In 1825, Lafayette came to Rochester.
In 2019, “Hamilton” came to Rochester.
Both made a splash. Neither will soon be forgotten.
And so it is that the three-week Auditorium Theater run of the Angelica cast of the national touring company of “Hamilton” begins. And Rochester is abuzz with excitement and anticipation.Some 50,000 will make the trek to East Main Street to sit in the old hall and wait for the lights to go down.
And they won’t be disappointed.
They will undoubtedly be moved, and they might be changed.
Because this isn’t a play, this is the play. This is an astounding reminder of the greatness of this country and the brilliance of its people – the ones in the history books, andthe ones on this stage.
Being the smallest city to host “Hamilton” this year, there is the expectation of jaw-dropping, hicks-in-the-sticks awe, the gee-whiz excitement that comes from having some versionof a Broadway blockbuster find its way to your hometown.
But this isn’t like that.
This is a jewel that would dazzle in any setting, and instead of walking out wishing you’d been able to see the Broadway cast, you wish the Broadway audience had been able to seethis cast. This presentation isn’t a reasonable facsimile of something great, it is in this script on that stage with this cast and these musicians an almost jarring insight into just how talented human beings can be.
You want to go out into the lobby and ask the guy selling t-shirts if he has this soundtrack with this cast.
Certainly, Lin-Manuel Miranda put himself on a par with history’s best American musical theater writers with “Hamilton,” a masterwork of entertainment and history. But we’ve knownthat for four years. There is no surprise in this man’s genius. Nor is there any overstating of it, at least as it comes to this hip-hop opera that last night galvanized and thrilled an upstate New York auditorium filled with middle-aged white people.
But the great gift of this company on this tour in this town is that the cast is his equal. There are no weak spots. There is not a principal player who is anything less than stunning.You sit in genuine awe of nearly every player in every part.
Hamilton’s wife – played by Hannah Cruz – has a voice that tops anything you’ll hear on the radio. And it has a crystal, piercing quality is almost not of this world. She thundersemotion, from the joy of her budding love for a young Hamilton, to the incredible heartbreak of the play’s last moments, which leave her and some in the audience in tears.
Paul Oakley Stovall – himself a playwright and former Obama staffer – presents a George Washington who is brilliant and strong and, even in the sometimes comical portrayal, trulyWashingtonesque. Stephanie Umoh – who plays the sister of Hamilton’s wife – has a voice that is a powerful, angelic counterpoint to Cruz in the frequent scenes they share.
Hamilton himself is portrayed by Edred Utomi – the son of Nigerian immigrants. He is rock solid. And the play’s unifying theme – eventual bad guy Aaron Burr – is played by an absolutelymasterful Josh Tower. Also of particular note are Bryson Bruce, Chaundre Hall-Broomfield and Jon Viktor Corpuz – each of whom was tremendous.
And Peter Matthew Smith – the husband of a TV anchor in Pittsburgh – owns the stage as King George III. His every movement and syllable is purposeful and powerful in Miranda’sbrilliant use of comedy as emotional relief.
But don’t get too hung up on the individual names, because everyone who walked across the stage in this production was astounding. There was never a note, a movement, an expressionthat wasn’t exactly dead on, and almost breathtaking in its excellence. These people have found their calling. Their families should be proud.
The players sing, dance, rap and act with a brilliance that would make them stand out in any one of those areas alone. To see such ability in such various areas from so many peopleis a discovery of the depth of human capability.
And a final note on talent: These people can sing. Beautifully. Masterfully. Powerfully. “Hamilton” is a hip-hop musical, but it is a musical, and this inspired cast with Miranda’sinspired score presents singing of a quality few will ever see surpassed – on this or any stage.
This is a big deal.
Not just because it’s a famous play.
Not just because it’s a chance to dress up and pretend we’re in the big time.
But because a brilliant piece of writing is matched to a brilliant set of artists who play out, over some two and a half hours, what may be the best demonstration of artistic talentyou will see in your lifetime.
On East Main Street, in the old Masonic Hall, near where the bridge crosses over into the ‘hood.
In downtown Rochester, New York.