Thursday, February 9, 2023

Up for review: Hamilton's Philip Tour Company at the Wharton

April 5, 2022
<p>Hamilton will be at the Wharton Center until April 10. Photo courtesy/Peggy National Tour.</p>

Hamilton will be at the Wharton Center until April 10. Photo courtesy/Peggy National Tour.

Photo by Courtesy Photo | The State News

The Broadway phenomenon that created many hardcore theater fans of this generation has taken the stage at the Wharton Center, bringing both theatrical artistry and historical drama to the table.

Even the empty stage before the show begins is something to take in. The set design is perfectly bare yet industrial and era-appropriate, reflecting the bare bones and structure of the country that Hamilton and the other founding fathers are about to build in front of our eyes.

As the show opened, it was obvious that Aaron Burr would still be my favorite character in the show, immediately displaying his insane vocals and acting chops as the main storyteller in the show, with Jared Dixon embodying the role right from the start. However, the audience could not have been more excited when Pierre Jean Gonzalez, playing the titular role of Alexander Hamilton, was introduced. The Cobb Great Hall was filled with applause.

My first observation was, from my perspective, Burr and Hamilton had switched personality traits. It seemed Burr was the more smooth character, while Hamilton was more eccentric. I think this still fit their character dynamics, but I felt as though the original Burr had played the character as on edge and neurotic.

The other glaringly obvious observation was that the ensemble was genuinely hypnotic. Hamilton has an ensemble to end all other ensembles. The choreography is so deliberate in its style of movement, telling the story as fluidly as the lyrics do.

This story is character-driven, with most of the cast having large and demanding roles. One character that stood out to me in this cast, one I had never been pulled to before, was John Laurens, played by Elijah Malcomb. The actor played it in such a dynamic way that made me care about the character more than I ever had in my years of watching the show. Another character that I had underestimated was James Madison, which had more of a comedic personality rather than informative and deliberate, just working as Jefferson’s sidekick.

Gonzalez also made me enjoy Hamilton more because he fixed the problem that many theater fans have with Lin Manuel Miranda’s portrayal: his vocals. Gonzalez was much stronger in that range, able to give both strong acting and vocal performances.

The introduction of the Schuyler Sisters was satisfying, their voices mixing together perfectly and smoothly. Angelica’s acting chops were the most apparent in the sisters; however, many audience members pointed out Eliza as their favorite character.

Unfortunately, I did not agree. I felt as though the Philip Tour portrayed her as Disney-fied, reflecting on how a Disney princess would act, not as a political figurehead. I do think her power returned in “Burn,” the tipping point for her character, which I believe was the most emotional part of the show. Because of this song, many see her as a role model for powerful women at a time when women were not seen as impactful.

Another stand-out character was the one and only King George. His acting as the iconic, sassy character was perfect, adding a nasally sound to the accent, making it sound even more sarcastic, bringing humor where there may be lulls in the show if he was not present.

“(King George) is good every time, and every King George is so different, but it just works,” audience member Madeline Merritt said. “It’s better that they’re all different because it’s a role that really is made for someone … to do (their) thing.”

Thomas Jefferson is another character that has one of the most potent personalities. He has many unlikable attributes but is still a fan favorite due to his charm.

Some of my favorite scenes included heavy ensemble harmonies and dance numbers that still highlight a character and their intentions. “Room Where It Happens” and “Yorktown” are scenes that blew me away with aspects of harmonies, storytelling, and ensemble engagement in the story. “The Reynolds Pamphlet” is also a fun moment for the whole cast, filled with chaos, fitting the actions of the scandal that Hamilton had just admitted to. The duel scene between Burr and Hamilton also had incredible visuals, especially with an ensemble member depicting the bullet barreling towards Hamilton during his last refrain before his death.

Others were excited to see their personal favorite parts played out live in front of them, like Cindy Rhein, who brought her daughter, ready to share the show she has loved for a long time with her family.

“I have two favorite parts,” Rhein said. “When Washington says goodbye … that whole sequence is just really powerful. My other favorite part is actually at the end of Act 1 in the song ‘Nonstop’ but the second half when they talk about the (Federalist Papers) ... how passionate our founding fathers were.”

It feels as though all the scenes in the show lead up to the finale, which is many people’s favorite part of the show, being the perfect payoff to the last three hours of the musical. Kim Thompson was affected by its thematic ending.

“(The finale) seemed like it was a lot about forgiveness, which I really liked,” Thompson said.

Eliza being the main focus of the ending, diehard fans of her character were excited to see her character meet her full potential.

“My personal favorite choice that Lin Manuel made when he did this was letting the last song be Eliza’s because I think as much as Hamilton was chosen as the subject for this because he was lesser-known and less ‘remembered,’ it was really her,” Merritt said. “She did a lot of the leg work and she carried the story. I think letting her have that ‘final bow’ is really profound in the way we are giving back to women in a time that a lot was taken from them.”

Merritt has had a personal connection to this show for years, now seeing it through a nostalgic lens.

“I was a huge fan when the musical first came out,” Merritt said. “When I was sitting in there, it felt like I was 16 again, and it had just come out. I have seen it multiple times, and I felt like I was seeing it for the first time again because it still felt just as special to be in the room even though I haven’t listened to this or seen this in literally years. Still, it took me right back there.”

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Merritt came with her best friend, Emilee Kuiphoff, introducing her to the show she had raved about for years.

“I just started my Hamilton era last month (when) I saw it for the first time,” Kuiphoff said. “I have been living this for the past month, so just being able to live it again and see all the characters again because it’s pretty relatively the same cast.”

While the themes in the show range from envy turning simple men into villains, creating a legacy, fighting for what you believe in, and the greed that comes with ambition, one of my favorite themes is that of reflecting on the founding fathers and their struggle to create a country where we can all have a legacy. Rhein felt the same way as she left the theater.

“As an older person, it brings light to the struggle and to the passion our founding fathers had for this country and what they fought for that we as a modern society don’t know personally,” Rhein said. “It brings it to light for the younger generations in a very real way.”

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