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"Hamilton" hoopla arrives at the Kennedy Center

Company in Hamilton, Chicago Company (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Hamilton franchise has come to town, as you have likely heard, one of an endless cycle of national tours. People paid to be subscribers to the Kennedy Center for two years just to have first crack at tickets for this summer run at the Opera House. The demand made the Kennedy Cener Web site difficult to access because of long queues more than once, even though the prices are double what you would pay for an actual opera in the same space. And people call opera elitist. We saw the show on Thursday night, and even Mrs. Ionarts, who had been keenly looking forward to seeing the show at last, was a little underwhelmed.

Although Hamilton premiered in 2015, in some ways it is a show tailor-made for the Trump Era. Not least because Hamilton, born in the Leeward Islands, is repeatedly identified as an immigrant. There is a satisfying resonance to seeing the show here in Washington, as the founding of the city is a key point in the story. The book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on the recent biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, cracks open American identity by reexamining the Revolutionary War through the lens of African-American experience. Actors of color portray the Revolutionary patriots, speaking and dancing in the vernacular of hip-hop and R&B. Audiences will learn about people like John Laurens, who like Hamilton was in favor of abolishing slavery in the new country they were trying to found. Miranda implies that Hamilton himself was of mixed race, through his mother, but the historical evidence to prove that is lacking.

The cast put together for the Kennedy Center was generally good, although the evening still felt a little tight, with some more seasoning through the run likely to smooth things out later. Austin Scott, tall and with the angry manner reminiscent of Keegan-Michael Key's character Luther, was solid in the title role, as were Nicholas Christopher's conniving Aaron Burr and Julia K. Harriman's angelic Eliza Schuyler. Both halves of the show get bogged down in some longueurs, adding up to a long run time of almost three hours. The most obvious place to cut is the character of Angelica Schuyler, not because of the confident portrayal here by Sabrina Sloan. Hamilton's semi-infidelity with his wife's sister seems superfluous because of the dramatic importance of Hamilton's actual affair with Maria Reynolds. In the current climate more than ever, in any case, the idea of a sex scandal obviating a politician's rise to the presidency is risible.

Miranda's style is wordy and lightning-fast, meaning that it is not always easy to keep up with the pace of the show. Characters and plot developments move by at a breathless pace. As is generally true when musicals come to the Opera House, the amplification made me cover my ears at the loudest moments. Amplification always destroys the natural effect of theater to my ears, since the sound of the characters does not come from their location on the stage. I will never get used to it, but I appear to be in the minority on this issue. The musical numbers with melodies are pleasing and beautiful, with the best one given to America's jilted lover, King George III, heard in three slightly different forms. That is a catchy tune.

Hamilton runs through September 16 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

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