside until Sept. 26.
For the uninitiated, “Hamilton” is a retelling in musical form of the founding of America, the Revolutionary War, and the life of Alexander Hamilton —the only founding father whose story, as the cast sings, was never told. The musical is a masterpiece in more ways than one, with songs written by Miranda that mash together hip-hop, R&B, and soul with the traditional musical sounds; brilliant choreography by Andy Blankenbeuhler; and a revolving set that becomes a pivotal part of the show’s plot.
Like any good artwork, “Hamilton” transforms what might be considered an ordinary subject matter into something extraordinary as it makes history larger than life. Over the course of its almost three-hour runtime, the show deep dives into the motivations and desires of its two leading men—Hamilton himself; and Aaron Burr, his friend, rival and foil—and by its dramatic conclusion one understands exactly why they act as they do.
On Wednesday night, two nights after “Hamilton” opened at the Fox, the energy before, during and after the show was electric, jubilance palpable on the part of both the viewers and the performers. Audience members applauded wildly and cheered at all the right moments—during King George’s crowd-favorite performance of “You’ll Be Back,” for instance, or right after the iconic line, “Immigrants, we get the job done.”
The original Broadway cast of the show included big names like Leslie Odom Jr., (“One Night in Miami”), Philippa Soo (“Moana”), Anthony Ramos (“In The Heights”), and Miranda himself as the title character; and the Disney+ recording of the production has popularized this cast far beyond the Broadway world. Following up on the tremendous popularity of the original Broadway cast to an audience that has been fed primarily on prerecorded productions for the past year and a half is no small feat for any singer.
Nevertheless, Wednesday night’s cast managed to pull off a stirring performance. In line with the precedent set by the original Broadway cast, all the leading characters were played by people of color. Perhaps the standout of the night was Stephanie Jae Park, whose portrayal of Eliza’s journey from innocent infatuation to heartbreak was deeply moving. Her sister, Angelica, was stirringly sung and rapped by Ta’Rea Campbell. Marcus Choi was a clear-eyed, powerful Washington, and Elijah Malcomb captured the double role of John Laurens/Philip with agility. Jared Dixon’s Burr and Warren Franklin’s Lafayette/Jefferson were enjoyable, though they lacked the subtleties that made their character’s originators (Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs, respectively) so memorable. As for Hamilton himself, Pierre Jean Gonzalez, while obviously an excellent singer and rapper, certainly wasn’t the strongest member of the cast, much like Miranda when he originated the character. But that made Gonzalez all the more apt for the role; whatever Hamilton lacks in talent, he more than makes up for in tenacity. Gonzalez, like his character, was not throwing away his shot. Whatever the failings of the cast might have been, they were irrelevant in the larger magic of the return of live theatre.
There’s something extra special about going to see a musical after living through the COVID-19 era, both for viewers and for performers whose livelihoods might have been jeopardized by the pandemic. “Hamilton” at the Fox is a goosebump-raising experience, not only because of the sheer genius of the production, but also because every cast member is singing their heart out and you can just tell how happy they are to be back on stage. “Hamilton” will be showing at the Fox until Sept. 26.