Review: 'Hamilton' in Chicago is a Must-See

It has been less than 48 hours since the curtain fell on the Chicago cast of “Hamilton”, and the last bars of “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” still ring in my ears. Walking to class today, I had the urge to belt out the chorus from “The Room Where It Happens.” I think it’s safe to say that I’m suffering from Hamilaria.

My mom and I bought two tickets for the Chicago production to celebrate my nineteenth birthday, and needless to say it was the best birthday present I’ve ever received. I jumped on the “Hamilton” bandwagon relatively late. I watched a 60 Minutes segment on Lin-Manuel Miranda and the creative process behind “Hamilton” that aired before the 70th Annual Tony Awards in June. “Hamilton” won 11 Tony awards that night, including Best Musical.

When “Hamilton” gained popularity in Fall 2015, I ignored it and wrote it off as another “Book of Mormon”: it would gain popularity and respect in the Broadway community and have a short period of national fame, but eventually fade to the background. But if you listen to even just one song, you’ll understand why “Hamilton” will be sticking around in the spotlight for a while.

As someone who listened to the original Broadway cast recording non-stop for months, read the accompanying book and closely followed the development of the production in Chicago, I thought I had a clear picture in my mind of what the production would look like. The Chicago cast shattered that clear picture and surpassed all expectations I had.

It’s unfair to compare the Chicago cast to the original Broadway cast because both casts are made up of widely different personalities and musical backgrounds. It’s clear from the first time Alexander Hamilton (Miguel Cervantes), steps onstage that it will be a vastly different show from the New York. Cervantes plays Hamilton as reserved and anxious, as opposed to Miranda’s insecure but urgent portrayal. I saw this portrayal to be more honest and tragic when the audience witnesses Hamilton’s downfall. While Hamilton doesn’t have many lyrics that aren’t rapped or spoken, the musicality of Cervante’s voice is evident from his first line in the opening song of act one, something that I believe was missing from the original Broadway production.

The Schuyler sisters, Eliza (Ari Afsar), Angelica (Karen Olivo) and Peggy (Samantha Marie Ware), commanded the stage during the first act. My eyes were constantly darting between the three women; afraid I would miss a facial expression or interaction between the three. Olivo’s Angelica demanded attention from the moment she stepped onstage with a confident walk and aloof attitude when talking to Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry) in “The Schuyler Sisters.” Angelica comes back later in the second act, but her strong performance in the first act left me wanting to see more of her onstage.

While the story may be all about Alexander Hamilton, the actors playing Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry) and Thomas Jefferson (Chris De'Sean Lee) steal the spotlight. Burr is onstage for the majority of the show, and what Henry does well is he allows his character to fade to the background. There were moments over the course of the show when I would look to the members of the ensemble and see Henry among them, watching the scene in front of him unfold. During his showstopper in act two, “The Room Where It Happens,” Henry gets to show off his powerful voice and ability to transform Burr from a quiet and composed politician into a driven mad-man.

Unlike Burr, Thomas Jefferson takes charge of the stage the moment he enters and makes it known that it’s all about him, all the time. De’Sean Lee played up the elitist attitude of Jefferson, he blew kisses to women in the front row and motioned the audience to increase their applause when he first entered. His silly interactions with the audience and child-like interactions with other actors on stage added levity to an otherwise dark second act. De’Sean Lee, who just finished his junior year of college, acts much older and seems at home on stage.

The true stars of the show were the ensemble. Made up of eleven talented men and women, they are the standout storytellers of this production. The complicated choreography used to mimic everything from a bustling shipyard to an intense battle against the British, was performed effortlessly. I found myself more focused on what the ensemble was doing than what was happening in the plot. 

This was a night that I will truly never forget and I am so fortunate to have had this exposure to such an incredible show. If you have a chance, try to score tickets while it's in Chicago. No matter where you sit in the house, it will be a show that you will not be able to forget for the rest of your life. 

*All photos of the Hamilton Chicago Cast are from the Broadway in Chicago Facebook page*