REVIEW: Hamilton in Seattle
By Amanda Knox
In brief: Hamilton—awesome. Must see. But can you? Yes! Tickets are still on sale online and at the Paramount Box Office. But they’re expensive (about $250-400 each). For those who can’t afford that price, the Paramount is offering 40 tickets for every Hamilton performance for only $10 a pop, chosen via this online lottery. There is one lottery per performance, and each lottery opens at 11:00 AM PT two days prior to the performance date.
So, now I admit that I’ve seen Hamilton in theatre not once, but twice—in New York and in Seattle. Before you hate me, neither were with the original cast. And here’s some good news: I liked the Seattle performance better.
When it comes to the music, no matter what, the album is King (or President). You shouldn’t go into the Paramount expecting to hear everything that makes the album so addictive: the original cast voices and their flowing-around-the-beat verve, for the stuff that makes the album feel so organic can’t be fully realized onstage. Presumably that’s because the actors are moving around a lot, and in order to breathe and be understood, their cadences have to be more boring, right-on-the-beat, their pronunciation stricter. But even then, I have yet to hear anyone anywhere come even remotely close to pulling off the personality and fast rapping of Lafayette/Jefferson the way Daveed Diggs does.
And yet, the live performance has much to offer that the album doesn’t. There’s the moment during the wedding when Angelica’s making her toast and she’s interrupted by an ethereal acoustic montage of: I remember that night, I just might (rewind) I remember that night, I just might (rewind). The stage, which revolves, actually rewinds the action, so that we see Alexander and Eliza’s courtship first through Eliza’s eyes (during Helpless), and then through Angelica’s (during Satisfied). It is, well, satisfying. And there are many neat visual moments like that: when Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison chink goblets in The Room Where It Happens; when smoke rises from burning letters as Eliza sings Burn, and whenever the glittering, glowering King (Jon Patrick Walker) graces the stage. Oh, and not only is the choreography so beautifully, artfully done, the ensemble cast is charismatic as ****.
Performance-wise, there’s some good and bad. Elijah Malcomb (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) and Shoba Narayan (Eliza) were wonderful. Oddly, Marcus Choi (George Washington) and even Joseph Morales (Alexander Hamilton) didn’t impress in their impressive roles, and Nik Walker (Aaron Burr) was almost too hammy, and failed to convey the dark turn in The Room Where It Happens, when he transforms from the cautious, caring man of Wait For It into the jealous, power-hungry man who finally pulls the trigger on Hamilton’s life.
One final observation: There are many reasons why Hamilton has struck a chord with so many of us since the album dropped in the fall of 2015. It invigorated musical theatre by incorporating rap into the art form. It opened doors and minds by casting our white founding fathers with black and latino actors. And it re-enlivened our founding myth in terms of scrappy immigrants and rebels at a time when the United States more often feels like an empire in decline. But what struck me the most about Lin-Manuel Miranda's creation this time around was its portrayal of civility in political discourse, its eagerness to humanize humans in opposition. Sure, the King may be a caricature who threatens to murder innocents, but, importantly, he’s understandably blinded by the legacy of his monarchy (stepping down from power was not “something a man could do”), and he’s so charming. And sure, the cabinet meetings are actually rap battles during which Hamilton and Jefferson indulge in ad hominem attacks. But importantly, Jefferson and Hamilton ultimately came to terms, and Hamilton’s endorsement secures Jefferson’s Presidency against Burr. And Burr! The bad guy! He, especially, is given ample, significant room for sympathy, such that by the time he murders Hamilton, we as the audience are devastated that this is also his downfall and his tragedy, too. At no point in Hamilton do we gleefully sit back and wait for the good guys to beat the bad guys. There are no good guys and bad guys. There are practical considerations, moral considerations, high stakes. There are good ideas and bad ideas, and real people in between them. That, for me, is the power of Hamilton—that the character who pulls at my heartstrings the most is Aaron Burr, the “villain in your history books.” That generosity, that democratizing of sympathy and humanity, may be greatest lesson Hamilton has for our current political turmoil.
Hamilton is playing every Tuesday-Sunday at the Paramount Theatre from February 6th through March 18th.