Let’s not mince words, since we’ve already spilled so many of them: Hamilton, writer-composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s biography of Alexander Hamilton as refracted through a hip-hop, pop and R&B lens, is a sprawling, stunning, singular achievement. By filtering the story of the American Experiment’s beginning into modern, meticulously rhymed vernacular and populating the stage with performers of color to play the likes of Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson and Madison, Miranda and his regular collaborators (director Thomas Kail, music supervisor Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler) make the founding fathers feel fresh and, miraculously, human.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Hamilton Chicago
Weeks out from the country’s naming its 45th president, Hamilton’s new Chicago company arrives to remind us our democracy has always been messy, political, personal, and worth fighting for. Kail and Blankenbuehler fill designer David Korins’s spare set—which suggests that, like the country, it’s still under construction—with movement as thrilling and dense as Miranda’s lyrics. (The few moments of stillness are also used to great counter effect.)
The nearly all-new Chicago cast (ensemble member Emmy Raver-Lampman is the sole transfer) easily lives up to the originals while finding their own new moments and shades. Miguel Cervantes is a rather more grounded Hamilton than the more frenetic Miranda, who originated the role, but Cervantes conveys the man’s vital, fatal drive just as clearly. As Eliza Hamilton, Ari Afsar doesn’t yet have the open-faced emotionality that Phillipa Soo brought to the role, but she earns our empathy; as her sister, Angelica Schuyler, Tony winner Karen Olivo imparts fierce intelligence (and, unsurprisingly, sings the hell out of “Satisfied”).
Chris De’Sean Lee brings a youthful, preening energy to the showy dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, while Wallace Smith gives Hercules Mulligan and James Madison an appealing understatedness. Both actors feel like discoveries—as does Chicago native José Ramos, whose highly charismatic double turn as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton should be a head-turner.
Of course, anyone who’s read the Ron Chernow biography from which Miranda took inspiration (or most any decent U.S. history textbook) knows the ending already—Hamilton dies in a duel with then–Vice President Aaron Burr, a longtime rival cast by Miranda as the show’s quasi-narrator. Joshua Henry, a two-time Tony nominee for Violet and The Scottsboro Boys, imbues Burr with all the intensity of his predecessor, Leslie Odom Jr., but with a different, more disarming kind of magnetism to his mien. It’s one winning performance in a full set of them for this Chicago production that’s every bit the equal of the Broadway iteration—one that was absolutely worth being willing to wait for it.
The PrivateBank Theatre. Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Directed by Thomas Kail. With Miguel Cervantes, Joshua Henry, Karen Olivo, Ari Afsar, Jonathan Kirkland, Chris De’Sean Lee, José Ramos, Wallace Smith, Samantha Marie Ware, Alex Gemignani. Running time: 2hrs 50mins; one intermission.