“The have-nots are gonna win this,” sings the title character early on in Hamilton, the exuberant new musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars as Alexander Hamilton. Rooted in hip-hop but branching out to jazz, R&B and 1960s pop, the show manages to reference current debates over violence and inequality while schooling the audience in one of the US’s greatest non-presidential founding fathers.
Directed with affection by Thomas Kail and with fierce choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton centres on the volatile relationship between Hamilton and Aaron Burr. First, they help foment the Revolution; next, they help govern the nation. With a nod both to his ambition and to the famous 1804 duel in which Burr kills him, Hamilton raps: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy and hungry/And I’m not throwing away my shot.”
Of all the entertaining ironies of this virtually sung-through musical, none delights more than the fact that Burr, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington are all played by African-Americans. As Burr, Leslie Odom Jr shapes the story smoothly, and, as both Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, Daveed Diggs rap-battles against Miranda’s Hamilton in an instant classic addition to hip-hop’s long line of legendary beefs.
Miranda loves Notorious B.I.G. and Mobb Deep but he also knows his Gilbert and Sullivan and Beatles. There is a Lennon-ish lilt to the way King George III — in a delicious comic turn from Brian D’Arcy James — tells the colonial upstarts: “When push/Comes to shove/I will send a fully armed battalion/To remind you of my love.”
Based on the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, this musical occasionally gets a little too drunk on historical detail: I could have done without the second-act detour into the 1791 whiskey rebellion. But any peccadilloes — and Hamilton himself committed a few, of the sexual variety — can be forgiven in light of the infectious energy with which the cast move round the wood-and-brick warehouse-like stage (warmly lit by Howell Binkley).
Miranda concludes his testosterone-laden epic not with a crash but with a caress. I won’t give that secret away, and would encourage you to find out for yourself, if you can scare up tickets to this sold-out engagement. Don’t worry: Broadway, and a much longer run, beckon.
Photograph: Joan Marcus
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