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Helpless for ‘Hamilton’

Musical smashes all expectations, receives high praise

Popular rap-musical 'Hamilton' is playing at the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago. The show is in high demand with planned performances almost every day throughout 2017. Photo courtesy of Francesco Fuentes.

Popular rap-musical 'Hamilton' is playing at the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago. The show is in high demand with planned performances almost every day throughout 2017. Photo courtesy of Francesco Fuentes.

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It seemed like a dream — not many people get to see this show. Seeing the live musical was too good to be true, and I still don’t believe it really happened.

Friday, April 7 at the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago, I was blessed to attend a showing of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” and it was everything I wanted and more.

This show is amazing in every aspect. Avid “Hamilton” soundtrack fans know the score is emotionally powerful but still fun. They know the cast has incredible talent, even if they’ve never seen the show.

I don’t know if any other show has the power to write its songs upon the heart without seeing it. What I can say is watching it in person lives up to every hope and dream.

As a former sound technician, I can confirm the acoustics and sound work are perfect in the PrivateBank Theatre, even from the balcony. The Chicago cast does pretty faithful renditions of the soundtrack and idolized characters.

The set of concentric, motorized turntables in the stage make for dramatic and exciting blocking. The presence of various characters and ensemble on the raised platform that surrounds the stage just watching the action at different parts throughout the show really evokes the theme of “History Has Its Eyes on You.”

The energy of the show doesn’t falter for a minute. Dance numbers are more demanding than expected from an already exhausting sung-through musical.

Miguel Cervantes is an appropriate heir to Lin Manuel-Miranda in every way (also he signs autographs after every show, so definitely wait by the stage door). The funny moments from the soundtrack are hysterical in Chicago, especially with Chris De’Sean Lee as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.

Even though I listened to the soundtrack a thousand times, the emotion was so strong I teared up during the show.

Of course it would be perfect. But if I were to commit heresy and point out flaws in a flawless show, they would be few and minor. Particularly at the beginning of the show, a few of the transitions from song to song seemed rushed, not even finishing the last note of one before playing the opening of the next.

“Hamilton” is supposed to be fluid and fast-paced, but this was a little too rapid. Any stage manager knows the audience needs a few seconds to absorb the events of the last scene.

In terms of characters, the vast majority of the cast must have measured up to New York’s. Johnathan Kirkland, who played George Washington, had a commanding presence and incredible vocal skill, but no one can match the smooth-as-silk, clear-as-a-bell, epitome of the male voice that belongs to Christopher Jackson, who played Washington in the original cast.

Jin Ha as King George was stiff for most of his songs, but completely redeemed himself when he pulled the “Gangnam Style” move in the down-right corner of the stage during “The Reynolds Pamphlet.”

The only character I had a problem with was Eliza. She played a totally different character than her part demanded.

Ari Afsar, the actress who played Eliza, tried to show her character maturing as she aged through the show, but started way too immature. In “Helpless,” she either threw her arms out or held them like a little kid.

The original Eliza, Phillipa Soo, sang her part as the embodiment of feminine grace and strength for a reason, and this actress had none of that. Afsar’s voice was certainly powerful, especially during the final note of “Burn,” but it was more brash than beautiful at times, which should be left to Angelica.

Her character never fully matured either, remaining still wide-eyed and bubbly in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” when she was supposed to be wise and contemplative of her husband’s legacy.

However, these issues are minor. The show was as beautiful and fantastic as I imagined.

For those even marginally interested in musicals or history, give the soundtrack a listen. It makes people fall in love hard and seeing the show in person is worth it.

For those already obsessed with “Hamilton,” I don’t need to make a pitch for ticket sales. The only thing I can say is that no matter which cast, it will not disappoint the hyped-up expectations.

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