COLUMBUS, Ohio >> As its third song, "My Shot," declares, "Hamilton" is "young, scrappy and hungry."
And that's as true of the touring production hitting Detroit's Fisher Theatre this week as it is of any others, including Broadway and Chicago.
The idea of taking "Hamilton" on the road could well be daunting after the musical's unprecedented success on Broadway, including a bona fide heap of you-name-it awards both here and abroad. Lin-Manuel Miranda's telling of one man's experience in the birth of a nation is a unique theater piece and a generational work, and it's easy to wonder if it loses something when it goes mobile.
The Angelica Cast, one of two companies touring North America, pushes any of those concerns aside. Caught during its run last month at the Ohio Theatre, the production lives up to all of the hype "Hamilton's" enormous success has generated, serving Miranda's provocative vision with the fresh and inventive energy — and swagger — that his songs and script have not lost during the four years since it debuted Off- and then on Broadway.
What often gets lost in "Hamilton" discourse is that it is at its heart traditional musical. It tells a layered story that infuses heart into history, with romance, rivalries and redemption fleshing out the figures we're familiar with from textbooks and paper currency. But it does tell that story differently, from the contemporary hip-hop and urban pop touches of the songs to the sheer impact of actors of color playing the likes of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, which adds a thoughtful additional dimension to "Hamilton's" discourses about class, liberty, economics, revolution, war and country building.
The wooden, multilevel stage set has become familiar through so many media appearances, but it's the actors who sell the story. And, as any Hamiltonheads know, it's not just about Edred Utomi, although he ably captures the lead character's journey from ambitious orphaned youth to assertive and headstrong shaper of a new nation. The musical's other roles are key in their own right, particularly Hamilton's chief rival, Burr, played with the right mix of ardor and angst by Josh Tower. Paul Oakley Stovall delivers Washington with formidable authority from the stage, Hannah Cruz (Eliza Hamilton) and Stephanie Umoh (Angelica Schuyler) bolster their roles with a contemporary strength not usually associated with colonial times.
Bryson Bruce, meanwhile, switches deftly between ally Marquis de Lafayette and the more problematic (at least for Hamilton) Jefferson. His rap clashes with Utomi's Hamilton early in the second act are as fierce as anything in "8 Mile." Peter Matthew Smith's turns as England's King George are there to provide comic relief to the musical's mostly serious demeanor, and the ensemble keeps things flowing, particularly during the scenes leading up to and during the Revolutionary War.
All told, the Angelica Cast makes "Hamilton" a rich immersion into a legendary but too often academic time in our history. We're fortunate that the stage world is, as another song says, wide enough to give this kind of production a home.
"Hamilton: An American Musical" shows March 12-April 21 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are available on a limited basis. A lottery for 40 $10 tickets will take place two days before each performance. 313-872-1000, broadwayindetroit.com or hamiltonmusical.com.
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