“Stunning.” (Captivating from the opening second to the closing moment.)
“Innovative.” (Never seen anything like it.)
“Unique.” (A rap opera.)
“Amazing.” (Impeccable timing, unfailing precision.)
*Comments in italics were overheard as the audience exited the theater. Comments in parentheses are mine.
On Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family attended the play Hamilton at Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in North Carolina. Beyond the raw talent saturating every aspect of this production, the quality that rockets Hamilton into uncharted greatness is its integrity. During this time of upheaval in the United States, Hamilton offers guidance, lighting our way back on track, challenging Build-The-Wall mentality. How does Hamilton pull it off? Core values are difficult to articulate without sounding like a Hallmark card. But following the show’s advice, I’ll take my shot.
Hamilton has color. I don’t mean the lighting (Howell Binkley) or the scenic design (David Korins) or the costumes (Paul Tazewell) — all works of art. No, I mean the diverse skin-tones of the cast. I loved watching a production with the racial diversity that reflects the colors of my world. Equally important was the unspoken message that even though Caucasian men put their signatures on our Constitution, the fabric of our country is woven from many colors and genders, beyond white and male.
The dancers are beautiful. I mean their bodies — toned and strong, supple and healthy. They celebrate the human form as it’s meant to be: curves and bones and fat and muscle. This show, while exercising creative license from start to finish, keeps it real.
The choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler) manages to highlight each individual and simultaneously the group as a whole. In many musicals, specific movements are often considered the sole property of one gender. But not in Hamilton. For instance, all genders throw their hips at times, and march tough and strong carrying guns at other moments. The nonverbal language of Hamilton’s choreography communicates equal respect, equal acceptance, equal opportunity.
Each character’s perspective is portrayed with empathy, although (like “real” people) each is both admirable and flawed. Alexander Hamilton (Joseph Morales) is “an Icarus” — flying too close to the sun and crashing when his wings burn. Eliza Hamilton (Shoba Narayan) is swept off her feet by Alexander’s charisma, and misses the warning signs that he’s a bottomless pit, always needing more, no potential for quiet or calm. Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) wrestles with envy of the cool crowd, which gradually swells into a consuming, murderous rage. Philip Hamilton (King David Jones), Alexander’s and Eliza’s son, is endearing, with an adolescent impulsivity which leads to his death. Thomas Jefferson (Kyle Scatliffe) and James Madison (Fergie L. Philippe) are adult versions of the popular kids, the clique everyone worships and hates and fears. These are our country’s forefathers and foremothers and foreparents. Gifted, tireless, genius, strong, rebellious, thoughtful, righteous, flawed. Our country’s 1700s Resistance.
The exception is King George (Jon Patrick Walker), whose character is purposefully (and hilariously) unidimensional — petty and narcissistic to the nth power (not unlike a president familiar to us all). His numbers are parodies of love songs. He begins with the colonies, whose purpose is to adore him. He ends with the I-take-immense-pleasure-in-your-pain attitude of a spurned lover after a nasty break-up. He camps it up and hits it absolutely right, giving the audience the perfect comic relief from the layers of meaning in every other aspect of Hamilton.
After the finale, the entire cast stands in a line, holding hands, taking their bows. Nobody steps forward as more important than any other player. The message, again, is egalitarian. To borrow from another story, one for all and all for one. To borrow from Alexander Hamilton’s contemporaries: We The People.
Whether or not you see this production, take your shot — not to duel, but to shine. Create space for others to take their shots as well. Our country thrives when people shine individually and together. Case in point: Hamilton.
Book, Music, Lyrics:
Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by:
Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, NC. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.
Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.