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Theater review: ‘Hamilton’ proves why it’s a theatrical sensation

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 17, 2018, 10:04 p.m.

“Hamilton” is playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theater through March 18. (Carolyn Lamberson / The Spokesman-Review)
“Hamilton” is playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theater through March 18. (Carolyn Lamberson / The Spokesman-Review)

When it comes to “Hamilton,” it’s magical to be in the room where it happens.

Since it opened in New York three years ago, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sung-through musical about America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, has been a sensation. Fans not able to make the trip to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles have made do by listening to the best-selling cast recording. Seeing it in person, however, even after listening to that cast album 8,000 times, puts the show in a whole new light.

“Hamilton,” which opened a second national tour at Seattle’s Paramount Theater that runs through March 18, is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s also heartbreaking, enthralling, energetic and executed to perfection. Its staging is deceptively simple. The backdrop of wood and exposed brick is nothing fancy: There’s a moveable staircase and platform that is the very definition of low-tech. There are no pyrotechnics, no exploding chandeliers, no tap-dancing upside down. The one nifty trick is the revolving floor, which does a marvelous job of creating a sense of movement and, most importantly, allows action to swirl around the actors. It’s cool.

Without the stage tricks, “Hamilton” unfolds through song and dance and acting. Its unlikely marriage of history, monetary policy, hip-hop and Broadway, told by a multicultural cast … it just works. It’s like an episode of “Schoolhouse Rock,” only way better.

The show tells the story of Hamilton’s rise from poverty to Revolutionary War hero to statesman through the relationships in his life: Aaron Burr, his friend-turned-nemesis; his wife, Eliza, and her sister Angelica; his boss, George Washington; his pals John Laurens, the Marquis de Lafayette and Hercules Mulligan; and his political foes Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Along the way, King George III of England crops up to comment on what his colonists are up to.

From its opening moments on Friday night, when Burr (Nik Walker) stepped center stage and rapped, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of whore / And a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished / In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” the crowd roared its approval. When Joseph Morales walked into the spotlight and introduced himself as “Alexander Hamilton,” he had to pause a couple beats to allow for the cheers to die away.

The cast of this tour has been performing the show together for less than two weeks. Already, they seem to have developed a strong chemistry and can make those relationships onstage come alive. Most importantly, their voices sound good together and the ensemble numbers are top notch.

The best voices overall just might be the Schuyler sisters: Shoba Narayan as Eliza, Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica, and Nyla Sostre as Peggy.

Narayan nailed her performance on “Helpless,” “Burn” was tremendous, and her work with Morales on “That Would be Enough” showcased a real tenderness. There were a couple times when Campbell’s voice seemed to be swallowed up by the ensemble, but otherwise she was terrific, delivering a “Satisfied” that was most satisfying. Sostre wasn’t given much to do beyond harmonizing as Peggy in Act I, but in Act II as Maria Reynolds, she and Morales delivered a scorching “Say No to This.” I look forward to hearing her sing again.

Marcus Choi as George Washington was wonderful, as he beautifully sang the sadness-tinged “One Last Time.” Kyle Scatliffe brought flair to Thomas Jefferson, kicking Act II into gear with “What Did I Miss?,” while Fergie L. Philippe delighted as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, as did Elijah Malcomb as Laurens and young Philip Hamilton.

Jon Patrick Walker was hilarious as King George, who he portrays as a Monty Python-esque fop. “You’ll Be Back,” “What Comes Next” and “I Know Him” were memorable and resulted in some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Of course the heavy lifting belongs to Morales and Walker. As Burr, Walker brings a vibrant quality to songs such as “Dear Theodosia” and the glorious “Wait for It.” His voice is quite different from Leslie Odom Jr.’s, who won a Tony for his performance as Burr in the original Broadway cast. He has a lightness to his singing that is quite lovely.

Morales brings some experience to the show, as he was part of the Chicago cast of “Hamilton.” He grabs our attention from the get-go, bringing high energy to “My Shot,” the compelling “Yorktown” and, well, everything. That he has mastered the tongue-twisting dialogue that Miranda throws down for his Hamilton is a testament to his skill.

There are so many things that make “Hamilton” work, and the cast in Seattle is only part of it. The show is just so well-written. The music is creative and compelling and certainly not the same-old, same-old Broadway fare. “Hamilton” is well-paced and doesn’t feel bloated. Every song feels vital and works to propel the story forward.

After listening to “Hamilton” 8,000 times and seeing it once, I can’t wait to see it again.

This article has been updated with the correct spelling of Ta’Rea Campbell’s first name.