Touring productions that come to New Orleans sometimes feel stripped-down, perched somewhere in the gulf between Broadway and community theater. Not so with the touring production of "Hamilton" that opened at the Saenger Theatre March 12 (one of two touring productions currently crossing the country). The show filled every inch of the cavernous Saenger and then some.
The precis of the show is well-known: a rap and hip-hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton. It's a lot more than that, though, incorporating as it does pop songs, ballads and traditional Broadway between the rap battles, and asking its 11-member chorus to perform modern dance, acrobatics, ballet and quite a bit more.
A show about America's founding fathers runs the risk of being a waistcoat-and-wigs sausage fest, with one-dimensional women's roles (Hamilton's Wife, Hamilton's Side Piece, Ladies in the Tavern) grafted on. Not so here. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book, lyrics and score, provided two great roles for women: Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Hamilton's wife who went on to found the first private orphanage in Manhattan, and Angelica Schuyler Church, her sister who may or may not have been in love with Hamilton (in the musical, she is).
Both actors — Erin Clemons as Eliza and Ta'Rea Campbell as Angelica — nearly steal the show from their male counterparts with Broadway-worthy vocal performances; Clemons nails the ballad "Burn," while Campbell's amazing voice melds soul, gospel, opera and show tunes, often in the same song.
Actress Ta’Rea Campbell, who plays Angelica Schuyler in the production, says the onstage turntable is a character in itself.
As Hamilton, Joseph Morales handles the complex lyrics of the show handily, though his voice was sometimes obscured by the orchestration. Nik Walker as Aaron Burr cuts through the music, spitting rhymes one minute and belting Broadway style the next. Kyle Scatliffe has powerful stage presence and sly comedy chops as the Marquis de Lafayette (in the first act) and Thomas Jefferson (in the second act). As the comic relief character King George, Jon Patrick Walker gets lots of laughs as the foppish monarch, who looks like he stepped off a cereal box and gets the show's funniest song, a music hall-style number titled "You'll Be Back."
The staging replicates the New York show: rough wooden stairs and scaffolds around two large turntables, which ferry the ensemble (which is in constant movement) around the stage and add to the show's youth and exuberance.
"Hamilton" runs at the Saenger through the end of March (and probably could sell out houses longer than that). For those without tickets, your best bet realistically and financially might be the daily "Hamilton" lottery, which is free to enter electronically and gives away 40 orchestra seats for each performance for $10 apiece — not so coincidentally, for a Hamilton bill.
"Hamilton" tickets sell for hundreds of dollars (and, in some cases, four figures on the resale market), but for those of us who can't afford …