'Hamilton' Review: Brilliant score, strong acting stand out amid history, politics

Theatergoers wait in line at the Ohio Theatre for the opening night of "Hamilton." The Broadway In Columbus musical runs through Oct. 23.
Theatergoers wait in line at the Ohio Theatre for the opening night of "Hamilton." The Broadway In Columbus musical runs through Oct. 23.

At long last, “Hamilton” is back in town.

The ground-breaking musical, most notable for its novel use of rap music and for casting people of color in the roles of the Founding Fathers and their significant others, was first performed on Broadway to rapturous reviews in 2017, and last performed in Columbus in a touring production in 2019.

Since then, its reputation has ebbed and flowed, reaching a low with the #cancelhamilton movement a couple years ago, where many pointed out that Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical ignored the actual people of color who inhabited the United States during the country's foundational years.

So where does “Hamilton” stand now? Probably right where it should always have been, not as a political statement or a historical document, but simply as a musical, flawed but exhilarating, possibly overstuffed but with energy to spare, overflowing with music of all sorts, from the rap that gave it its fame to traditional show tunes and not-so-traditional pop ones.

Eric Rutkowski watches as Emily Kurz poses in front of a "Hamilton" banner inside the Ohio Theatre during the show's opening night.
Eric Rutkowski watches as Emily Kurz poses in front of a "Hamilton" banner inside the Ohio Theatre during the show's opening night.

The musical follows the eventful life of Alexander Hamilton (Edred Utomi) from his years growing up as an orphan in the Caribbean through his role in the American Revolution and the young United States on to his final duel with his long-time frenemy Aaron Burr (Josh Tower).

Hamilton may be the title character, but this is a true ensemble piece, with multiple characters jostling for the spotlight, just as they jostle for political power.

Even at almost three hours, and with musical numbers that tumble from one to the next at breakneck speed, there's too much historical explication going on here to allow for much in the way of character development. As one battle or administration after another is summarized in what might be considered a version of "Schoolhouse Rap," the characters are limited to a couple of characteristics apiece, none of which change radically over the decades of the show's timeframe.

In Hamilton's case, those characteristics are ambition, brains and insecurity. Utomi vacillates between them with quicksilver grace, making a neat foil for Tower's coiled, intense Burr, whose soliloquies elicit the audience's sympathy.

Paul Oakley Stovall as George Washington has a big voice and magisterial presence that embodies the power the other characters long for, and David Park's preening Thomas Jefferson is equal parts obnoxious and annoyingly charming.

Matt Moore and Lindsey Thieken of German Village take a photo as visitors wait in line to get into the Ohio Theatre for the opening night of "Hamilton."
Matt Moore and Lindsey Thieken of German Village take a photo as visitors wait in line to get into the Ohio Theatre for the opening night of "Hamilton."

Peter Matthew Smith, in a part short in time but long on audience appeal, makes the most of the comic relief offered by the sardonic songs of King George.

And then, there are the women, who are uniformly self-sacrificing, unambitious and hot for Hamilton. It helps that Hamilton's wife Eliza (played by Kendyl Sayuri Yokoyama) and sister-in-law Angelica (Stephanie Umoh) get some of the musical's most memorable songs (“Burn,” “Satisfied'), but it may not help enough to make them fully dimensional characters.

The musical is staged on a multi-level set, the most prominent feature of which is a turntable, put to ravishing use particularly in scenes like the two versions of the dance where Hamilton meets the Schuyler sisters. For better or worse, the members of the ensemble are in constant, tumultuous motion: There's often too much going on at any given moment for an audience member to take in.

While long-time Hamil-fans will flock to the musical, it's not just for them. While its rapid-fire rap, high word-per-minute count and dense historical content might intimidate some potential theatergoers, with its heightened emotions and dynamic song and dance, it's an immersive experience worth diving into whether you remember that high school history class or not.

Broadway in Columbus and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts will present “Hamilton” at various times through Oct. 23, at the Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St. Tickets start at $39. Visit cbusarts.com for more details.

margaretquamme@hotmail.com

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 'Hamilton' brings energetic cast, impressive music to Ohio Theatre