Above: A tender moment surrounded by hip-hop, political debates, duels and war: Shoba Narayan and Joseph Morales in “Hamilton.”
Review by Michael Morain
It’s a shame the new show at the Des Moines Civic Center didn’t sneak into town unannounced, like Paul Revere, to catch us off guard. It could have under-promised and over-delivered.
Instead it marched in like the redcoats—”The British are coming! The British are coming!”—and threatened to blow us all away. With such fanfare, it’s fair to wonder if the show is a new take on “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
But let me tell you: The clothes are resplendent.
After the house lights dim, after all your Facebook friends post their #Hamilton selfies, after the first piano chords drop and the cast starts snapping and a spotlight catches the title character at center stage, the audience finally releases the pent-up applause they’ve been waiting to let loose ever since Des Moines Performing Arts announced more than two years ago that “Hamilton” was coming to town. And along with it: 65,000 ticket-buyers from 48 states and Guam. (Guam, people. Guam!)
So it’s fortunate the show is actually good, as well constructed and finely embroidered as the red satin waistcoat and breeches of King George III (played by His Ridiculous Highness Jon Patrick Walker).
The show is even greater than the sum of its great parts, all of which could stand alone. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words pack a punch on the printed page, as his Tony and Pulitzer honors attest. His hip-hop score is smart and catchy. The choreography would be fascinating even in silence. The costumes would be lovely on mannequins in a museum. The rotating set and dramatic lighting conjure everything from a hurricane to a cannon-blasted battle.
But it’s the actors who bring the story to life. Joseph Morales’ Hamilton has so much verve and swagger. Nik Walker’s Aaron Burr is sly and ambitious. Shoba Narayan and Ta’Rea Campbell’s Schuyler sisters are a force to be reckoned with, and Kyle Scatliffe’s flamboyant Thomas Jefferson tears up the stage like James Brown.
Over and over again, we see characters we studied in grade school jump out of their dusty textbooks and behave in relatable ways, with love and hope and grief and petty vengeance. Over and over again, we see infant America grapple with challenges that still trouble us in our country’s unruly adolescence or weary middle age—inequality, sexism, political dysfunction. On Thursday night, the line “Immigrants get the job done” sparked a quick burst of applause.
I could go on—as Hamilton himself surely would—but the world doesn’t need another “Hamilton” review. By this point, the number of glowing essays you can find online might outnumber even the Federalist Papers.
But I’ll add my voice to the national chorus. Like the man who inspired it, “Hamilton” promises big and delivers.
“Hamilton” runs through July 15 at the Des Moines Civic Center, and some tickets are still up for grabs—either at face value or through a $10 daily lottery. dmpa.org
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