It was exactly eight years ago Friday that “Hamilton” premiered at New York’s Public Theater, created an immediate sensation, and soon transferred to Broadway, where it has been running ever since with no end in sight.
It’s been five years since a touring production of “Hamilton” came to Boston, and two years since Disney+ streamed a superb filmed version that featured the original Broadway cast. Along the way, “Hamilton” was even the subject of a parody, “Spamilton,” by “Forbidden Broadway” impresario Gerard Alessandrini.
In other words, there has been a lot of “Hamilton."
After being such a prominent part of the cultural conversation, does Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the other Founding Fathers, and the tumultuous origins of these United States still possess the power to sweep you away on the strength of its sheer kinetic energy?
Yep, it does, at least on the evidence of the touring production that has arrived at the Citizens Bank Opera House, directed by Thomas Kail.
But while the musical’s surging dynamism is largely intact, this “Hamilton” is better sung than acted. A certain depth of characterization is lacking in key roles.
It’s a mark of the built-in strengths of Miranda’s creation — and the fact that the musical is almost entirely sung-through, and that the vocal performances are excellent across the board — that these shortcomings don’t significantly diminish the overall power of the production.
“Hamilton” remains an inspired feat of narrative and of songcraft: None of the score’s dozens of songs are mere filler or weak links. Miranda’s musical palette encompasses hip-hop, jazz, R&B, traditional Broadway show tunes, and even operetta.
The work of choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler remains invaluable to the show’s overall effect. The movements he devised constitute a language all their own, complementing and enlarging whatever else is happening onstage.
By casting performers of color as the Founding Fathers and other Revolutionary War figures, “Hamilton” asks us to imagine a different, more inclusive American history. The musical’s influence can be seen in productions like the American Repertory Theater’s revival of “1776,” with its all-female, transgender, and nonbinary cast (”1776″ just wrapped up its run on Broadway and heads out soon on a national tour).
“Hamilton” revolves around the political and personal rivalry between the restlessly ambitious, highly voluble Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez) and the increasingly embittered Aaron Burr (Jared Dixon). Burr is the Salieri to Hamilton’s Mozart, and the man who will eventually kill Hamilton in a duel.
The two women in Hamilton’s crowded, eventful life are the Schuyler sisters: wife Eliza (Nikisha Williams) and sister-in-law Angelica (Ta’Rea Campbell). Williams and Campbell sing beautifully. Hamilton is in love with both, yet there’s not much electricity in Gonzalez’s scenes with Campbell.
Gonzalez’s performance as Hamilton has its strong points, no question, but he needs to project more charisma, more presence, to hold the center of the production the way Hamilton should. As Burr, Dixon is too mild and recessive, especially in Act One, though he rises to the occasion in “The Room Where It Happens” in Act Two.
As the Revolutionary War heats up, Hamilton is appointed as a top aide to General George Washington (Marcus Choi, who needs to display a more forceful air of command). King George (Neil Haskell) pops up periodically to offer snide commentary on the fight for independence by his colonies; Haskell has a ball during the foppish monarch’s solos, extravagantly rolling his “r’s.”
Once the war is won, Hamilton’s zeal is undimmed. Determined to defend the Constitution and help to shape the still-aborning nation, he emerges as a primary author of the Federalist Papers. When Washington becomes president, Hamilton is named Treasury secretary and devises a financial system for the United States. At every step of the way, he makes powerful enemies, not just Burr but also Thomas Jefferson (Jared Howelton) and James Madison (Desmond Sean Ellington).
While Miranda’s artistic impulses tend toward maximalism — the immensity and scope of “Hamilton” still impress — he is also a master of dramatic compression. And no one is better at the task of composing an opening number. “Alexander Hamilton,” the show’s first song, brilliantly distills the events we are about to witness, the key players, and the stakes. “It’s Quiet Uptown,” after the Hamiltons lose a child, is as devastating as ever. “Helpless” remains a coup de theatre, as Angelica’s wedding toast to Alexander and Eliza dissolves into a flashback of the night Angelica introduced the pair, even though she too was smitten with him and knew she was inviting a lifetime of regret.
One hallmark of greatness in a work of theater is whether, even after the passage of time, it somehow speaks to the current moment. A month before “Hamilton” began performances on Broadway in the summer of 2015, a certain reality TV star rode an escalator down to a lobby and announced his candidacy for president. The ensuing years have exposed the fragility of the democracy that the figures in “Hamilton” are fighting for.
So when Alexander asks, in “My Shot,” “What’s the state of our nation?,” it feels like an urgent and timely question — one with a far-from-reassuring answer.
Book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Inspired by “Alexander Hamilton,” biography by Ron Chernow. Directed by Thomas Kail. Music supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler. Presented by Broadway In Boston. At Citizens Bank Opera House. Through March 12. www.BroadwayInBoston.com