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'Hamilton' at DPAC brings the American Revolution to the Bull City

theater review

The Broadway show 'Hamilton,' which has dominated pop culture since its Broadway premiere in 2015, came to Durham Nov. 6.
The Broadway show 'Hamilton,' which has dominated pop culture since its Broadway premiere in 2015, came to Durham Nov. 6.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnum opus “Hamilton” has been a cultural phenomenon since its Broadway debut in 2015. The musical’s soundtrack is now a ubiquitous part of American pop culture. Tickets to see the show in New York City are highly sought-after but notoriously difficult to obtain. Durham recently got a taste of the Broadway sensation when the second national tour of the acclaimed musical is at the Durham Performing Arts Center from Nov. 6 to Dec. 2. 

The show sets history to the rhythm of hip-hop. After beginning with a rousing opening number about founding father Alexander Hamilton’s early life, the first act largely focuses on the dynamics of the American Revolutionary War. Hamilton and his revolutionary comrades — Aaron Burr, Hercules Mulligan and Marquis de Lafayette — plan and execute clever military tactics, much to the chagrin of an egotistical King George. Along the way, Hamilton meets the enchanting Schuyler sisters and ultimately marries Eliza Schuyler despite being initially captivated by Angelica. The act ends with Hamilton being appointed Secretary of the Treasury and authoring the Federalist Papers.

The second act of “Hamilton” chronicles the deterioration of relationships established in the first act. Burr and Hamilton disagree over politics, while Hamilton’s marriage crumbles due to an extramarital affair. The act also notably features several Cabinet meetings rendered as rap battles. The musical concludes shortly after the presidential election of 1800 and its consequences. 

The nuanced historical plot of the musical is articulated well with Miranda’s tongue-in-cheek rapped-through dialogue. The show runs the gamut of emotions — from poignant to comical — and the audience’s temperament swings in lockstep with the plot. Although the voices on the original Broadway cast recording will forever be the gold standard, the touring cast does an excellent job of living up to these high expectations. Joseph Morales plays a plucky, erudite Hamilton with nuanced displays of emotion. Shoba Narayan’s stunning soprano voice pairs perfectly with her role as the wistful Eliza. Nik Walker as Aaron Burr and Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler round out the play’s leads with strong vocals and feisty spirit.

However, the breakout performances of the night were two of the supporting roles: Jon Patrick Walker as King George and Kyle Scatliffe in the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Walker charmed the crowd with his wacky demeanor and catchy melodic motif. Similarly, Scatliffe’s comedic timing was always impeccable. The musical’s leads were supported by an incredible ensemble of nimble dancers who meandered seamlessly from ballet to hip-hop, playing everything from soldiers to wedding guests. 

The wide range of musical styles throughout the show made every scene feel fresh. For instance, the classic show tune ballad “You’ll Be Back” is a stark contrast to the speed-rap of “Guns and Ships,” whereas larger numbers like “Non-Stop” blend the styles seamlessly. The cast’s melodic harmonies underscore the fiery intensity of rap. By the same token, the diversity of the cast is a striking juxtaposition to the established framework of history. Surrounding the actors, an intricate set and innovative staging created amazing visual metaphors for the story of the musical. A rotating floor piece allowed for spellbinding special effects — namely, the rewind sequence during the song “Satisfied”.  

The entire production was incredibly impressive, yet the greater contextual significance of “Hamilton” is perhaps its most extraordinary effect. The show’s narrative of merit-based mobility, public-spirited passion, and relentless optimism strikes a chord with audiences in today’s political climate. At DPAC, “Hamilton” was met by an effervescent audience of superfans and newcomers alike. The crowd erupted with applause for signature lines like “I am not throwing away my shot” and “Immigrants: they get the job done." The media buzz around “Hamilton” could theoretically lead audiences to be underwhelmed, yet the touring show delivers everything it promises and more. The hype surrounding “Hamilton” is certainly justified.