4 Young Critics Put New Eyes and Fresh Perspectives On 'Hamilton'

Jun 17, 2022 at 12:52 pm
Stephanie Jae Park and Pierre Jean Gonzalez  in  "Hamilton."  |  Photo by Joan Marcus.
Stephanie Jae Park and Pierre Jean Gonzalez in "Hamilton." | Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Hamilton” uplifted the trajectory of storytelling on Broadway and then the pandemic has changed so much about how we interact with each other and the arts. Broadway and other arts closed its doors for a time. Now, doors to the arts have reopened and the run of “Hamilton” via PNC Broadway in Louisville at Kentucky Performing Arts has been a welcome event — especially for Arts Angle Vantage and the young critics here who saw the June 8 performance. 

At this juncture, Arts Angle Vantage places more value on helping elevate youth voices and the arts. These reviews from youth around the region are just one of our actions to fulfill that value.

Some had seen the film on Disney+. Others saw it on tour here in 2019 or during its long run in Chicago. One of our reviewers had seen productions here, in Chicago, in New York, and in Puerto Rico.

Time and again, Arts Angle Vantage and the participants are grateful to PNC Broadway in Louisville and to LEO Weekly Arts & Entertainment Editor Erica Rucker and Editor Scott Recker, who practice the values of collaborative journalism and bring the community these young critics’ work. 

— Melissa Chipman and Elizabeth Kramer

The music, drama in the adapted story of ”Hamilton” works to satisfy a curiosity in history, craving for entertainment, quest for fun

click to enlarge Don’Tia Almon.
Don’Tia Almon.

By Don’Tia Almon | Art Angle Vantage Reporter

Iroquois High School, Class of 2023

For all history buffs and music enthusiasts, PNC Broadway in Louisville’s “Hamilton” last Wednesday left this viewer wanting to be in the room where it happens. Despite its many nods to contemporary culture — such as twerking or even the color-conscious casting that the founding fathers wouldn’t recognize — “Hamilton” adds up to fun. It also does this while extolling history, even for those dragged to the theatre against their will. 

Something very interesting is how the cast and ensemble portrayed the bad blood between Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and Burr (Jared Dixon). Different lighting was used to show emotion, one could even hear the tones of the actors change during the face-off in “Your Obedient Servant.” Gonzalez and Dixon’s voices matched each other perfectly and brought such great depth to the characters.

Many parents are left suspicious by today’s trends, especially when it keeps kids from their studies. Rap music and suggestive dance moves are usually frowned upon. If music and dance are merged to encourage academia, perhaps parents would be more lenient.

Within “Hamilton,” students can learn about the founding fathers of the nation, America. The audience is introduced to the concept of building a slow burn of a democracy, persuasion, and corruption.

In “History Has Its Eyes on You,” George Washington (Marcus Choi) confides that he led his men into a massacre at a young age. This is a nod to the French and Indian War where Washington caught the attention of future generations from there on until he died. In the second act, he mentions history having its eyes on him and anyone important as he steps down from being president. In “One Last Time,” Washington (Choi) talks about setting precedents in letting go of the power of the presidency which he also did in history. 

Throughout the show, Choi gave an extremely heart-wrenching performance. During his solos, the power in his voice reached out and essentially won sympathy for his character. Some might even cry during “One Last Time,” as Choi’s portrayal expanded on the lyrics, illustrating the general’s feelings as he stepped down from his presidency. 

Another huge point in history was the infamous affair between Hamilton (Gonzalez) and Maria Reynolds (Paige Smallwood). In the history books, James Reynolds, her husband, asked for two large loans and many smaller loans until Alexander and Maria ended their affair. Hamilton did in fact write about his adventures with the married woman to the public as he did in “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” also the subject and title of a song Gonzalez, Dixon, and other cast members sing.

The show is also full of comedy. It has changed a bit from the filmed production on Disney+ — which is probably for the best. In the reprise of “The Story of Tonight,” the choreography to the line “To the newly not poor of us!” changes from suggestive hip swings to the infamous Beyonce “Single Ladies” hand flip. This could be seen as a reach to the younger generations to connect and draw them in.

Not only can the production be an acceptable way to get an intake of America’s history but can be flexible and shaped into a way for the family to have a nice night out. 

This specific production even goes to show that despite one mistake, with a good cast, you can move on and have fun. In the beginning, there was a bit of a false start with what seemed to be a miscue after the curtain. (The audience can only assume that there was a problem with the tech or Dixon as Burr just missed his start.) But the cast restarted and made up for it with their amazing vocals and choreography. 

“Hamilton” has something for the parents that aren’t interested in the music or even the historical aspect. Moms have the romance between Alexander (Gonzalez), Angelica (Ta’Rea Campbell), Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park), and Maria (Smallwood). Dads have war and action that occurs during the revolutionary period of the musical. Overall, “Hamilton” is a wonderful experience for everyone no matter age or interests, audiences should be truly satisfied with the show. 

Don’Tia Almon, a junior at Iroquois High School, leads the Harry Potter Club and has classes including cinematography, guitar, and A2C English. They founded a school-based group where lowerclassmen can get academic assistance and process their feelings and fears. They also participated in Arts Angle Vantage to review "Mean Girls."

Pierre Jean Gonzalez and Marcus Choi in "Hamilton."  |  Photo by Joan Marcus. - Joan Marcus
Joan Marcus
Pierre Jean Gonzalez and Marcus Choi in "Hamilton." | Photo by Joan Marcus.

Authentic portrayals deepened via powerful relationships underscore a poignant production of “Hamilton”

click to enlarge Phoebe Haverstick.
Phoebe Haverstick.

By Phoebe Haverstick | Art Angle Vantage Reporter

duPont Manual, Class of 2023

“History has its eyes on you” is a lyric so influential most people know whether or not they've had the opportunity to see the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” The musical reflects this as it grows its audience and has changed the status quo of what an American musical is — and what a musical has the ability to be. 

Last Wednesday at Kentucky Performing Arts Whitney Hall just after curtain, a quickly darkening theater held the promise of something incredible. Whether or not “Hamilton” would live up to its large reputation was yet to be seen. The stage was set, the music began, and excitement filled the theater. A simple “Lights up” started one of the most influential musicals ever to grace Broadway. But “Hamilton” is anything but simple.

What stands out in “Hamilton” are the relationships. Director Thomas Kail focuses intently on creating the environment of the play through the relationships between characters. From the largest roles to the smallest ensemble characters, every movement and word is methodical but feels genuine. John Laurens (Nick Sanchez) and Hercules Mulligan (Desmond Sean Ellington) have a distinct relationship with each other that isn't particularly necessary to the historic storytelling, but crucial to the show’s environment. This personal relationship forces the audience to relate to the characters as they struggle throughout different events in their lives. For instance, the boyish jokes create humor during the bachelor party scenes to make relatable characters while also continuing the timeline of the story. Similarly, the captivating relationship between Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and his wife Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park) feels real and authentic. Specifically, when Eliza and Hamilton become astray after his affair, Eliza comes to terms with betrayal and grief. These aspects make it easy to see the attention to detail Kail paid to even the smallest of scenes, making “Hamilton” such an influential show.

The detail extends to applying music to storytelling and history. Here, hip hop creates a space where history and humor can thrive together. Although some critics have voiced doubts about the ability of rap to act as a historical mouthpiece, here it just works. The different rap styles in “Hamilton” take liberties with the tempos and rhythms and make way for easily discussing more complex and difficult topics. During the rap battle in the song “Cabinet Battle #1.” George Washington (Marcus Choi) acts as a referee of the contest between Jefferson (Warren Egypt Franklin) and Hamilton during the continental congress's meeting. Washington's announcement, “... are you ready for a cabinet meeting, huh?” solicits a reaction of roaring screams and claps from the audience. The hip-hop song with its perfect mix of humor and history showcases Jefferson's conservative fear of big government and Hamilton's more liberal approach to finances as the two battle it out by throwing out humorous sarcasm laced with clever insults. 

In each song, “Hamilton” exemplifies topics such as early colonial politics, grief, the effect of striving to leave a legacy, and even lust as it shows its characters struggling with all of these. Throughout, politics is the underlying theme, directing every character’s course of action and even deciding the fate of some. John Laurens fought to end slavery. Because of his politics and voice, Hamilton, Mulligan, and Lafayette ended up mourning his death halfway through the musical. 

Fatherhood is also a large theme as it drives Hamilton to be something bigger than what his father was and create a legacy through his son. The song “Dear Theodosia,” widely considered to be Hamilton’s tear-jerker, was beautifully executed by the cast. The song had a palpable effect as tension among the audience grew with a sense that an interruption was coming to this lullaby. “Dear Theodosia” is intimate, personal and a lovely tribute that allows the audience to see a different side of the founders’ personalities. Here actors Gonzalez and Jared Dixon as Aaron Burr expertly enthrall. Watching the drama of Hamilton's scandal, you find yourself on the edge of your seat watching Hamilton betray not only Eliza but his entire family. 

The casting of “Hamilton” works to make sure Broadway knows that this revolution, as a lyric from Hamilton implies, “is not a moment, but a movement.” The emotions represented by all of the characters are authentic, and real, and force reactions from everyone in the audience to the point that each viewer feels like they themself, are a part of this amazing story. The musical's imprint on Broadway musicals as a whole is impossible to ignore as it has revolutionized casting to include all people no matter their race, gender, or sexuality. 

Through authenticity and a unique environment, “Hamilton” creates a different approach to Broadway and a legacy of its own. I ended Wednesday thinking about the zeitgeist of “Hamilton” bringing a more diverse cast to the stage and a diverse audience to the seats. “Hamilton” is the start of something magnificent. While “history has its eyes on” “Hamilton,” I wonder will what follows, live up to “Hamilton.” Will this musical truly be, as one of its lyrics state, “not a moment, but a movement”?

Phoebe Haverstick is a rising senior at duPont Manual/Youth Performing Arts School and a student in the creative writing cohort of the 2022 Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. As a theater technician, they have stage-managed multiple high school productions including an entirely student-produced “New Works 2022.”

Stephanie Jae Park in "Hamilton."  |  Photo by Joan Marcus. - Joan Marcus.
Joan Marcus.
Stephanie Jae Park in "Hamilton." | Photo by Joan Marcus.

Just like a nation, success of “Hamilton” comes from a strong, inclusive ensemble, in evidence by the recent Louisville performance

click to enlarge Abigail Knoop.
Abigail Knoop.

By Abigail Knoop | Arts Angle Vantage Reporter

New Albany High School, Class of 2022

Sitting in the “Room Where It Happens” during last Wednesday’s touring production of “Hamilton” in the Kentucky Performing Arts Whitney Hall, I could clearly see how the musical reflects America.

"Hamilton," which premiered on Broadway in 2015, is now running here through June 19.

I’m no stranger to “Hamilton”, having seen various productions since 2017. I’m a huge fan. Before previous performances, I did research on the cast and at times became absolutely obsessed with one cast member in particular. This time, I decided to go into it with a non-biased outlook and it made the experience worthwhile. 

The ensemble is what makes a musical as a whole — not one star or one character. They more than proved it time and time again. 

And the inclusivity of this ensemble reflects the ideals of America, in an odd way. How the ensemble (us, the American public) and its many main characters (the government) sort of revolve around each other and need each other to keep moving. Without the ensemble, this show would be awkward. Without the main characters, the show wouldn’t make sense at all.

The ensemble is almost omnipresent — on stage in nearly every scene either dancing, singing, or acting as a metaphorical bullet. That bullet isn’t specified in the cast list but is played by an ensemble member who appears throughout the show each time death is mentioned surrounding Hamilton.  Performers close-by interestingly transform into named characters that aren’t in every scene. They identify their new selves simply by switching jackets or putting on a hat. A good example of this was ensemble member Marcus John who played Philip Schuyler, James Reynolds, and a doctor. All came into being just with a change of costume. 

With the music sung by specific characters, I became awash in '90s R&B nostalgia, reminding me of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s confession that most songs were based on that era’s stars. I know that sounds crazy in a play written about a man from the 1700s. But the influence was absolutely there. 

During the opening number, I was hyper-focused on Jared Dixon and his new and fresh take on Aaron Burr compared to the other performances I’ve seen. Through the first act, he delivers quick moves and witty lines. I was constantly reminded of  Usher, with his smooth vocals. (It’s no surprise that Usher sang for Burr on the 2016 “Hamilton Mixtape.”)  Dixon’s Burr also displayed how annoyed he was from the very beginning with Hamilton’s actions, giving the whole play a different outlook in the best possible way. It was nice to see a little change to such a familiar show. 

Thomas Jefferson, played by Warren Egypt Franklin, had the entire audience in a fit of laughter — me included. The '90s came flooding back with his few references to The Notorious B.I.G. (“If you don’t know… now you know, Mr. President”) and his hilarious dance moves. 

What was missing was the chemistry between several actors throughout the performance. It pains me to say, but I wasn’t convinced Alexander Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and Eliza Hamilton (Stephanie Jae Park) even liked each other based on their interactions. Specifically, during their wedding, the chemistry between the two was a little awkward. Almost all of his scenes with Eliza felt like filler. On the other hand, his scenes with Burr seemed heartfelt, angry, and meaningful. 

Individually, however, Gonzalez and Park gave impressive performances. Gonzalez brought a fresh take (and a way deeper voice) to Hamilton’s character as well as charm. Park’s portrayal of Eliza was beautiful. 

Chemistry did take the cake when Lafayette (Warren Egypt Franklin), Mulligan (Desmond Sean Ellington), and Laurens (Nick Sanchez) came on stage. As they were all prancing around smacking each other's behinds and laughing during “The Story of Tonight Reprise,” I was in shambles and laughing so hard. 

This production proved to me that there is no character too small or no choice too bold when it comes to Broadway. I’ve seen four other casts in other cities and new casts continue to add new charisma to the familiar numbers all the while telling the same story Lin-Manuel so desperately wanted to share.

Abigail Knoop, a 2022 graduate of New Albany High School, was section editor for that school’s newspaper, The Blotter, and in numerous productions through NAHS Theatre Arts. She is planning to study Elementary Education and Journalism at Indiana University Southeast in the fall.

Photo by Joan Marcus. - Joan Marcus
Joan Marcus
Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Hamilton” production proves musical’s enduring testament to the power of love, loss, and memory in wake of a pandemic

click to enlarge Halle Shoaf.
Halle Shoaf.

By Halle Shoaf  | Art Angle Vantage Reporter

duPont Manual High School, Class of 2023

As cast members from “Hamilton” glide in an effortlessly coordinated waltz on stage, pendant lights hanging above flicker and glow, creating an atmosphere of warmth. High, vibrant vocals resonate strikingly conveying pain. Here, Angelica Schuyler (Ta’Rea Campbell) sings about her profound sacrifice — trading love with a good man in exchange for the happiness of her sister, Eliza, his bride. While seemingly inconsequential to the plot of “Hamilton,” the song “Satisfied” offers a window into an individual’s story. Without it, we could not know the lengths that people went to and the influences they had on the trajectory of Alexander Hamilton’s life. At this moment, I lean over and whisper to my father, “I’m glad we got to see this again.” 

The story that playwright, lyricist, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda weaves is a complex one. It is full of laughter and light, of grief, old and new — of human triumph. “Hamilton” is jam-packed with the themes of love, death, and memory. It evokes feelings similar to those upon observing Salvador Dalí’s landscape of melting clocks in “The Persistence of Memory:” Miranda’s Founding Fathers observed a world in need of change, much like Dalí’s desolate scenery. Seeing such great ambition on stage can’t help but affect the audience. After the musical’s smashing Broadway success, national tours were booked and a touring cast of “Hamilton” first visited Louisville in the summer of 2019. I was lucky enough to attend. Then the pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt. 

And attending a second time is worth it. “Hamilton'' is a star that doesn’t lose its luster. Instead, the musical has a new tone. The lyrics may be the same, but they connote different meanings. Themes of a new democracy in “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” and “History Has Its Eyes On You”  applies to the civil action in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. As George Washington (Marcus Choi) warns Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez), “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” the similarities strike me: the life expectancy for people of color during the time period of the musical and today is connected to the abuse of authoritative power. 

Even the staging of “Hamilton” remains memorable. Echoing booms of cannons in battle scenes and meticulous lighting put the audience front and center. Color theory subtly works into the new performances; Hamilton’s character is awash in hues of blue and purple in “Hurricane,” visually translating the analogy of a coming storm. A giant spotlight shines on King George III (Neil Haskell), contributing to the character’s self-importance.

Human experiences come alive on stage — good, bad, and ugly. Pierre Jean Gonzalez’s portrayal of Hamilton’s shift from confidence to hubris parallels Aaron Burr’s (Jared Dixon) shift from longing to jealousy. Both character arcs serve as warnings not to lose sight of the bigger picture. In “Burn,” Eliza Hamilton sings, “[I] have married an Icarus, he has flown too close to the sun.” And yet, you can’t help root for the men. Gonzalez’s magnetic energy in “My Shot” coupled with Dixon’s electrifying vocals in “The Room Where It Happens” speak for themselves.  

These words greatly influence Alexander Hamilton in the musical and inspire him to take to life with great fervor. Both his wife Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park) and political foe Aaron Burr ask him: “Why do you always write like you’re running out of time?” One can interpret Hamilton’s actions as an attempt to live his life fully, but I take from them a desperate desire to be remembered. 

Humans naturally fear the unknown, oblivion. We fear memories die with our loved ones, washing away our legacies like sidewalk chalk in heavy rain. We fear we will be lost in society’s and time’s grinding gears if we don’t accomplish anything meaningful. We fear accomplishing too little, too late and our lives melting away like Dalí’s clocks. The COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down. It irrevocably altered the way we conduct business and make decisions. It also caused so much grief — on a massive scale. Burr’s words put the lyrics put it simply in “Wait For It.” “Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and saints. It takes, and it takes, and it takes.” 

This lyric evokes the New York Times article “Those We’ve Lost," a digital database of obituaries of people who died due to COVID-19. It puts names and faces to the numbers. Every now and then, I check the site and scroll, attempting to remember when the dead’s loved ones are gone, too. But I have hope. The very existence of musicals such as “Hamilton” serves as a legacy for the famous but also the unnamed heroes who set the course for our history.

Halle Shoaf, a rising senior at duPont Manual High School, serves on the board of the TEDxManual club, an organization that provides a platform for young public speakers impassioned in bettering society. Her play, “Little Birds,” addressing LGBTQ+ perspectives in pre-WWII Germany, was selected by regional professionals and performed in the Youth Performing Arts School’s “New Works Festival.” Halle looks forward to new writing opportunities in the future.

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