Hamilton: A masterclass in theater production

Theater ReviewHamilton Ongoing until Nov. 26 Theatre at Solaire, Pasay City

By Giselle P. Kasilag

WHY ANYONE from this part of the world would care about an obscure American Founding Father makes no sense until one troops to the theater to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. And then clarity sets in.

A rap-and-sung-through musical, Hamilton is based on the biography of Alexander Hamilton as written by Ron Chernow. It follows his rise to power and his subsequent downfall and death, revealing insights about the man and the nation he helped build.

While the events took place in the mid-1700s, it was very easy to relate to Hamilton’s idealism. His life was the American dream in a nutshell. “I’m a get a scholarship to King’s College / I probably shouldn’t brag, but dang, I amaze and astonish / The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish / I gotta holler just to be heard / With every word, I drop knowledge,” he sang in “My Shot.” And astonish he did. He helped win the war, write the constitution, form a government, and design the country’s financial system.

But he was not an easy person to be with. Describing himself as unpolished is a polite way of highlighting how badly the art of diplomacy was lost on him. He was hard, unyielding, and unfiltered. Jason Arrow, who took on the title role, had the difficult task of portraying a character that didn’t immediately evoke sympathy. It was all in the nuances — stressing certain lines; making small gestures to highlight a phrase — that had the audiences cheering for Mr. Arrow’s Hamilton within the first 10 minutes of the production. He took Mr. Miranda’s poetry and gave it the heart and depth it deserved, making his character a joy to watch despite its many flaws.

While Hamilton was clearly the lead character, the musical was all about the ensemble. Not only did every major character have their own moment/s but every element in the production was necessary. Every member of the ensemble had a purpose, and it was evident that missing one would have affected the whole show. It was a tight unit moving as one.

DeAundre Woods as Aaron Burr was a worthy challenger to Mr. Arrow’s Hamilton. Together with Darnell Abraham’s George Washington and David Park’s Thomas Jefferson, it was a singing and acting treat that kept going and going.

However, the night belonged to Akina Edmonds, who plays Angelica Schuyler. Singing her pain in “Satisfied” showcased not just her powerful voice but her complete control over it. Supporting her singing was a unique take on the use of the flashback technique, offering something completely new to theater skeptics who feel that they have seen it all. It was a showstopper worthy of the price of admission.

Admittedly, it was Brent Hill’s King George that received the most reactions. He was pompous, over-the-top, and dismissive of this rabble of commoners trying to supplant his authority. In embracing his ridiculousness, Mr. Hill gave one of the most memorable moments of the show as well as a much-needed relief from the rapid-fire rapping of the other songs.

There is much to say about the simplicity and grandness both present in this production. The set design did not have the magical effects of some previous musicals that have visited the Philippines, but the rawness made it a more powerful symbol of a nation that was still under construction. The use of a turntable-inspired stage was the most “high-tech” of the devices used but was utilized in such a way that it did not call attention to itself.There was great care in putting together the costume design. Since some of the characters do double roles, it was important that the audiences could immediately see that an actor was performing a different role. The costumes of the corps showcased the designer’s talent the most: they wore flesh-colored outfits that helped highlight the main characters who were in full color, while the addition of coats and skirts quickly transformed them from revolutionaries to party guests.

Indeed, every aspect of Hamilton was a masterclass in theater production. The music was not only powerful but having the same passages used in different situations and time signatures gave different interpretations despite having the same lyrics. The set and costume designs were so thoughtfully done and truly aided in pushing the story forward.

Hamilton is groundbreaking on so many levels. Its theme, its music, its storytelling; everything makes the case for the local performing arts industry to embrace the arrival of such foreign acts. Having the public watch a historical musical done in a contemporary manner enriches the local art scene in every way possible. And we are all better for it because in many ways, we are all Alexander Hamilton.

Joseph Emmanuel Garcia

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