“You want a revolution? I want a revelation.”
So sing the Schuyler Sisters near the onset of “Hamilton,” cementing the conflict of personal and provincial politics that rock the core of the wildly popular Broadway musical. A touring production of the work is playing at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville through June 23.
As it turns out, “Hamilton,” aside from its unorthodox design (or perhaps because of it), is equal parts revolution and revelation. But in establishing both, an elemental question presents itself. Could a production that has unalterably changed the face of the modern musical, earning widespread commercial appeal in the process, possibly be as grand as its hype?
Judging by a Sunday afternoon performance last weekend at the Kentucky Center, the answer was an astounding yes.
The construction of “Hamilton” has essentially become common knowledge since it opened Off-Broadway at New York’s Public Theater in January 2015 before graduating to Broadway seven months later. It traces the rise of immigrant Alexander Hamilton through the painful birth of the United States in almost operatic form, using rapping to communicate much of its story. That, in turn, introduced considerable non-traditional casting, making the work as diverse as it was contemporary.
That’s all well and good for New York, but did that sense of invention transfer to the production in Louisville? Absolutely. It placed on display a cast of sublime voices that brought their characters to life with command and control, choreography that was efficiently engaging and a sense of storytelling that was, from start to finish, compelling.
It took a few minutes for the production’s modern vernacular to connect with the story’s historical context, a situation enhanced by the fact so much of the show’s introductory scenes and songs were handed a mountain of plot exposition to establish. Once in, however, the present-day telling of the birth of a nation seemed quite conversational.
Sure, there were obvious cast standouts. Edred Utomi’s Hamilton and Josh Tower’s Aaron Burr were at the helm of the story’s continuity and conflict, from the height of the Revolutionary War to a fractured initial government that led to the two’s final, inevitable standoff. But “Hamilton” was very much an ensemble presentation with seemingly minor characters forming a chorus that both propelled a very spacious story and provided often startling vocal support to the principals.
From that ensemble emerged many delights, including Hannah Cruz’s portrayal of Eliza Hamilton and her harrowing delivery of familial conflict in “Burn” and Peter Matthew Smith’s darkly sardonic moments as King George, the wickedest surfacing during “You’ll Be Back” (“I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love”).
Best of all was a remarkable dual performance by Bryson Bruce as a quietly heroic Marquis de Lafayette in the first act and a ruthlessly foppish Thomas Jefferson in the second.
The drama all of this created seemed surprisingly organic in execution. An overall exactness of diction made the most warp-speed of raps crisply intelligible while the story’s focus on the rise to power of an orphaned immigrant seemed uneasily (and unintentionally) timely.
A revolution? A revelation? In terms of story, intent and performance, “Hamilton” was all that and more.
When: daily, except Mondays through June 23
Where: Kentucky Center for the Arts’ Whitney Hall, 501 W. Main in Louisville.
Tickets: $79-$199; 800-775-7777; kentuckycenter.org.