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Sunday, April 14, 2024 — Houston, TX

Hobby takes their “shot” at Hamilton production

Photo courtesy Hamilton National Tour

By Jacob Tate     3/8/22 11:06pm

Rating: ★★★½

There is little left to say about “Hamilton,” a show that received 11 Tony Awards and captured America’s attention for the middle of the past decade. The only thing I can contribute, then, is my experience of the production of “Hamilton” running at Hobby through March 20. It’s an enjoyable performance that checks all the boxes even in the original’s shadow.

“Hamilton” works best as a character play. It’s the tale of two men with opposing worldviews jostling for the superfluous concept of legacy that ends in literal death for one and historical death for the other. Edred Utomi as Hamilton rises to the occasion with gorgeous vocals and the brilliant acting required to sustain a character over decades of the character’s life. He carries the awkward desperation of “Aaron Burr, Sir” just as well as the solemn dejection of “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Unfortunately, Josh Tower fails to capture the layered paranoia of Hamilton’s foil, Aaron Burr. His songs fall short as his voice is continuously overshadowed by the ensemble, while his acting seems to emphasize Burr’s despicability rather than his tragedy. 

The rest of the cast is equally hit or miss. The Schuyler sisters give a convincing depiction of sisterhood but George Washington fails to capture the necessary grandiosity. The double casting also takes a toll on some actors who perform much better in one act than the other. 

However, once the music starts (and rarely stops), it’s easy to forget the acting shortcomings. “Hamilton” remains one of Broadway’s most impressively written musicals, an operatic cascade of information that smoothly runs through motifs and plot points. Although the cynic in me wants to hate the twee peppiness of numbers like “Helpless” and “Yorktown,” they absolutely slap as genre tributes and set pieces. The live flairs that go along with the music — like the characters throwing back liquor to each invocation of “shot!” in “My Shot” — let the play outshine its exemplary cast recording. 

That said, technical elements often failed to meet the lofty expectations set by the script. The sound mixing of the low end in particular seemed befuddling. Poorly produced synths cut through the backing tracks. In multiple instances, a simple level bump could have resolved the vocal level dynamic inconsistency that seemed distractingly common. The lighting, particularly in the first act, often used sickly-looking yellows for intimate scenes and used dreamy blue lighting for intense battle scenes, although there were some true marvels of tech like the time-jump in “Satisfied” and the swirling red maelstrom of “Say No To This.” 

On the bright side, the blocking and choreography wowed. The rotating circle in the center of the stage allowed for remarkably fluid motion in duel scenes. An incredibly well-practiced ensemble threw around stools and moved with both fluidity and precision. This beautiful chaos occasionally transitioned into stillness whose success varied more on context. While Eliza and Hamilton provided the gravitas to demand attention, Burr’s stillness seemed to kill any momentum. 

On top of the pall the original play hangs over this production, so too does the seven years of spirited debate on “Hamilton”’s treatment of race. Many better writers than me have written about the symbolic meaning (or lack thereof) of a play that simultaneously celebrates non-white actors and idealizes Founding Fathers who owned slaves and commited genocide. Author and playwright Ishmael Reed has explained how this makes the play immoral and historian Lyra Monteiro has explained how the play can be loved in spite of this. As writers have consistently grappled with, “Hamilton” exists as a technical marvel and a symbolic quandary. 

In the end, the Hobby pProduction stands in the shadow of the original, for better and for worse. It’s a double edged sword. On one hand, the source material remains one of the most well executed and successful musicals of all time. On the other, every slip-up by actors or tech seems to be compounded by the magnitude of the work they are performing. 

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