Big shoes to fill

Even on an off night, ‘Hamilton’ is an inspired show

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Hamilton Orpheum Theatre Cast Michael Luwoye, Joshua Henry, and Rory O’Malley, Rubén J. Carbajal as John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton; Jordan Donica as Marquis De Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Amber Iman as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Isaiah Johnson as George Washington; Solea Pfeiffer as Eliza Hamilton; Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica Schuyler; and Mathenee Treco as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Ryan Alvarado, Raymond Baynard, Amanda Braun, Daniel Ching, Karli Dinardo, Jeffery Duffy, Jennifer Geller, Jacob Guzman, Julia Harriman, Afra Hines, Sabrina Imamura, Lauren Kias, Yvette Lu, Desmond Newson, Desmond Nunn, Josh Andrés Rivera, Raven Thomas, Ryan Vasquez, Keenan D. Washington, and Andrew Wojtal.
Joan Marcus

Theater lovers anywhere outside of New York City must cultivate one similar trait: patience. When a new show opens on Broadway, unless you buy a ticket to the Great White Way, fans of the stage know they will have to patiently wait until the show makes its way out to them.

Luckily, Denver is blessed with a thriving theater scene, meaning shows make tour stops in the city not long after they debut. The latest show to come to Denver is the smash hit Hamilton, playing at the Buell Theatre through April 1. Tickets sold out for its five-week run within hours of going on sale. As the 9,978th member in line, I was lucky enough to secure tickets, an opportunity for which I had been waiting for three years.

I heard about Hamilton as many millennials hear about things these days, in a listicle on Buzzfeed with a number of “reasons why the show will be your new obsession.” After one listen to the soundtrack, then a few dozen more, I was hooked. But my love for Hamilton transcended myself; it was news I had to share with everyone. So friends, family, coworkers and strangers endured endless hours of me explaining just why this show was so great.

A cornucopia of stories have been published on the history and brilliance of Hamilton. But for those uninitiated, the musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the other founding fathers during the American Revolution. The story follows Hamilton from his humble beginnings in the Caribbean, to immigrating to America and eventually becoming the nation’s first treasury secretary, all the way to his death at the hand of then-Vice President Aaron Burr.

The story is told using hip-hop and rap and provides a fresh approach to retelling history. Moreover, show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda cast a multi-ethnic group of actors to tell the story — as he told The Atlantic, “This is a story about America then, told by America now.”

The list of reasons that Hamilton garnered so much success is long and substantial, but it boils down to a stunning soundtrack, wonderful actors, provocative staging and boundless creativity.

So after so much waiting and anticipation, I attended the March 1 show in Denver and was left disappointed.

Miranda and crew provided an impeccable blueprint for following productions, so while all of the show’s fixed elements — music, lyrics, costumes, stage design, choreography — were wonderful, the biggest frustration of the night was the cast.

The original Broadway production boasted an especially talented company, receiving seven Tony nominations for acting and wins in three major categories. While I acknowledge that the show left some big shoes for subsequent casts to fill, it was disheartening to see such a drop in quality.

Perhaps the biggest let-down was the performance of the titular role. Understudy Ryan Alvarado seemed disconnected from the show. The character of Hamilton is multi-faceted and passionate — many songs tell of his intensity, his non-stop nature and unsatisfiable zeal. But Alvarado didn’t deliver an interpretation that demonstrated these vital character traits. Whether singing the spirited “My Shot,” the angry “Meet Me Inside,” the lullaby “Dear Theodosia” or the determined “Hurricane,” Alvarado stayed in a limited emotional range, undercutting the power of the songs.

Other lead roles left something to be desired as well. Nicholas Christopher (Aaron Burr) and Sabrina Sloan (Angelica Schuyler) delivered performances that were inconsistent and lacking that extra sparkle. This was sad to watch, especially with such incredible source material like Burr’s “Wait for It” and Angelica’s “Satisfied.”

Watching the cast, I felt like a director watching a rehearsal, wanting to stop the production and tell the actors, “OK, now do it one more time with feeling.”

What saved the show were the secondary characters. Chris Lee, playing Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, gave excellent presentations. Lee made the characters his own — the goal of any new portrayal. By his side, Mathenee Treco (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison) and Desmond Newson (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) also delivered entertaining appearances full of humor, emotion and gusto.

The brilliance of Hamilton transcends the lows of its individual performances. By the time Hamilton delivers his final monologue, it’s almost impossible not to be moved, evidenced by my own sobs and the ones heard around me. The show is packed with such splendor that its overall majesty wins every time.

I’m disappointed that I can’t unabashedly gush when asked about the show, but overall, I’m grateful to have seen a show that has moved me for so long. Just as an off night for one of your favorite bands can’t spoil your love for them, I will continue to love Hamilton. In the meantime, I’ll wait patiently for my next opportunity to see the show.