His pedigree stretches from here to Mars, peppered with Emmys, Pulitzers, fellowships and honorary degrees more befitting a head of state than a guy of letters.
In the case of “Hamilton,” the Broadway San Diego entry running through Jan. 28 at downtown’s Civic Theatre, he’s both – such is his brilliant portrayal of a newborn United States and his unparalleled command of modern culture in informing it. This rap- and street-infused story of America’s tempestuous founding, centering on Alexander Hamilton’s rebellion against British rule and his installment as the country’s first secretary of the Treasury, is absolutely everything everybody’s been raving about since its Broadway opening in 2015.
Calling this a history play is like calling Washington National Cathedral a neighborhood parish.
And calling it musical theater doesn’t quite describe its place as a legitimate treatise on nation-building, especially when the builders are set adrift in a country without a world.
The U.S. is an immigrant nation in the extreme here, with twentysomething West Indies native Hamilton emerging as a great Revolutionary military leader and capturing George Washington’s attention in 1777. Four years later, victory over England brought its own hardships as the fledgling nation flailed about in its attempt to assuage its leaders’ egos – chiefly those of Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr, whose views on the new country’s direction morphed into a bitter litany of personal attacks.
In fact, Al is a bit of a cad here, whose arrogance and headstrong demeanor color a chronic overachiever – precisely the dominant traits of the nation to come. The music and lyrics cartwheel and bodyslam off the stage accordingly, rife with the urgency feted by at least one standardbearer of the national mien.
“In this telling,” Barack Obama declared in welcoming the Broadway cast to the White House in May of 2016, “rap is the language of revolution. Hip-hop is the backbeat. In each brilliantly crafted song, we hear the debates that shaped our nation, and we hear the debates that are still shaping our nation. We feel the fierce, youthful energy that animated the men and women of Hamilton’s generation. . . with a cast as diverse as America itself . . .”
“Raise a glass to the four of us; tomorrow, there’ll be more of us.” “These are wise words; enterprising men quote ‘em; don’t act surprised, you guys, ‘cuz I wrote ‘em.” The lyrics seamlessly and relentlessly bend and reassemble amid Austin Scott’s Hamilton, Ryan Vasquez’s Burr, Rory O’Malley’s putzy King George and Jordan Donica’s outstanding Thomas Jefferson, sanctioning Julian Reeve’s music direction and Andy Blankenbuehler’s torrid choreography.
Meanwhile, director Thomas Kail and scene designer David Korins have everything to work with amid Broadway San Diego’s outstanding technical traditions.
It took Miranda about seven years to write this script and its 34 tunes, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography “Alexander Hamilton.” What followed is a colossal, stark-raving miracle. Not since “Wicked” has one show galvanized the public behind an issues-driven message; and arguably, not since the country’s founding has the theater embraced a retrospective in so consummately definitive a light.
This country is the most successful multiracial experiment in human history – with “Hamilton,” it boasts a work of art whose ferocity marks the character of its inheritors and, ideally, their successors.
Martin Jones Westlin is a theater critic at San Diego Story and a San Diego Community Newspaper Group editor emeritus.
This review is based on the Jan. 9 press opening performance. “Hamilton” runs through Jan. 28 at Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave. $340-$800. broadwaysd.com, 619-564-3000.