REVIEW: ‘Hamilton’ in Portland at Keller Auditorium

There’s something haunted to watch hamilton in 2022. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer hit on the life and times of America’s first Treasury secretary is only seven years old, but it carries the obvious specter of Obama-era optimism that has gives birth. (Playwright Ishmael Reed has been saying as much since at least 2019, when his scathing one-act The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda created in New York.) The show’s North American tour arrived in Portland on April 13, and it will hold Keller Auditorium for the rest of the month in a nearly sold-out run. You probably already know if you will be there.

Indeed, there is perhaps no act more Sisyphean than writing a review of the musical. hamilton in 2022 – the idea that anyone could be agnostic at this point is about as crazy as asking a stranger point-blank if they “love Adele”. But away from the searing hype of seven years ago (and two administrations), it’s easier than ever to time the show for what it is: an overloaded and sometimes brilliant reading report from the precocious child in the class. And it’s instructive to consider which of these attributes helped it achieve cultural juggernaut status.

In case you are unfamiliar: hamilton spans from 1776 to the turn of the 19and century, following young upstart Alexander Hamilton (played by Julius Thomas III) and his eternally frenemy Aaron Burr (Donald Webber, Jr.) as they love, lose, and mingle with a host of American revolutionaries. The score and the cast are the key words: it’s a white lily story told by a company of color, rapping and singing Broadway R&B as they piece together a fledgling nation.

hamilton is nothing if not studious. Miranda’s score is full of historical detail and bookish witticisms that millions of literals now wield like cultural memory cards; names like Marquis de Lafayette and Angelica Schuyler have entered the popular lexicon almost exclusively on the back of this musical. But the problem with this studious is the way she rubs up against Miranda’s instincts for drama on a human scale. hamilton eventually covers too much ground in its frenetic two and a half hours, and the sporadic infusions of genuine passion (like “Burn,” Eliza Schuyler’s despised power ballad, or Aaron Burr’s R&B manifesto “Wait for It”) end jostling for space among the overly clever Wikipedia summaries that form the show’s connective tissue.

In the end, for all of its staggering rhymes (many of which pass so quickly you might miss them if you haven’t studied beforehand), hamilton fails to define some basic necessities. We never learn Why we should care about Alexander Hamilton, in particular – Miranda just assumes we’ll adore him for his ambition – and despite his superficial subversions, we are rarely encouraged to think critically about the American institutions being built before our eyes. It’s a show that knows better than to portray white men as our “Founding Fathers,” but not enough to assume that those men had any more significant flaws than a penchant for upward social mobility or a slight touch of society. adultery. The few mentions of slavery pass without too many incidents. In 2015, it was easier to take for granted an audience’s core belief in the American experience; in the harsh light of 2022, catchphrases like “Immigrants: we do the job!” seems unbearably easy.

Now, national tours exist to bring musicals to the crevices of the country they might not otherwise reach. Theatergoers, especially young people, who have lived and died through the hamilton the cast record will rightly be thrilled at the opportunity to see it in the flesh without having to pay a New York travel bill. And as showcased in Portland, there are sparks of real magic: Paris Nix is ​​a hoot that doubles as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, and Marja Harmon’s Angelica Schuyler is sharp and charismatic (with pipes reminiscent of an Idina Menzel huskier ). But there’s undeniably something grievous about the price audiences will have to pay to get in: the premier orchestra seats, which typically sell for around $120 at one of Keller’s Broadway Across America engagements, cost $400 for hamilton. (There’s the ultra-competitive lottery, of course, which offers a few lucky $10 tickets every night.)

Perhaps this price partly explains the atmosphere of determined fun in the room. At the performance I attended, the show’s opening lyrics were drowned out by the kind of deafening applause you might expect at a Lady Gaga concert, and the opening melodies were hummed by dozens of audience members who might as well have been at home watching it all unfold on Disney+. Sometimes the evening felt more like hamilton karaoke than a full-blown theatrical production, and it was often difficult to tell whether audiences were more moved by the quality of the material before them or by the thrill of recognition.

The location didn’t help. At New York, hamilton takes place at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which seats approximately 1,300 people; a sold-out party at the Keller, by contrast, contains nearly 3,000 bodies. The space is such a cavern that it overshadows its own proscenium, making even some of the $400 seats feel miles away from the action. This distance sometimes makes the stage register look like a giant screen and encourages a mummified engagement where the public and the actors exchange nothing approaching raw energy.

However, as distant as it is, the production is also very competent: it retains the evocative lighting of the Broadway production, and only Rick Negron’s King George stands out as a real weak link in the casting (he only succeeds fail to properly unearth the comic riches of its UK pop stock). -and-bark numbers). Songs like “The World Was Wide Enough” and “The Room Where It Happens” retain their virtuosic punch, even as others get lost in muddy blockage. If you wait hamiltonyou will have hamiltonand I don’t blame you.

Don’t be surprised if you squirm a bit in your seat and find yourself experiencing a tongue-in-cheek illustration of one of the show’s central themes: you might break your back getting into the room where this is happening. , but its content is rarely as satisfying as you would hope.


7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday-May 1, Keller Auditorium, $65-400

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