By Jacqueline Monahan
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” Those Hamilton lyrics could very well be referencing the audience gathered for the spectacle and rousing presentation of the smash Broadway musical that nearly swept the 2016 Tonys (Hamiltonys?) with 11 wins and a Pulitzer Prize for creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
It's first run in 2018 could not satisfy all of the demand. Now back, nearly seven years after its Broadway debut, the production’s popularity has not diminished. The 2022 performances took place from October 18, 2022 through November 6, 2022.
Within the elegant Reynolds Hall of the Smith Center, a near sold-out crowd assembled in buzzing anticipation, with cocktails and casual but upscale dress to see Hamilton in all of its pageantry and choreographed precision.
It’s a long production comprised of two 74-minute acts separated by an 18-minute intermission, and comes in at just under three hours. The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life (from a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore” to the nation’s “ten dollar founding father”) unrolls on the iconic, multi-level wooden stage of staircases, ropes, and platforms. The pageantry continues with boots, ballgowns, masculine ponytails, and brass buttons on blue and red military uniforms.
Superfans such as your humble correspondent, couldn’t help but compare this live presentation to the Disney Plus offering, featuring the original cast. In doing so, it was found that the comparisons were only superficial: a more zaftig James Madison (Brandon Louis Armstrong), a shorter King George (Rick Negron), a breathier Angelica Schuyler (Marja Harmon), a happier Eliza Hamilton (Morgan Anita Wood). The talent, however, remained steadfast, and the production retained its presence and emotional power.
Aside from the eponymous Alexander Hamilton (Deaundre’ Woods) the actor playing George Washington (Darnell Abraham) was a commanding presence, - pun intended. With a strong, operatic voice, he was a force that pulled an army - and audience - to attention. By contrast, Woods, as Hamilton, was a quietly effective lead, forceful but gentle – not an easy balance to maintain.
Aaron Burr (Tre’ Frazier) narrates portions of the story. As Hamilton’s nemesis and eventual murderer, he has some of the best songs in the production (confirmed by Lin-Manuel Miranda). In “Wait For It,” the cautious Burr, who envies Hamilton’s rise to power while being chided for never himself taking a stand on issues, explains his motives, “I’m not falling behind or running late. I’m not standing still I am lying in wait.”
Later, Burr laments not being in “The Room Where It Happens” when Madison, Hamilton, and the high-energy Thomas Jefferson (Paris Nix) get together to decide where the nation’s capital will be and other important matters. “No one really knows how the game is played. the art of the trade, how the sausage gets made. We just assume that it happens, but no one else is in the room where it happens.” This number features Burr on a table jumping up at the exact moment that a tablecloth is removed from beneath him.
The ensemble cast amazes with its precision, installing and removing props right under the audience's gaze - with moves woven right into the choreography. The stage floor contains a rotating donut or "O" shape, used to move actors in opposite directions or simulate a walk, or in one instance, row a boat. Eliza burns love letters in a precise time frame. Angelica leads a production number in reverse. "Satisfied" is a rewind of her first meeting with Hamilton. This includes a wedding toast that morphs into a rapid-fire rap-like section, ending with a forlorn ballad of congratulations, a strenuous and demanding undertaking, all done to perfection by Marja Harmon.
Several scenes moved audience members to silent tears; the sadness and betrayal of “Burn” and the emotional Finale, “Who Lives, Who Die, Who Tells Your Story?” sung by Eliza; the mourning song covering the death of Hamilton’s son Phillip, “A Quiet Uptown” sung by Angelica; Burr’s song of regret “The World Was Wide Enough” after he realizes that he could have coexisted with Alexander Hamilton instead of insisting upon a deadly duel.
In your humble correspondent’s opinion, the showstopper within a show made up of showstoppers was the chill-and-pride inducing “Yorktown” which ends with four victory cries of “We won!” after the 1781 battle with British troops sends them back to England, defeated.
Through it all, King George quips and camps his way through the proceedings at different intervals, threatening military strength, warning about the trials the new nation will face, and even doing a happy dance when Hamilton is faced with a career-limiting scandal during “The Reynolds Pamphlet” including the lyrics, “never gonna be president now.”
Eliza's show-ending gasp has been interpreted in several ways. She outlived her husband by an astonishing 50 years. Was she seeing him again? Was she seeing the audience and realizing that she was the one who lived to tell Hamilton's story? Through Lin-Manuel Miranda and scores of talented cast members worldwide, we all get to experience the story of Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, the “best of wives, best of women” as he wrote in his very last letter to her.
A standing ovation was the least we could do.
About the Smith Center:
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is located at 361 Symphony Park Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89106, in Downtown Las Vegas’s 61-acre Symphony Park and is a five-acre performing arts center consisting of three theaters in two buildings. It brought Broadway productions to its stage, including some on their first national tours, such as “Kinky Boots,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Wicked.” The Smith Center opened on March 10, 2012