In Review: Hamilton

Cortez Johnson

I closed out 2019 by viewing opening night of Hamilton at TPAC here in Nashville. The room was simply ablaze with anticipation as lay people and the wealthy intermingled and buzzed about the impending show. After getting through pumped-up security, I splurged on some not-so-overly-priced popcorn at the concession, stand and eagerly waited an hour before the doors opened. I had been lucky enough to purchase my tickets on pre-sale for just over $100. Surely Hamilton, the play that I remember taking my public high school in a suburb of Houston, Texas, and the nation, by storm was worth at least that much. I'll just say this to cut the tension: Hamilton is really that good. It is everything you hoped it'd be, and for me at least, a little more.

Unlike many of my peers, and perhaps even some of you readers, I resisted the urge to watch bootleg recorded versions of the production on YouTube or even to listen to most of the recorded soundtracks on Spotify. I wanted to be surprised by the musical. I didn't want to know too much about the narrative other than what was necessary to understand its happenings. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this was indeed a musical and not just an anthology of rapping. For those of you who do not know, what Hamilton does that makes it so "hip", is that it fills in exposition with spoken word said in verse. In other words, the characters rap instead of talk.

For me the women really made the show what it was. Between Angelica and Eliza my heart was split in two. High praise also belongs to the actors behind John Burr, the solemn George Washington, and the absolutely hilarious King George III for their show-stopping solo numbers. I will admit that the depiction of Lafayette in this play felt — and this is surprising given the quality of a production like Hamilton — cheap. I could barely understand the over-exaggerated French accent, especially during the syncopated rhythmic raps. Even the leading man himself sounded like he was trying to imitate Lin-Manuel Miranda. The repetition of overly-articulated "Rs" was bizarre and frankly unnecessary.

But despite this, what made Hamilton at TPAC particularly special was to see brown faces in titular roles proving that outstanding performances can be achieved without resulting to typecasting; that the character of George Washington can be "believable" even if played by a man with the last name Choi; that truly great stories transcend the historical context that may have inspired them.

If a white man from the 1600s could openly write about a great Egyptian Queen, and have his Cleopatra become a celebrated staple of classic theater, then it is past time for people of color to finally be given the opportunity to play roles not necessarily experienced by their ancestors, unimpeded by racial bias.

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